Finnish North American Literature Association
Black Ties and Miners’ Boots: Inventing Finnish-American Philanthropy: A History
of Finlandia Foundation National, 1953-2003.
Thoughts on Jon Saari’s History of the Finlandia Foundation
By Beth L. Virtanen, Ph.D.
In Black Ties and Miners’ Boots: Inventing Finnish-American Philanthropy: A
History of Finlandia Foundation National, 1953-2003, Jon Saari, professor of
history at Northern Michigan University, traces the development of the Foundation
from its inception, through the remarkable first two presidencies lasting a combined
thirty-plus years, through its reconceptualization in the 1990s and 2000s.
Begun in 1953 amid divisions in the Finnish-American community, the Finlandia
Foundation, according to Saari, was born with dual purposes “to unite all friends of
Finland in America and perpetuate Finnish-American cultural institutions” (28). Led
by Yrjo Paloheimo, it originated as a national organization with local chapters and
was recognized by Finland.
Under the second president, Dr.Vaino Hoover, it gained greater financial footing
and established philanthropic direction, emphasizing classical music, sending
Finnish athletes to the Olympics, and other work. But the presidency ended in
debate over its future direction and the relationship between local chapters and
Under the following presidencies and amid much turmoil, the Finlandia Foundation
redefined itself in relation to the concerns of its constituencies, including third- and
fourth-generation Finnish-Americans who are further removed from their cultural
and ethnic heritage. This shift is symbolized poignantly in Saari’s reflection. The
Sauna House in California, he says, where the idea for the Finlandia Foundation
was born, is furnished only with artifacts from rural, Ostrobothnian Finland, with no
American influence in evidence. Saari says, “It is authentic, yet strangely out of
place. . . ” (23).
Thus, beginning with eyes trained to the past, on what immigrants left behind in
Finland, the Finlandia Foundation through its metamorphosis has “shifted its
primary focus to the fascinating hybrid of Finnish-American culture, St. Urho
notwithstanding” (132). Sponsored and supported by the foundation, John Saari’s
text represents this process with precision and compassion.
The text includes appendices containing lists of scholarships and grants made by
the foundation and lists its patrons and benefactors. It is available for $10 plus
$2.50 for shipping and handling. Make checks payable to the Finlandia
Foundation National, and mail to Satu Mikkola, Treasurer, 17724 S. Angeline
Avenue, Suquamish, WA 98392.Black Ties and Miners’ Boots: Inventing Finnish-
American Philanthropy: A History of Finlandia Foundation National, 1953-2003,