Nelmi Koivu’s Portrait by Gladys Koski Holmes, ca. 1999

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Angora, Minnesota

 

2011

 

The News from Nelmi: A Retrospective ©

 

By Joanne Bergman, Ph.D.

 

All rights reserved

 

Any individual may print one copy of this manuscript in its entirety

for personal use only.


The News from Nelmi: A Retrospective

 

Contents

 

Chapter Page

Introduction 3

Work Ethic and Writing Style 4

Love the Lady 6

Fond Neighbors and Readers 8

Ambiguous Language 12

About Herself 14

On Being A Child of Finnish Pioneers 17

Tots’ Talk 22

Animals and Country Living 25

Seasonal Observations 32

Quips 33

Local Events 35

Epilogue 41

Historical Notes from The Cook News-Herald 43

Acknowledgements 48

 

I

Introducing Nelmi Koivu

 

Charlotte Jacobson was among those serving lunch at Nelmi Koivu’s funeral in February 2002. I mention this because Char asked me recently if I could explain why people still find the idea of Nelmi Koivu and her work so attractive, so interesting. I said I don’t know.

But we talked more about it, and we concluded it’s because Nelmi spoke to readers as if she were their close friend or relative. She offered memorable observations about the natural world and her neighbors and friends, and she brought us all together in our commonalities. Nelmi wrote her column with the best of intentions and in service to the community, always with deep affection for those she observed, using everyday language in a familiar accent. Her column distilled the essence of daily life all around Cook and the Iron Range, and legend has it that many people subscribed to The Cook News-Herald solely to read the “News from Nelmi.”

Nelmi was a professional. She was reliable, and her efforts went far beyond the call of duty. That duty was, at the beginning, to collect a few items of township news. Her column came to have a given and predictable place in the paper—all of page three, and more.

In April 1980 the paper featured a photo of Edna Albertson presenting Nelmi an Easter lily to commemorate Nelmi’s forty years as a reporter for the News-Herald.

Nelmi was a prolific writer, and her human-interest items took on a life of their own and were sometimes serialized over the course of several weeks.

Readers knew they could count on her to provide an amusing, endearing weekly column of real happenings; she was untiring in her work and ever optimistic despite hardships in her life. Perhaps we miss her because she reminds us of our mothers.

 

II

Work Ethic and Writing Style

 

Born in 1920, Nelmi was the salutatorian of the 1937 Alango High School Class. In 1940 she began publishing a newsletter that kept local World War II servicemen in touch with their families.

She worked at the Cook News-Herald for sixty years but, like Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, Nelmi “would prefer not to” have her work edited. She insisted that her work appear in the paper as written. Indeed, Nelmi’s unique style defied editing, resisted the blue pencil, and had to be published as it was or lose its flavor.

Nelmi took ownership of all errors and omissions, acknowledging them all with a characteristic “Oops” in the next week’s column.

In the early 1950’s when E.P. Drummond was the editor and publisher of the Cook News-Herald, local correspondents weren’t given a byline. Township news beneath such headings as “Alango,” “Sturgeon,” “Angora,” “Linden Grove,” Bear River,” and “Field” was written by anonymous reporters who telephoned and visited neighbors to gather news and dropped it off at the “News Office.”

Despite the absence of any attribution, an alert reader might recognize the writer by her distinctive style, and such was the case with Nelmi Koivu. The style and emphases of Nelmi’s news are unmistakably her own. For example, from the summer of 1951, these items exemplify Nelmi’s focus and style:

The Lutheran church silverware fund has swelled to $42, with donations from folks in honor or memory of the church pioneers.

Practically every entry to the Hibbing Fair won a prize.

Happy Birthday was sung to Art Filbert at the Lutheran Fellowship meeting at his home Wednesday evening. Other July birthdays have been Ardythe Nukula, Larry Philips, Johnda Hakala, and Marvin Pearson. The last three were all four years old.

 

Nelmi’s birthday notations grew into weekly acknowledgements of birthdays and anniversaries. In turn, these evolved into a comprehensive annual index of births, deaths, and weddings.

Formal portraits of smiling bridal couples and prize bulls, obituaries, and local township news columns shared space on the front page. On October 4, 1951, the News-Herald editorials, cartoons, and commentary reflected the nation’s concern over the threats of polio and communism.

Nelmi was easily astonished by little events in the surrounding community. She reported the first robin and the first strawberry. She wondered about wooly bears and tamarack needles in the fall, the occurrence of wolf packs in the winter, and Canadian hawkweed in the summer. She took little interest in the grand themes of history or politics, but in natural phenomena, folklore, and kinship. She had a vibrant interest in children and the elderly and an egalitarian approach to life. To Nelmi, every event was significant, the passing of the seasons remarkable, and each person extraordinary.

In January 1952, Nelmi wrote that County road maintenance men were out steaming open icebound culverts along the Burkhardt Road. The icy conditions of this road, which adds to the hazard of winter driving, is caused by natural springs along the roadside, which are open all the year round.

Nelmi visited the Cook Nursing Home regularly, and she wanted to honor the residents there by making note of their names and their wellbeing in the paper.

Nelmi’s penchant for newsgathering was coupled with talent as a photojournalist. The News-Herald published many of her photographs of events at the nursing home, fishermen with their trophies, new parents with their babies, sled dog races, business milestones in Cook, and many school events. She was often up against faulty film, faulty processing, or intricacies of the camera, but she reported these mishaps along with the rest of the news.

(As I have transcribed them in the following chapters, her news items retain the original syntax, punctuation, and capitalization. Where multiple items appeared on the same date, the publication month and year follow the last of those items.)

 

III

Love the Lady

 

Human nature was Nelmi’s greatest fascination, and her column bore whimsical witness to peculiarities of human behavior. She introduced many an item in a bold “Love the lady . . . “

Love the lady who wrote that she went to the clink, meaning clinic. (May 1980)

Loved a lady’s story on how she and her brother played 60 years ago with sticks for cows. The only cattle dealer they knew was Walter Miller’s dad, so one pretended to be Mr. Miller and one pretended to be their dad bartering over the stick cows! (September 1980)

Love the lady who’s been married over 50 years and accidentally signed her maiden name.

Love (and pity) the senior citizen who forgets to take his hearing aid when he goes visiting, once all the way to Hibbing! (August 1984)

Love the lady who shot two partridge and cleaned them, etc. before her husband came home, and love the guy who left his partridge (precious as they’re so scarce) on his car and found only the feathers left. (October 1984)

Love the lady who’s been crocheting angels for treetops for her family. Loved the idea of decorations on the White House tree all being from natural materials gathered from the woods and fields. (December 1984)

Love the lady who came [from Finland] when she was about 3. She didn’t cry for goodies on the ship, but cried for “piimaa” and “silikaa” (buttermilk and the little fish with heads). Some remember biting into an orange, not knowing to peel it. The trip took a month for some. (July 1986)

Love the lady who was writing a card to her daughter and, on getting a call from a sister, finished the card to another sister. Not as bad as the poem about going to mail a letter and absent mindedly opening it!

Love the little old Alango lady whose lights went out and she took a step or two during each lightning flash to get to her bedroom for a flashlight. (n.d.)

“It is like being on a cruise ship,” a lovely lady said at the Leisure hills home in Hibbing, as there’s a beauty parlor, church services, entertainment and even a pool. All of it refers to the Cook nursing home also except for the pool, and it’s a good way to accept staying there. (August 1988)

On Halloween 1988, a Chisholm lady masqueraded herself as the Iron Miner, using six cans of gold spray paint! Her husband dressed himself as a deer carrying a hunter.

Love the great-grandma who remembers writing and performing in plays in a garage. They charged buttons for admission as her mom was a seamstress and buttons were precious! She has saved cardboard doll furniture her mom made and it’ll be used by another generation. (n.d.)

Love the lady who recalled as a youngster walking with many others a long way to an Alango swamp with pails and gunny sacks to pick lingonberries. They had lunch along (I remember those days), but the news is that they fixed up a shelter and spent the night there so they could pick more. (October 1989)

 

IV

Fond Neighbors and Readers: Nelmi’s Universal Appeal

 

People are naturally curious—not to say nosy—about their neighbors, and newsy tidbits help to color our world. Nelmi was not a gossip, and she didn’t traffic in smears. As Norma Ojala has put it, “She didn’t step on anyone’s toes.” Hers was not tabloid journalism but honest and plain spoken reporting.

Gladys Koski Holmes, one of Nelmi’s coworkers during the early days at the News-Herald, observed that Nelmi had a “childlike curiosity” about everything; readers were fascinated with Nelmi’s column because she looked at the ordinary with fresh eyes.

Nelmi’s Alango neighbor, Lorraine M. Erickson, recognized that whenever a family moved away from the area, they subscribed to the Cook paper to continue savoring the weekly local news updates. When Nelmi’s column faded away, their subscriptions often lapsed.

Nelmi often visited Norma Ojala’s mother in Idington “just to chat.” But Norma’s mother knew Nelmi really wanted to make some calls on their Virginia line.

When Arnie Alt was on the midnight shift and trying to sleep, he’d get upset at the phone ringing. So Nelmi would ask him very quietly, “Is Sylvia there?”

Gerri Ruuska observed that Nelmi got up early, worked hard and worked long days.

In an e-mail to me, Linda Snell wrote, “Oh my gosh, who could be from Cook, MN and not know Nelmi Koivu? I worked at the Cook News-Herald as a teenager. You could see the “is this news?” sparkle in her eyes when you spoke with her, knowing that anything you said was up for grabs.

Nelmi’s young neighbors, Todd and Dean Seopa, sensed a vigilance that might lead to news.

Jennifer Renee Lindgren recalls visiting Nelmi with her grandmother Shirley Lindgren (Hegg). What she remembers about Nelmi’s column is that if it wasn’t in there, then it didn’t happen. Nelmi didn’t miss a thing.

Rebecca Anderson, who grew up in Cook, e-mailed this story: On a sunny afternoon, my sister Julie and I were young, obnoxious, teenagers and bored silly. Squished together on a chair, we started perusing the News-Herald and when we got to Nelmi’s column, we broke into song and sang her entire column. Our dad, Don “Undy” Anderson was sitting on the couch trying to watch the Vikings. The more aggravated he got, the louder we sang. It was such fun and so entertaining watching his reaction, we finished the rest of the paper in song. To this day, I thank Nelmi for one of my favorite memories of home and Dad.

Nelmi was a cultural icon, and Dr. Francis “Mickey” Kahn, drawing a parallel between Nelmi and another serious professional journalist, referred to her as Nelmi Cronkite.

At an age when many people would have retired, Nelmi went to work at the Cook School supervising the playground, and Eric Johanson remembers Nelmi’s disciplinary slap on the wrist applied on the occasion of schoolyard fights. Any such combatants paid the price of thirty burpees, on the spot.

Jean Johansen remembers Nelmi’s weekly news-seeking sweep on the phone. Nelmi wasted no time and spared no words. A conversation might go something like this:

Any news?

No, sorry.

Click.

Laurie Walker says her family took the Cook paper just to read Nelmi’s news, and often “just giggled,” simply because Nelmi’s column was so entertaining. During any event or gathering, whether just a visit for coffee or someone’s birthday party, guests always had the expectation they’d make the news.

Tom and Pat Chapman arrived with their family in Field Township in 1975. Like a lot of readers new to the community, they learned about the area by reading Nelmi’s column. Pat remembers Nelmi as a “great lady,” although some folks guarded their words while Nelmi was within earshot, knowing any off-hand comments could end up in the newspaper.

Darlene and Bob Hodge and five children moved to Alango from San Antonio, Texas in 1975. Nelmi’s column was already well-established, and Darlene found reading the Cook paper, especially Nelmi’s column, a good way to learn about the area. She loved the column and knew from its content that everyone read it.

During an event at the Alango School, Darlene saw Nelmi across the gym and “just knew” it must be Nelmi Koivu. “She looked the way she wrote.” That is, authentic and without pretension. Darlene found Nelmi to be completely guileless with an absolute faith in people. If the Hodges had indicated they’d “moved here from Mars,” Nelmi would probably have taken the information at face value and reported it to let her readers make of it what they would.

At that time, the Hodges lived in a hunting shack for want of available housing. Nelmi wrote of their arrival in her column, and the day after the information appeared, someone left a box of groceries on their steps. A neighbor granted permission to the Hodges to live in the hunting shack, and only later did they learn that neighbor didn’t own it. The actual owners knew the shack was occupied but said nothing.

Carol Gallagher and Otteau Christianson first came to the area in 1997 and enjoyed reading Nelmi’s column to each other.

At the Homestead just a few weeks after Mae Marsyla’s 92nd birthday, Mae expressed her admiration for Nelmi and declared, “She wasn’t always right, but she was always good!”

Years ago, while their sons were teenagers, the late Shirley and Donald Erickson took a weekend trip out of town. Nelmi telephoned Shirley the next week to ask if she had any news, but Shirley replied that she had nothing new for Nelmi’s column. Still hoping to get a story, Nelmi remarked that she’d noticed several cars in the Ericksons’ yard on Saturday night.

Shirley’s parental instincts took over from there, and the boys paid the consequences for the party they’d had while their folks were out of town.

Carol Keister has fond memories of Nelmi as a “really wonderful person who worked hard at her column. She knew the community and had seen it all. She was open to people, very accepting of diverse types, and very caring with a broad world view. She was interested in the person, not the pros and cons surrounding the person. She wanted her column to be historically correct, but it didn’t always happen; thus, the correction the next week. Nelmi kept everybody up on events. She worked hard, lost her husband early, supervised the playground, had a good attitude, and was always happy. She loved to visit with people and honored requests not to report an event if someone asked that she not.”

Nelmi’s granddaughter Angela Sipila has had opportunity to read Nelmi’s teenage diaries and there found that Nelmi was capable of writing in a very learned style; however, Angela says, Nelmi was clever enough to use a folksy, colloquial style in the paper because it was more fun to read. She knew her audience.

Nelmi never used the wrong word, never committed a malapropism. She had full command of the local vernacular.

Sara Niska’s co-workers at St. Cloud Floral were as eager as she was to open the paper and turn to the “News from Nelmi.”

During wartime, hometown men and women in the military around the world subscribed to the Cook paper, and their unit buddies--wherever they were from--were just as eager to read the “News from Nelmi,” when the paper arrived. In that context, Nelmi’s influence was global as well as local.

Readers still smile at the mere mention of Nelmi’s name. Try it; you’ll see.

 

V

Ambiguous Language

 

Readers followed Nelmi’s column not only to learn who entertained neighbors for coffee or sauna. Nelmi’s hurried syntactical constructions provided additional entertainment for those who read her column closely. For example, she wrote

Margaret (Watt) and Bill Picek of Mesa, Arizona and Field Township attended the funeral of Jack Lee, 82, at Lake Worth, Florida and were houseguests of her mom, Alice Watt. Mr. Lee died while riding bicycle after being driven over by a car.

Just now on a gingerbread mix I saw that one can make gingerbread pancakes, and why not . . . There’s at least three art galleries in Virginia!

Have you heard of removable casts? Part of it is plastic and has something inflatable in it. Some casts have hinges (like Marie Jackson’s knee). (October 1983)

Edna Albertson recalls an item about a garage sale, which Nelmi suggested readers attend, donate old things, and “bring your husband.”

Isn’t another new custom nice—of both parents giving away the bride instead of just the father. (February 1984)

A lady wrote “funeral” instead of “wedding” in a letter. Somehow it is easy to mix those two words. . . . It’s easy to mix vanilla and liniment, too. (August 1984)

The pictures of the carved huge pumpkin from Mary’s Needle Nest at the Bear River Halloween party didn’t turn out.

Kathy Cahill’s daughter posed with it. (November 1984)

The mobile mammography unit was at the clinic November 8 (1984) and will be coming from Grand Rapids every two weeks, wonderful. My pictures didn’t turn out, discouraging.

Last Friday was Western Day at the nursing home. The staff was dressed in Western attire, music was Western, and J.D. Svedberg brought his horse and did rope tricks. Some of the residents fed him sugar. (July 1986)

Laina Bixby would’ve had a ride to Las Vegas to spend the winter with her daughter, but she stayed home. (April 1989)

I recall an ad about men’s prescription glasses. A pair is on the front seat of my car. All glasses should have names printed on them. (December 1989)

 

VI

About Herself

 

Nelmi rarely reported anything about herself, but in April 1980, she revealed some personal information.

TWINS: Spring seems to be the time for twins, and sister Marie found a baptism certificate for twins our mom had in the spring of 1905. They were a month old at baptism, and we thought they died at birth! They were a girl and boy.

SOMEWHERE I READ: “Mistrust a subordinate who never finds fault with his superior,” so I should be mistrusted as I can’t remember finding fault with Wayne [Evans]. (I can hear him saying, “I don’t have any”) or Gary (except his wife works harder, and at least three pictures never got printed.)

 

THANK YOU DON AND MARTHA: As a child I collected movie stars’ pictures, sketched them in later years and now I have one’s autograph! Martha Curtis of California, showed the column in which I mentioned Don Knotts being at the “Our Own Hardware” convention the Makelas attended. Don is a client of the firm Martha works for, so she showed him that he made the local paper, and he autographed it! (April 1980)

40 YEARS: The first weekly column I wrote for this paper that I have been saving was March 28, 1940. We had social center or night school then, a Finnish relief club, etc. John Kontio’s 70th birthday was celebrated. If I keep writing as long as my mother did, I’ll be writing 23 more years! [Hilda Pihlaja, Nelmi’s mother, wrote for the Suomen Uutiset.]

It was nostalgic to get the Finn paper at Makela’s Hardware. Sister Marie Hakala wrote for it for awhile. The readers loved it. If I was better at Finn, I’d maybe write for them too! Overzealous already! (March 1980)

Nelmi’s August 16, 1984 column opened with Mildred Kamppi’s poem, “Slave of the Quill.”

 

I don’t write for money or praise,

I write to inform in many ways.

New arrivals, a departed friend,

Weddings, engagements, there’s no end. . . .

I write about trips of neighbors and friends,

Of parties and dinners they attend.

Mistakes and errors I hope you’ll excuse,

Of omitting, misspelling or other abuse.

My talent is weak, I must confess,

But week after week I try my best.

 

This was written by cousin Millie years back when she was a “slave” for the Ogilvie paper and given me now after I’ve been a slave almost 45 years. Our moms both wrote for Finnish papers, as did my sis Marie Hakala awhile. Millie’s late sister Edna Heikkinen was Alango’s first reporter for the Range Facts. Their grand nephew Lee Phillips announces area news over the radio.

Slaving” is harder nowadays even with a phone as people move so much, change names, etc. We try to write not only about familiar people, but the ones who’ve moved here from almost every state in the union and Australia.

I recently wrote of a dinner at Four Seasons and it was at Four Corners and I was even there! There are many places starting with “Country,” like Store, Roads, Crafts and Supper Club and many places starting with the word North or Northern, so it’s easy to make a mistake. Half the people call me Helmi instead of Nelmi. (November 1988)

There are support groups for many things and there could be one for those who have been burglarized. Mom’s place was burglarized twice 25-30 years ago. Climbing her hill, it felt like I was going to a funeral. One time her spinning wheel, hand-loomed rugs, blankets, etc. were stolen and the only item we got back was her copper tea kettle. The other time her place was rummaged with drawers left open. The second burglars were looking for money and drugs, possibly, as some did at my home July 3. I had just bought a “Welcome” notepad and they could’ve been the first ones to sign their names. Thank you for not taking the copper kettle and other sentimental items. Too bad “Whiskers” had just died as he might’ve chased you away. (July 1989)

Who has the oldest birth announcement? I saw Jack Bort’s and that was in 1928! Thanks to the late Ilmi Pohto Rahikainen I learned that there was a party for my mom in 1920 before I was born. She most likely didn’t have any baby clothes left from my older sisters. They didn’t have phones in those days, but managed to spread the word somehow. (December 1989)

On the fine arts tour last Saturday, I found the most comfortable willow chair I’ve ever sat in. My daughter Lorraine Erickson of Alango did all the driving on the tour, many miles. We enjoyed the tour very much and ended it at Melgeorge’s Resort and Restaurant. Ron Maki exhibited artworks with his daughter Sarah at the White Pine Gallery. (September 1999)

 

VII

On Being a Child of Finnish Pioneers

 

Throughout Nelmi’s career, she maintained her connection to the old country and the experiences of northern Minnesota pioneers. She had a special affection for elderly folks, and she often sweetened her column with nostalgic references to Finland or bygone days. For example . . .

Long ago folks often left a broom leaning on their door to show that they weren’t home, but nowadays no one wants to advertise they aren’t home! (September 1980)

“Eat your porridge even though it’s a little burned. It’ll give you curly hair,” children were told long ago and “Eat your toast even though it’s a little burned. It will give you a good singing voice.” (January 1980)

LONG AGO: Many customs come back into style, but surely not the custom of being serious in pictures. Film is going up in price (silver in it) so maybe we won’t be smiling! I once wrote about someone mailing a new film to be developed and now I did it. I got blank negatives!

Long ago we called sofas and couches davenports and divans. We seldom hear of buffets or secretaries anymore.

Believe it or not coffee was considered a cure for almost any type of ailment in the very early years. The Arabians considered it an excellent stomach medicine. The contributor of the item wrote, “We must be healthy drinking so much medicine.”

The death of Alice Roosevelt showed she was over 20 years older than a Cook lady she reminded me of, her style, grace, uips, barbs and acid tongue. (February 1980)

WIND-ELECTRIC PLANT: The late Ben Sherman, Angora mail carrier, was pictured and written up about 50 years ago in the Duluth paper with a wind-electric farm generating plant he made out of a discarded piece of automobile equipment. Laurel Sherman, his sister-in-law, has saved the story and loaned it, thank you!

The Shermans had a filling station and store at Sherman’s Corner where Bill and Marilyn Nieters now live. It took several gallons of gasoline a day in the engine of his home lighting plant, so he built a windmill generator. The story said, “He is now in the manufacturing business,” as neighbors wanted one too.

He set the windmill on top of a small farm building. The cost, including pay for his time, was about $90. The windmill provided current enough for light, pumping water, washing and ironing clothes, and even for the soldering iron which he used for changing over the generators. (March 1980)

FINLAND VIA ARIZONA: Walt and Marge Miller of Sun City, Ariz., sent Elaine Fox of Cook (A Finn Fox) clippings from “The Arizona Republic” of their food editor’s trip to Finland. It said, “The forest is everywhere in Finland, even in parts of the biggest cities.” Her story was titled “Earthy aura surrounds Finnish foods.” Her recipes were for rye pastries, mushrooms in sour cream, and rye bread. The latter asked for four packages of yeast for one loaf of bread! According to her, “sauna” is the most important word in Finland, then “sisu” (fortitude), and then “perkele.” It means something like devil, and it shows that Finns are extreme—very good or very bad. (June 1980)

Jennie Walden of the Homestead and one of her sisters stayed in Finland after their parents and sister Saima sailed to America in 1918. It was wartime so farmers had to give up most of their grain. Jennie says: “They took all the extra grain. My grandpa was too honest; he didn’t hide any grain so we got short of bread flour. My grandpa and I went into the woods to collect bark. He cut the tree down and showed me how to peel the bark off. He gave me a wooden tool like a pancake turner. He marked the bark in the size of pieces he wanted. We put the pieces into a two-wheel trailer. Grandpa pulled and I pushed. Then we put the bark into a big oven (hearth). When the pieces were dry and cool we mashed them as small as possible. Then we brought them to the flour mill so we got “pettu” flour to mix with other flour to make bread. We also added mashed turnips (big, good, and sweet) so the bread would not be too bitter. (April 19, 1984)

More than one oldster has said of taking off long woolen stockings or some such and hanging them in a tree before going to school and then putting them back on before going home! I can recall wearing long wool stockings and long underwear, trying to fold them so they wouldn’t show through stockings. Girls didn’t wear slacks to school until in the ‘40s maybe. (February 1984)

“Viiko villis” means getting one’s days mixed up. “Viiko” means week and “villi” wild.

A lovely pioneer told of how she and her husband bartered their record player for a milk cow from Orr maybe 60 years ago. (July 1984)

For wedding gifts about 50 years ago and more some gave a quarter, a used coffeepot, sheets made from flour sacks, etc.

Love the true story of long ago when there were outhouses at schools and no electric lights. A teacher was horrified when she opened the outhouse door as it looked like someone was in there. Next day she found out it was a rolled up mattress put in there for storage. (September 1984)

David Cooper of Burnsville spent the weekend with his dad, who was 92 Saturday. The day before, he made his delicious chocolate chip cookies and enjoyed a visit from another old-timer, Martin Johnson. Martin provided the lumber for the house which was once the FitzSimmons’. They recalled “cranking” cars, whole milk at 25¢ a gallon delivered, coffee 10¢ a pound, cows for $8, items for a penny in free catalogs, etc. Neighbor ladies brought cake Saturday evening. (October 1984)

When rabbits were plentiful, some ground the meat from their legs for hamburger! Someone recalled ordering a meat grinder from a catalog by placing one dollar in an envelope. Students checked snares before and after school. They had to snare plenty of rabbits if they wanted to keep a dog. (October 1984)

Jelly, 10-pound pail for 50¢” was advertised in a 1911 Bear River Journal. . . . Subscriptions were $1.50 a year.

Long ago kids had to fill their berry pails before they could go home. Love the guy who admits he put lots of leaves in his pail!

Seeing a Cook grocery story employee stomping on cardboard boxes in a trailer made me think of stomping hay in a hay wagon and then in the hot, dusty barns in the days before hay bales. (August 1986)

Kurpitsa” is pumpkin (and other squash) in Finn. It isn’t in my old dictionary, but it is in the newer one. We have said “pumpkinni”!

Salolampi, the Finnish Language Camp will have a permanent home on Turtle River Lake near Bemidji thanks to benefactors Jerry and Fannie Jyring, who were pictured in their newsletter in front of the authentic sauna made in Finland at the site. Ground is to be broken next August for the future home. (January 1988)

The June 23 Chicago Tribune had a story on unusual foods in Minnesota, how immigrants came starting in the 1800s and how their recipes have survived. They mentioned “pasties, pizza, potica, pulla” and mentioned Eleonor Ostman who has local roots. It also mentioned Cook’s Homestead Mills as a “new generation of food entrepreneurs in northern Minnesota.”

During Depression and WPA days, there was a project in Cook of sewing ethnic clothes for dolls, and thanks to the late George Peterson, Cook school curriculum supervisor who placed them into storage, they are now on display at the Research Center at Ironworld. (August 1988)

Two new members of the Lahtinen family in Linden Grove (former Ed Rankila home) are Finnish spitz puppies from Hamerfest Kennel in Brainerd. The pubs’ grandmother “Vaimo” is a show champion and was the first Finn spitz to receive an American C.D. (Champion Dog) title. The pups are named Kulo Valkea and (tentatively) either Punainen Omena or Tuli Tikku. The four Finn words are wife, wildfire, red apple and match stick. (August 1988)

In 1925-26 when I attended first grade in Alango, before the new school was built, cars were so infrequent that I can recall everyone running to the road (22) and saying, “Car! Car!”

A friend 17 years older recalled her first recollection of a car in 1913 in Alango and it was a funeral van. She and all the other students at 48 (where Dennis Pihlaja lives) ran after the car to the cemetery, not knowing what it was all about. They called it “auto.” The teacher made all of them except the little ones stay indoors the rest of the year, which was one month.

Some who came here around 80 years ago had it so rough [in the old country] they never hankered to go back. One recalled babysitting while she herself was still a baby and she cried when the baby cried. Another who worked for a rich doctor’s family said, “I stole once in my life and it was because I was so hungry. I ate something from his child’s plate.” (October 1988)

I heard two men a little younger than I talking about hard times. When they went out with a car in the cold in the days before anti-freeze, they had to drain the radiator and bring it inside so it wouldn’t freeze! I can remember folks bringing batteries in to stay warm. (April 1989)

Martti Mattson of Esko, whose wife is the former Lois Raati, was pictured in a Sunday paper with his broad axe, as he has been driving to teach how to select logs and prepare them with hand tools for the Mt. Iron-Buhl school district’s Environmental Learning Lab. John Lindquist is the director of the lab. The log building process is being videotaped. One log can weigh 600 pounds when green and much less when it dries and takes four hours to hew on all sides. (September 1989)

Some have preserved root cellars the pioneers made and Alarik Bakk made one this fall. He dug it on a steep riverbank with a backhoe (pioneers had to use their back labor) and cribbed it with railroad ties and logs he sawed from his woods. He put two chimney stacks for ventilation, three doors and put 12 feet of dirt on top.

The pioneer Wirtanen farm in Markham was written and pictured recently. I’ve been there, but had forgotten that there is a root cellar there and a smoke sauna. It is nostalgic to visit. (October 1989)

Wash boilers, ice cream: Young folk don’t know what they look like, but there are many of us who remember boiling clothes in them and marvel that we didn’t get scalded. They were scrubbed and used to make stew in for church dinners and other events.

Someone recalled that ice cream was made for the gatherings in a tall milk can with sweetened cream and some eggs. It was twisted in a container of ice for hours. It was called “jäätelo in Finn.

Embarrass is getting famous not only because of its cold temperatures, but because of its historic buildings. About 25 years ago I wrote a story, “Any Riihis?” and didn’t hear of a one, and now I read that there’s one preserved in Embarrass. It’s a building used to dry grain. (December 1989)

A Finn wrote about his trip to Finland that he was mistaken for the press as he smoked a cigar. (Aug. 31, 2000)

By April 2000, Nelmi’s attention to syntactic detail had diminished. She announced that Finland’s president now is its first woman! Only eight other countries have women presidents. Her name is Tarja Halonen.

 

VIII

Tots’ Talk

 

Nelmi’s interest in human behavior is further reflected in her regular reports of the cute sayings of children.

A tot enjoyed seeing his dad get a haircut one day. He asked his mom to give him a haircut, “just like dad’s.” He was disappointed that it wasn’t exactly the same, as there wasn’t a bald spot in the middle!

Two little girls were told of a young relative who had died. “She’s an angel in heaven now.” One asked, “Why couldn’t she be an angel here?” (March 1980)

At least one local tot was so excited about the Easter bunny coming that when he kneeled by the bed tensely and his bones creaked, he thought he heard the bunny! (April 1980)

A little child told a lady with straight hair about 70 on a bus. “You are old. Your hair is old too.” (May 1980)

By the Hibbing Airport road there’s a sign $500 fine for throwing litter.” So litter throwing is getting stricter in our area. An Alango grandma was stopped by a highway patrol along 53 and she wondered why! He saw a candy wrapper thrown out, and the tot in the back seat tearfully confessed he threw it out! (July 1980)

A four-year-old inspected his grandma’s philodendron’s split leaves and asked, “Did the slugs do that?”

A tot said when her mom had a baby girl, “It’s about time I had a sister.” (December 1980)

Love the tot who studied his grandpa’s wrinkles on his forehead and said one could pay tic, tac, toe on them! (August 1984)

Asking a first grader who he had for a teacher, I said, “She’s nice,” when he told me. He asked, “Did you have her?” I explained that I had worked at the school. (September 1984)

A little boy, hearing that his grandma had seen a big wolf, asked her, “Do you have a brick house?” (October 1984)

RUMPLESTILTSKIN: Eva Ketola Raati of Sturgeon, who learned to spin at the age of 10, demonstrated spinning to grades 1-4 at the Alango School. . . . One boy excitedly asked, “Can you spin straw into gold?”

Six attending the class were Karen Thom, Donna Raati, and Jan Conklin, Field, Lynn Mueller of the Togo area and Lori Potter of Lake Vermilion. (n.d.)

 

IX

Animals and Country Living

 

Nelmi’s love for her neighbors extended naturally to their pets, farm animals, and the wild creatures sharing the woods. Nelmi reported animal stories both unusual and touching. For example, in the spring of 1980 she wrote

Dogs on top of the Sawmill Lounge in Virginia were pictured in the paper as a sign of spring. A week or so before, I saw Ted Nylund sitting on the top of a pile of logs by his lumber yard, a sign of spring!

Someone saw a nest of weasels in an out building one day, but they were all gone by the time she got someone else to see! Another lady wondered what two holes in the snow were for. A partridge flew up! (February 1980)

Last week four women walked to Selma Jokenen’s despite below-zero weather. There was no wind, but they got white eyelashes. (January 1980)

Some like to have weasels around the house (outside) as they’re better at catching mice than cats. One lady had a time saving her weasel from three big dogs. (February 1980)

Long ago there were lots of ski tracks in the snow. A few years ago there were snowmobile tracks galore. Now again there are lots of ski tracks—no gas and good exercise.

This is a story of a little pig that went to market (not in Minnesota). It was bought for $17, fed at a cost of $70 and sold for $39!

Alango fire warden Art Kutsi was snowed in, but the Bill Haavistos, Eino Metsa and Harry Enzmanns attended a dinner at the Crescent courtesy of the forestry department. (March 1980)

Haven’t tried it yet, but someone said rhubarb makes good “vippi puuroa” (air porridge)! Some covered hundreds of plants Saturday night. Someone’s peppers got nipped a little although covered with plastic. Very few covered plants Monday night as frost wasn’t forecast, and many a garden was black! Someone’s rhubarb leaves even drooped! Then again some gardens that weren’t covered weren’t even nipped. Jack Frost plays tic tac toe. (June 1980)

An eagle was seen trying to grab a cat recently. The cat rolled on its back clawing the eagle and the dog came to the rescue. The dog hung on to the eagle’s tail until they came to a cornfield. (August 1980)

If you see seven goats, two milk goats and five Angora, meandering toward the Lake Leander area, they belong to the Dave Mortons of Angora.

[A week later, in Nelmi’s column] Ida Arola saw the Morton’s missing goats in her field. . . . Marcus and his grandson-in-law Bill Wright of Embarrass drove there, put ropes around the head goat’s horns and proceeded to bring them home. Larkspur and Mia Morton got there straight from school. No one got to take pictures of herding the goats. (September 1980)

POPPLE POPULAR: Stopping at the Ray Hill home on the Red Cross drive, I fell in love with their living room ceiling and fund out is was of popple (or aspen) made by Ray. It was of different lengths and had three coats of the new plastic varnish and it almost looked like plastic! Then I heard that Alfred and Linda Jarvinen are using their own popple as paneling in the home they are building, so popple is getting popular!

It would be interesting to have a “neatest woodpile” contest. Some are so neat that one hates to use them! (October 1980)

INCREDIBLE: A local lady dreamt of trying to step on two squirrels, one big and one small in her basement. She possibly dreamt it on hearing her mouse trap go off. The first one she talked to that morning had just shot two squirrels, one big and one small!

There are a few homes on the Range with dome roofs and one going up in Angora. The stop-in visitors maybe hinder construction!

There are homes being constructed in the area into hillsides, and somebody quipped, “Maybe we’ll go back to the cave days.” Someday someone might build one onto the cliff near this place!

A lady was splitting wood on a block and her eight-year-old cat ran from behind and jumped on the block at the wrong time and got knocked unconscious and got a slight gash. The lady cried and cried, and got a shovel. The cat woke up and ran. The cat’s life-long partner, an 11-year-old dog, is the doctor as he licks the wound. (October 1980)

Reading of a snake in a toilet bowl reminded me of a raccoon in an outdoor toilet hole.

Has anyone ordered the special herb garden for cats? It struck my eye as Ophelia ate my aloe vera.

Martin Johnson’s dog “Cookie” is about a year old now and has quieted down some. (January 1984)

A little tot ran toward some bear cubs saying, “Doggy!” Her folks grabbed her real quick.

There aren’t enough live traps to get around so some have received permission to shoot bears near their homes, especially if they have little children. Six were shot at one home.

A 560-pound, 7-foot bear was hit by a car Saturday night on Highway 1 near here and hunted down and shot.

Field Township is teeming with bears. A lady in town on the Range was chased from her garden into the house by a big bear. (June 1984)

A lady wrote of how one of her beef cows “mooed” and she went to see and her calf had just been born and went right away to her “dairy bar.” The next day the cow “mooed” again and on going to investigate, the calf had fallen into a deep spot with raspberry bushes and couldn’t get up. The mothers don’t usually want anyone to touch their calves, but when the lady pulled the calf up, the cow practically kissed her! The other cows were all lined up too watching the rescue! (August 1984)

Button,” Warner and Agnes Pihlaja’s diminutive poodle from Kantoniemis of California has been coughing. When he was brought to the veterinary clinic he didn’t cough until he got back in the car! That’s the dog that was almost put to sleep once, but the vet decided to try a cortisone shot. Then when they got another poodle, that one massages Button, honest. (September 1984)

Beaver have cut down two cords of wood for a fellow, but it isn’t easy to get them home from the swamp. It’s interesting how they have a lodge to live in with a “shelf” to stay dry. I’m afraid I’d have said they live in their dams! (February 1986)

An albino robin is being seen in the Lake Vermilion area. There’s an albino stuffed beaver at the U.S. Forestry in Cook, and one at the museum at the Falls, and an albino skunk too. (July 1986)

Dogs howl sometime when someone sings or plays an instrument, but couple dogs howl every time the train goes by!

A lady and dog were in a wild raspberry patch. She saw a crushed honey bee nest in a crushed area (a bear’s work) and hollered at the bees she saw. Her dog ran home as he thought she hollered at him! (August 1986)

When Jim Nordlund of Alango (his grandpa’s pioneer place) came home from the woods one day, he saw a wolf attacking his dog. The dog had stitches taken at the vets’ near Cook and has had to have medication twice a day. The DNR put out two traps and the traps disappeared, so there must be at least two big wolves.

Wendell Soderberg hasn’t been bothered by a bear anymore, but now it’s been a raccoon trying to get into his house. (n.d.)

Sports writer Sam Cook (Duluth) wrote how a brochure lured him to our state and how it is yet better than the brochure bragged. He was so green that he thought the sound of loons was timberwolves!

Before retiring Reinhold Holmer left the door to a little hallway beside his garage ajar so the cat and kittens could go in and out. The next morning the door was shut and on opening it he saw a huge bear! Somehow after gobbling all the dog and cat food it could find, he or the wind closed the door.

The bear had somehow opened a door into the garage and it had done damage in there trying to get out. Reinhold called his son Allen and together they made noise to get it out and it ran as fast as it could. . . . Reinhold missed the bear program in Gheen when he was [in Seattle], but he had his own bear program when he got home! (May 1988)

At Frazer Bay some saw a bear cub hanging onto mother’s back when swimming!

Remember the robins that built a nest on a rake leaning against a garage wall?

Jeff Sande of Chisholm was pictured with coin canisters that will be put at business places to collect money for his dream, a living memorial garden by the one-year-old iron ore miner statue. Each tree would have the miner’s name on it.

A Texas reader said there’s confirmed bachelors even among birds. A yellow martin returned now for its tenth year. He never nests and never has a mate. (September 1988)

Stump Gardening: Some have read of it and some recall their parents talk about it. Stumps were cleared off to make fields for hay, and some worked the rich soil around stumps and planted vegetables. They say there wasn’t any quack grass then.

The wild tiger lilies have never been brighter. The water lilies are beautiful and the goldenrod are blooming. The “purple loose strife” is being battled as it is spreading so fast. It takes over wetlands.

An Alango couple took turns looking with binoculars as two timber wolves were dancingly catching mice between windrows of freshly cut hay. Their dog had alerted them with his “wolf” bark.

From childhood, I called a red wildflower “devil’s paint brush” and can’t remember its right name. Now I learned that the orange (and yellow and mouse ear) hawkweek are called devil’s paint brush from the Audubon Society field guide to north American wildflowers! Blueberries are called “high bush” in there. They list high bush cranberries and the ones we find in swamps are called mountain cranberries. (July 1989)

I’ve heard of some seeing wild roses, but I doubt if I will as the worms have eaten the leaves and some of the tame roses too. Just so they don’t eat the blueberry and strawberry leaves. Roadsides enroute to Duluth look like fall. (June 1989)

Cars should talk to us about not laying anything on them, as so often they are forgotten. A local purse flew off a car trunk in Bear River and Sam and Ervin Bartlett saw it happen and picked every little thing up. The Ray Scofields caught up to the driver and told her the news. (August 1989)

Do you know what sneeze weed is? I read that it grows in swamps and wet meadows and that the leaves were used a snuff. They were noted for purging the body of evil spirits.

A young fellow, Mark Jirsa, working for the Minnesota Geological Survey, asked permission to walk on my cliff. Good thing I was busy or I might’ve asked to tag along! I had brought pieces of white rock from there and he said it was quartz. Pilots have said the rock is very magnetic, he said. It is about 300 feet wide and many miles long. It’s a few feet from my door and it goes across the road to Lulu and Mel Lee’s, but there it’s underground. He said there’s lots of rock underground, which well drillers know.

A widow once had a flying squirrel in her basement and heard of another lady’s experience. There was a thumping noise in her basement and someone found out it was a white-breasted nuthatch thumping at the basement windows trying to get in. (September 1989)

There’s a lumberjack in your woods,” a man was told, meaning beaver! There was a humongous dam and a smaller one. The trapper got one beaver although it looked like it was the work of many. The roads were getting flooded!

A 51-yer-old hunting club in the Lake Vermilion area was written up beautifully. “Ham” Holm, a charter member, has been the cook for seven years as he said, “I got too many deer.” Sometimes there’s as many as 16 hunters and they even have a sauna now. Tom Bakk was quoted as saying how they planted wild rice in a beaver pond one fall and the next spring found mallards eating the rice. (November 1989)

RABBITS: When I was young, over 70 years ago, there was an abundance of wild rabbits and now some years one doesn’t see any and now I read that the Roy Pearsons have some. (April 1999)

Keith Aho has a chocolate lab, “Queen of Sheba.” She had nine puppies: four black, three white and two tan. Folks have been teasing him for cigars! His daughter Kaarin planned to fly from Miami for Mother’s Day in Fargo and for her Grandpa’s 91st birthday, so they had lots of fun.

The write-up on the Keith Ojanen golf course in Alango was interesting. It’s really green and beautiful, I’ve heard.

FUNTIQUES AND CANARIES: There’s an interesting place not far from my former home in Field with hundreds of canaries. Yes, hundreds. Eunice and Cedric Roivanen work together and take consignments. They have ribbons they have won for their canaries at shows even as far as Chicago.

STORM: The worst damage done in Cook that I’ve heard of was at the Arlee and Doreen Olson home last Thursday. It was at 11:20 a.m. when a huge pine crashed on their roof damaging their bathroom and bedroom ceilings. One could see the sky from the ceilings! Arlee had just returned from having surgery so he got two neighbors (Alan Larson and Bill Peterson to patch the roof.

CHICKS: There some at Homestead Mills now and ducklings are expected soon. Carol Aho enjoys mothering them, but not for long as they go so fast! (May 1999)

IRONWORLD: Some call themselves “polkaholics” and travel many miles every day to the Polkafest at Ironworld. Edwin and Aileen Makela of Meadowlands (he’s Hilda Fox’s and Esther Heglund’s brother) were interviewed by a daily paper. (July 1999)

Thank you to all who have contributed news. I’m still hoping someone will take over. I would help. (1999)

PICNIC: There will be one at Gretchen Eldien’s on Friday, Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. for retired Cook School personnel. Bring pot-luck, chairs, plate and a cup, silverware and 50¢.

BUHL BOARDING HOUSE: It was exciting reading (and seeing the boarding house in Buhl) and yet more exciting reading that it may be moved to Ironworld. It is said to be the only boarding house on the Iron Range in near original condition. (September 1999)

Some are seeing little signs of fall coming around the corner. Cattails are telling the tale. The name of the yellow flowers along the roadside is birdsfoot trefoil. (August 2000)

 

X

Seasonal Observations

 

Nelmi’s interest in nature was not limited to the animal world. She made frequent observations about quirks in the weather and various other natural phenomena.

One couple who grew 75 cauliflower and 75 cabbage plants indoors lost them to the rain after they planted them. They haven’t planted their tomatoes yet. (June 1984)

The mountain ash trees are so loaded with berries (and soon the birds will be “loaded” with them) so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s true that we won’t have much snow! (August 1984)

Did I write yet that the wind was so strong that a farmerette said that it blew her ducks up in the air?! (January 1986)

Wild roses are almost a month early, and someone who remembered them usually blooming on a certain birthday. . . . It was 28º some places Monday morning, so those who didn’t cover (like the one who had just planted 24 begonias) had their hearts in their mouths. (June 1986)

There are buttons that say “Cold Spot” and I thought it referred to the heart as that’s where it was, but smaller letters read “Embarrass.” They were on the news Wednesday about being embarrassed at having -37º and some had it colder here, but no wind so it was a crispy cold. (January 1988)

Forty-two years ago May 27, [1946] when Chuck Holm was born to Helmer (Ham) and Eva Holm in Dr. Heiam’s hospital, it was very hot, well over 80 º, and on June 1 it snowed! The snow stayed on the ground and it turned real cold, so people had to turn on their heat! (April 1988)

We had some frost a year ago on the 28th, 29th, and 30th! The worms are making cocoons, so there’s less of them and less wood ticks. One lady said, “I’d rather pick potato bugs than worms,” and she’d maybe get a prize for picking the most, and her peonies are beautiful. (n.d.)

 

XI

Quips

Most of Nelmi’s regular readers still assume that many such amusing items occurred accidentally during hasty proofreading in the rush to meet her weekly deadline; however, granddaughter Angela Sipila feels sure that Nelmi knew full well the effect of her language, and editor-publisher Edna Albertson concurs. Angela and Edna are probably right, since Nelmi had a keen appreciation for jokes and what she often reported as “quips.” For example. . . .

Did you see the cartoon of a wife telling in a hospital how her husband was on the “critical list”? She said, “He’s critical of the nurses, doctors, food, etc.” (February 1984)

Did you read Jackpine Bob’s words “The only difference between those of us in the newspaper business and the rest of the people is that when we think of something dumb, we put it in print for everybody to read”! (November 1984)

Have you seen the words “When You and I Were Young, Maki”? (March 1984)

Did you read about the elderly man who was asked his name and address, and to “Zip?” he replied, “Not much anymore.” (June 1986)

An answer to the question “How are you?” in Dear Abby was, “I’m better than I was, but not quite as good as I was before I got worse!”

Someone asked mortician Mlaker, “Who is in charge when the president dies?” Instead of answering, “The Vice President,” like most of us would, he answered, “Either Mlaker or Range”!

I have umpteen funny sauna stories (like the one about Washington, D. C. ladies who had their hair done before going for their first sauna) and one by Fern’s Darlene Hodge . Her husband told her to throw water on the rocks if it got too hot. (June 1986)

Loved the answer in a Range newspaper to someone who criticized, “Your mistake was on the front page, so your correction should’ve been, too.” The answer, “It isn’t news when we make a mistake.” (July 1989)

One musician quipped that people in Palo are smarter than people in New York, as Paloites know where New York is, but New Yorkers don’t know where Palo is! They really are smart, hard-working and talented for putting on the Laskiainen every January for years and the country music festival the third Sunday night of each month. (April 1989)

Via the radio, “God in his wisdom created the fly, but he didn’t say why.” Also heard that a lady on the Range has planted juneberry trees. She said she doesn’t bake pies as they “show on the hips.” (June 1988)

“Cleaning house is like stringing beads without a knot,” I read and liked long ago. Just now I realized that goes for news writing too! (October 1986)

A lovely state reader said she had thought Nelmi was a town and wondered where it was! (August 1988)

At the very end of her career Nelmi was still appreciative of humor. She wrote

WORST DANGER: The sailor’s wife asked him, “What is the worst danger at sea?
The sailor first filled his pipe with tobacco. He thought awhile and solemnly replied, “There is no danger at sea. For there, no one drives an auto drunkenly.” (December 2000)

 

XII

Local Events

Nelmi recreated everyday small town scenes using dramatis personae familiar to all the locals. For example, on January 3, 1980 she wrote

The New Years Eve party at the Temperance Hall (a historic site now) in Virginia turned out wonderfully. The Café plus many Finnish clubs backed it. Mayor Johnson welcomed them saying he hoped there would be many more gatherings there. [Now, the Kaleva Hall.] There was no drinking or smoking at the party but plenty of music, coffee, cider, food (even squeaky cheese). Clarence Ivonen spoke about melting tin (I just learned that Marion Johnson of Alango has the pail, ladle, and tin her late dad always used!) and his wife told fortunes by the cup method (not tea leaves).

The Field Town Board met January 8 at Harry Enzmann’s home. They had good results in calling Field men folks for forming a fire brigade when there are fires in Field. The men will receive some training, and the township will furnish a hat and coat.

The [Alango] school now has an intercom system so that when a phone call comes for someone in the kitchen (downstairs) or in the teacher’s lounge (off the gym) they can be contacted without someone running there!

“Raatiko” was one of the final dances at the New Years Eve affair at the Finnish Temperence or Kaleva hall in Virginia. . . .A speaker claimed it was so mild there was no need for heat that night, whereas other winter nights folks had to wear ear muffs in the hall!

A newspaper story mentioned how the late Rev. Milma Läppälä spoke at her husband’s funeral even by his open grave, and others told me she had done the same thing at her mother’s funeral at her mother’s request. (January 1980)

Rachel Holmes, a Cook High School junior, was pictured with Rep. David Battaglia in the Minnesota House Chamber. Rachel served as a page in the House of Representatives February 4-8.

Some town folks combine getting water from local springs with visiting Angora folks.

ELECTRICITY: It was out in a big area Feb. 18 after a car hit an electric pole near the Kantoniemi and Filbert homes. R.E.A. man Dale Leinonen was the first worker on the scene. Vivian heard a funny noise from the wires on her roof, her telephone jingled and then the driver knocked to use the telephone. She marveled at how fast the electricians worked to put up a new pole in the bitter cold and repair the wires. Traffic had to be halted as live wires were on the road. The electricity was restored in three hours. The pole was broken into three pieces.

CLASSES: The conversational Finnish class will start again March 27 at the Alango School. Sylvia Nordlund (Albert) is the teacher.

ALANGO SCHOOL: Mike Koskovich, Brad Perala, Jeff Straw, Dawn and Brandon Agnew Lisa and Eric Lilli, and Angela Erickson were Campbells’ Soup label winners this year.

Everyone says how sad it is to drive past the former Musakka home in Angora, yet more so than the Idington hall which was also burned by vandals. Everyone’s watching over the vacant Idington church. (March 1980)

BIRTH: Vicki Schelde wasn’t present at the pink and blue shower for her Tuesday evening the 12th at Trinity, as she had a son that day, Brett Richard.

It’s hard work to lose weight and when one does the clothes have to be altered or wait until spring when the Thrift Shop will open so one can buy a complete wardrobe!

Jeanne Maki, lawyer granddaughter of Katri Saari, had a poem “Immigrant Grandchild” in “Seuranlehti,” of which she is the editor. She wrote it in Finn, too.

Do you sometimes read headlines wrong? Someone read a Cook headline, “Frosty Windows Dangerous,” as “Widows.” (February 1980)

Rachel Holmes was selected Cook High School representative to Girls State. (April 1980)

Senator Doug Johnson was honored at an Appreciation Dinner at the Eveleth National Guard Armory on May 2.

GASAHOL: It’s advertised in Grand Rapids over the radio (May 1980)

“My husband doesn’t know I’m here,” a lady once said, so I couldn’t mention her visit [in my news]. Can’t remember anymore who said it so it’s safe to mention that this can be touchy business.

When LPNs Joanne Carlson and Jean Wallin of Cook and other LPNs stopped at a restaurant in Hinckley, they met John and Verdella Musech there (coming home from a buying trip). Wonder if it was the same restaurant that sister Melia Maki heard the word “Alango” and she acted nosy like me and found out it was the Reichels and Mabel Morreim.

Last Friday I brought my dog to be clipped (first time in my life!) to Linda Lindberg and boy the dog looks and acts 10 years younger (even though he isn’t 10 years old yet). It sure was wonderful. She got garbage bags of wooly fur but didn’t take all of it. (May 1980)

A Balkan bachelor plans to lock his door when he goes upstairs after this. He was dressing upstairs and heard a noise downstairs. He looked around downstairs and saw that the toilet seat was down in the bathroom, looked outside and saw a lady running. (July 1980)

Katri Saari, Edwin Saari and Ina Karni traveled to Lake Kabetogama last Wednesday to visit the teacher-weaver Mary Wovcha who demonstrated at Adelaide Hyppa’s home. (August 1980)

Musicians who performed at the Folklore Festival in Washington, D.C. were Alex Hietala, Larry Saukko, John Bergquist, and Third Generation, Jean Doty, Leonard Saari, Gregg and Wesley Santa. They convinced former local girl Arlene (Sikkila) Tervakoski to get up and dance the “jenkka.” It was probably the first time anyone has danced the schottische on the Washington Monument grounds!

Arlene went to a reception at the Smithsonian Castle and loved hearing “Sakki Jarven Polkka” echoing through the building.

Have you seen the watercolor painting of a man holding his coffee saucer with his fingertips to drink from it? It’s by Lois Larson and at our bank. (November 1980)

Harold Cooper recalls two men coming into Cooper’s Café about 35 years ago. One asked, “Where is the Cook laundry?” Mr. Cooper sent them to Earl Soderberg, who had a cleaning establishment.

The men came back sheepishly in half an hour. The laundry equipment in their truck was to go to the Cook Home Laundry in Duluth, three blocks from where they came from! (January 1984)

Nelmi reprinted Scott Refsdal’s poem, “Johnny Cash,” which first appeared “The Cookie Jar” in 1984.

 

J.C. is a real cool cat,

He sings sweet songs, gets paid for that,

He has his fame and lots of money,

Any young girl would be his honey.

One bright day he went for a ride,

In his Cadillac full of pride,

Right through Cook, at terrific speed,

The warning signs he failed to heed.

 

The Cook town marshal took up the chase,

But Johnny C. was setting the pace,

Roaring north on old fifty-three,

John Cash was trying to flee.

 

Each in his Cadillac, roaring down the road,

The marshal alone, Cash had a load.

Cash feared the worst if he should stop,

In the jail he would surely plop.

 

Cash was scared; he had much to fear

For when the marshal was drawing near,

He thought of what his mother had said,

Don’t take your car through Cook, son,

Better stay in bed.

 

The marshal caught him, said he wanted to talk,

Cash was so scared he could hardly walk.

Then all of a sudden, he started to laugh—

All the marshal wanted was his autograph.

 

GOOD-WILL AMBASSADORS: That’s what Angora accordionist and vocalist Les Harkonen called Jim Klobuchar’s bicyclists as he felt they were the nicest group of people, even the youngest. He played his accordion from 6 to 9 at the Montana Café and Klobuchar wrote in his column how his group swarmed in there until it was combustion temperature to hear the bilingual Iron Range troubadour.

The bridge this side of Mary Hannine in Linden Grove is beautiful. It seems to come sooner than before as there isn’t a curve now. (October 1984)

An Alango carpenter said that some schools (Kutsi, Rinne, etc.) had hip roofs and some like Haavisto and Taittonen had gable roofs.

School 44 which was 3 at first, stood where St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is now in Alango and was used by the church at first. Later it was disassembled, with even the ladies helping by removing nails and straightening them. (November 1984)

Spectators got sprinkled some last Friday listening to Shorty Powers and Lorene Clark play and sing at Cook’s gazebo. At least one couple danced on the lawn, and when the rain was worse, some went into the gazebo. (June 1988)

Wooden “biscuits” are made at Hill Wood Products, I read. They are used to strengthen joints in many kinds of professional woodworking. Before, they were made in Europe. They are adding a 9,000 square foot addition to their plant and will be adding about 16 employees, making 116 in all! (April 1989)

Controversy surrounds the proposed new post office in Cook. Owing to flood plain restrictions, a site on main street is out of the question. The proposed location, therefore, is on the other side of Highway 53, and many citizens object. (July 1989)

Oops. I should confiscate the film in Gladyce Snell’s camera. She called my name when I was eating crumbs from a cake pan at the senior picnic and took my picture. Everyone said it should be on the front page! (July 1989)

Someone wrote to a Duluth Herald chef mentioning the Nylund Bakery peanut butter twists. Thank you, Marilyn Nylund Jenkins, for sending it and it was in the Sunday paper. She wrote that one can use frozen bread dough to make it. I can hardly wait to try it. (November 1989)

Les Harkonen and Paul and Julie Sersha were “strolling musicians” at the Laskiainen in Palo last weekend.

The coldest it’s been in the Alaska wilderness where [Nelmi’s daughter] Irene is was minus 42 degrees but “a colder blast may come.” The lead dog turned his head as if to say, “Do you know what you’re doing?” (February 1999)

Les Harkonen, on his day at the nursing home, said he has been told that “Beer Barrel Polka” is the most popular polka. The nursing home was decorated beautifully for Easter; beautiful cake, too.

Lots of seagulls here. Lots of helicopters too as we’re near the hospital. The residents of the east side see and hear the excitement.

Jeanine Emmons, night nurse at the hospital, retired and was honored with a party recently.

Leonard and Norma Ojala showed slides of their recent trip to China at our April 7 Cook Senior Citizens meeting. They did a good job of telling us about it and we enjoyed and appreciated it.

Elizabeth, Anna and Rebekah Chapman, co-owners of Sweet Wind Kennel of Cook, were presenters at the state-wide Youth Entrepreneurship Conference held in St. Cloud on March 22. Over 400 youth and adults participated in the program designed to educate them about running their own business. (April 1999)

BIRTH: Valerie (Koivu) Gustafson [Nelmi’s daughter] of Coon Rapids had a second son, Gunnar Nels Gustafson, 9 pounds, 2 ounces, 21 ½ inches long on July 26. He has two grandmothers, one in Coon Rapids and this one in Cook. (September 1999)
.

XIII

Epilogue

 

In 1999 Nelmi’s new address at the Pioneer Apartments appears at the top of her column, and on February 25, 1999 Senja Jokinen’s news begins to supplement Nelmi’s newsy community observations.

On December 23, 1999, the entire “News from Nelmi” consisted of the words MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR! Nelmi.

By the year 2000, the column had become noticeably shorter, yet her style was still recognizable. For example, on January 6: Harry Enzmann has had good luck when ice fishing recently. I heard the name of the lake, but will not reveal it.

On February 3, 2000, the “News” was down to four column inches, including a “Thank you to the ones who have written news anonymously for me.”

On February 10, 2000, Senja Jokinen wrote the column, though Senja herself had been hospitalized with pneumonia. On Nelmi’s page, Nelmi’s picture appears with the notice that her 80th birthday would be celebrated during an open house at the Pioneer Apartments social room that Saturday.

By March 30, Nelmi was approaching retirement, and Elma Romnes published a heartfelt note of appreciation and good wishes, including the remembrance of a dinner of fresh-caught walleye they’d once enjoyed.

Dr. Joanne IntVeld was the admitting physician on the occasion of Nelmi’s admission to the Cook Nursing Home. Dr. IntVeld remembers Nelmi as “a legend” who knew exactly where she was going. She came into the nursing home with an air of resignation, for she had just admitted defeat in her efforts to remain independent. Still, as a resident of the nursing home, every morning, as though it were her duty if not her calling, she picked up the phone and started gathering the news.

The nursing home did its part to support “News from Nelmi” by providing an in-box for items visitors might drop off for her. On June 29, she wrote for HELP: The news envelopes for me have been empty! The notes should be signed so I can call for corrections. (Nelmi was accurate to the last.)

On April 27, 2000, Nelmi and Senja Jokinen collaborated on the column, which included this item by Nelmi:

E-MAIL: Thank you for the thank you e-mail I’ve been receiving (most relayed by phone) even though I don’t understand how it operates except that it’s like telephone wires. It’s miraculous. Thanks for a granddaughter who has instigated it.

On May 18, 2000 she wrote PHONE OUT: That is mine so I couldn’t make calls I’d have liked to. Please try me until my phone is fixed or I’ll feel like quitting again!

Gradually throughout that year Senja Jokinen contributed more of the news from “Alango, Angora, Field, Sturgeon and All Over.”

ART GALLERY: Senior citizens put together fall pictures Wednesday with the aid of their two activity directors. They put together fall leaves with glue and wax paper and they were really beautiful.

The Pylkas brought thee cute little goats to the nursing home for cuddling one nice day. (October 2000)

Nelmi moved to the Edgewood Vista in Virginia in 2001 and passed away at the Virginia Convalescent Center on February 5, 2002 at the age of 81.

On that occasion, Edna and Gary Albertson, publishers of the News-Herald, asked the florist to send to the funeral a loving, commemorative arrangement with a gold-lettered “Oops” banner among the flowers.

 

XIV

Historical Notes from The Cook News-Herald

 

E.P. “Jack” Drummond died suddenly on April 11, 1953. Jack, the editor and publisher of the Cook News-Herald, walked into his shop with an armful of the morning mail shortly after eight o’clock. He walked to the rear of the shop to light the gas under the metal pot turned to go back to his desk and collapsed in the arms of his right hand man, Ray Wilkinson.

Mr. Drummond had experienced a fainting spell three days before. Mrs. Drummond had persuaded him to go for a checkup. The results of his cardiogram, which were in his doctor’s morning mail, were a grim story. He would have been ordered to report to the hospital at once for rest and treatment. (April 16, 1953)

In the sudden and tragic absence of Editor Dummond, high school seniors June Ardin, Phyllis Benson, Donna Huseby, Winifred Autio, Barbara Soderberg, Bona Hill, Paula Olson, Charlotte Francis, and Gladys Gustafson stepped in to manage and edit this week’s paper. (April 23, 1953)

Cook High School senior Ronald “Jigger” Waataja’s column “Jabs” featured satirical discussions of unleashed dogs, hot weather, mosquitoes, and the relative merits of sleeping with one’s socks on. In the February 5, 1953 issue, Jigger discussed Groundhog Day predictions, also proposing, “within thirty years, man may reach the moon in a space ship.”

Jigger and Nelmi, two journalists steeped in the local culture, felt a connection. When he was a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he wrote to her acknowledging the appreciation she had expressed for his efforts.

America’s first live calf ever known to have been born from frozen semen arrived on a Janesville, Wisconsin farm on May 29, 1953.

On January 24, 1980 an ad on Page 1 announced “Everything you’ve wanted to know about the bond issue but were afraid to ask” about the upcoming $5.9 million bond issue for new construction in Independent School District 710.

Governor Al Quie published a proclamation declaring that the American flag will be flown by all citizens of the state of Minnesota to demonstrate our support of President Carter in his demands for the unconditional release of the hostages held in Tehran, Iran. (January 1980)

Frontpage photographs and the lead story shocked the community when an arson fire destroyed much of the roof, gym, and stage of the Cook School. ISD 710 School Board members faced questions on the proposed March 11th bond issue. (February 1980)

On March 20, 1980, a black-bordered announcement on the front page: MEETING TO DICUSS FUTURE PLANS FOR COOK/ALANGO SCHOOLS. Cook High School Principal Roy Jarvela has scheduled a meeting to examine the question, “Where should we go now?” as a result of the recently defeated bond issue. Karen McDermott, school board member, will be on hand to answer questions.

Headline: “MA” BELL INVESTS $56,000 IN EQUIPMENT FOR COOK. Ken Greenwalt, manager, said equipment is being installed by technicians from Western Electric Company, the manufacturing and supply arm of the Bell System. [He] explained the new equipment would provide more long distance circuits for calls to and from Cook as well as provide local service for new customers who move into the Cook area. (March 27, 1980)

Kevin McHale, newly drafted by the Boston Celtics, is pictured with attorney Howard Siegel and Hibbing Mayor Mario Retica during the Seigel Open on July 31. McHale shot a 41 for nine holes. (August 1980)

A front page story reports the Musakka house arson suspect missing. William Smith, Jr., the accused arsonist on a supervised release program, failed to appear for his trial. The landmark Musakka house in Idington was a vintage Finnish log structure. It burned to the ground in the spring. (October 1980)

A front page headline accompanied by a photo of the burning house: “Musakka House Arson Suspect Pleads Guilty.”

William Smith, Jr. pled guilty in district court to a charge of second degree arson in the Musakka house arson fire. The value of the four-room house, built of hand-hewn logs, lay chiefly in its historical and architectural value. (December 1980)

State Senator Doug Johnson went on record opposing broadening the sales tax base to include clothing, food, and prescription drugs. (October 18, 1984)

The library board met with the City Council to lobby for the conversion of a 10 X 12 area from storage space to library space. Plans were then in place to build a new fire hall and to then expand the library into the old fire hall garage. (November 1984)

Teachers in ISD 710 went on strike. Issues under negotiation were salaries, six-period days, and the policy on transfers. (January 1984)

In August 1984 the Cook Community Hospital celebrated its 25h Anniversary.

Governor Rudy Perpich spent a very busy and productive nine hours in Cook and Orr on May 28 [1986]. In Orr, Governor Perpich dedicated the new Tourist Information Center and attended a spaghetti lunch. In Cook, Perpich dedicated expansions of the airport, the golf course, and Hill Wood Products, then led a political forum in the park, and served as commencement speaker at graduation ceremonies at Cook High School.

Fortune Bay Casino, the $6.5 million facility on the Bois Forte Reservation, Tower, opened on Friday, August 1, 1986.

Area loggers recently met at the Coates Hotel to organize the new Associated Contract Loggers to confront important issues such as Worker’s Compensation, the environment, and timber pricing policies.


And from Nelmi’s column:

 

Everyone interested in the future of the Alango School is urged to attend a meeting at the school 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 24. The Alango town board has been offered the building for $1. Several clubs have been interested in meeting there.

“Country Roads,” formerly the Idington Lutheran Church, is being added on to. (May 1988)

The City Council voted to have Dave Stanton weld a patch on the Cook water tower as an interim measure prior to the installation of a new $31,000 water tower in the fall. (June 1988)

Don Simonson was elected Mayor of Cook in November 1988, and the deer hunt in the Cook-Orr region yielded over 1000 deer.

The Cook Lady Gophers, District 27A volleyball champs, defeated the Albrook Falcons 15-8, 15-7, and 15-12 to advance to the state tournament. (November 1988)

The community remembered Arne Hill, long-time bus driver and “Cook’s Number One Fan” during a tribute to Arne at the Cook-Albrook basketball game. (December 1988)

Army worms infested area aspen trees and forests, and area loggers staged a successful one-day boycott of the Potlatch plant in protest over the price paid for logs. Over sixty loggers joined the peaceful protest. (June 1989)

Improved public access to Lake Vermilion at the Wake-em-up Campground is underway. The road around the bay runs between the campground and the beach, a decidedly unsafe situation. A new road inland from the beach will divert traffic around the campground. In addition, the beach and the parking lot will be improved, and the boat launching ramp will be doubled in size. (September 1989)

Did you hear that early Labor Day morning a lightning bolt travelled down the Visitor Center flagpole and broke the cement base. One piece flew halfway to the building. (September 1989)

Now that Casey Drug is being resided, many recall the days when there was an ice cream parlor there when it was Swanson’s. They kept it open until after the second show, sometimes until midnight. (August 1989)

S.O.S. means “save our ship” and also “sauna, onni, sisu” (steam bath, good fortune and determination). It is the slogan for the fund-raising drive for the Salolampi Foundation for which architect Jyring, who grew up in Pike-Sandy, has donated $300,000 and has drawn plans for the main lodge, like the railroad station in Jyvaskyla, Finland.

The Cook Lady Gophers volleyball team, already St. Louis County Conference, District 27A, and Region 7A Champions, now hold the Minnesota State Class A title. Team members Brenda Thom, Brandi Stone, Brandi McClain, Jenny Refsdal, Kandi Makela, Dee Ann Boutto, Jenny Hughes, Anene Anderson, Teri Koski, Angela Lindgren, Kristen Schroeder, and Malenie Troseth are pictured in a team photograph on the front page of a souvenir edition of the Cook News Herald with team managers Jody Nakari and Brenda Thom and coaches Grant Hughes and Loretta Rankila. (November 1989)

The next “Waste Watchers” meeting is Monday at the Visitors Center. The public is welcome. The mission of the group is to monitor recycling activities in the Cook area, to advise the landfill authority on all aspects of recycling, to recommend means to ensure community support, to provide a corps of volunteers to help the recycling program and to act as a sounding board for the landfill authority.

Dog races are on the verge of being cancelled due to the lack of snow. Some use three-wheel and some four-wheel carts to practice with. Dec. 6 Jamie Nelson and her 12 dogs visited Joan Carlson. There’s lots of barking at first. She visits Honore Lehtinen and her 10-dog team sometimes too. (December 1989)

Front page headline and photograph on January 27, 2000: Fire destroys Amundson Apartment Building—Cook News-Herald is saved. The fire left six people without their homes. The building was the original Cook Hospital, dating from the early 1900s.

On February 3, 2000 the headline: Elephant Lake area residents work together to form new township, Camp 5.

 

XV

Acknowledgements

 

I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of individuals for encouraging me in my project and for providing access to archival holdings of Nelmi Koivu’s work.

I’m deeply grateful to my husband, Dr. Edward Borowiec, for his reliable professional advice on language and syntactical choices and his forbearance throughout my years of gathering material for this project.

I offer heartfelt thanks to the late Gladys Koski Holmes, my beloved friend who lent me her portrait of Nelmi for inspiration and who always referred to me as “a writer.”

Laurie Walker has my deep appreciation for her tremendous help and encouragement. Laurie has, for several years, done my housework in a friendly and very professional way, freeing up much of my time for my project.

I extend huge thanks to the many friends and neighbors who told me their Nelmi stories in person and in e-mails. Their personal experiences as readers greatly enrich the narrative.

I owe enormous thanks to Don Simonson for posting my story on line, thus making it available to everyone.

Gretchen Eldien, my English teacher at Cook High School (Class of ’55) was among the first to give me confidence in myself as a student writer.

Edna and Gary Albertson were generous in lending me, free of charge, hardcover annuals of back issues of The Cook News-Herald. Having easy access to the archived material has been immeasurably valuable—especially considering the volume of Nelmi Koivu’s output. The Minnesota Discovery Center (formerly Iron World) also opened their archives to me in the form of microfiche copies of the News Herald.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge intangibles from my mother, Irene Nurmi Bergman Wehde, born in Field Township in 1916, who always encouraged my every endeavor. She was, like Nelmi, a first-generation Finnish American who felt deep empathy for the struggles of her pioneer parents. She, too, followed her art until her final illness; Mother painted countless scenes of nature, flowers, and animals.

.

Joanne Bergman, Ph.D.

A Retrospective of Nelmi Koivu

 

 

Joanne Bergman, Biography

.

Joanne is a graduate of Cook High School, Class of 1955, and she and her husband, Dr. Ed Borowiec, reside in Angora. Together they have six grown children, eleven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, none of whom live in Minnesota.

Joanne holds a B.S. degree in English Education from St. Cloud State University, a B.A. degree in Western Humanities from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and an M.A. in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary English and Humanities from the University of South Florida.

She has taught English in Princeton, Minnesota; Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Florida (where she chaired English Departments); at Nitra University in Slovakia during Peace Corps service; in Bigfork, Minnesota; and at the California State University, Long Beach. As retirees, she and Ed have taught literature courses for the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth.

Joanne serves on the Board of Trustees of the Mesabi Unitarian Universalist Church in Virginia, as Chair of the Angora Township Board, and as President of the Salolampi Foundation (Concordia’s Finnish Language Village). Joanne and Ed are volunteer tutors of high school seniors who are preparing qualifying essays for college entrance and scholarships.

Her hobbies include playing the flute and training their American Eskimo dog in agility and rally. Joanne’s “happy place” is the family cabin on Schmidt’s Island, Lake Vermilion.


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