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HomeUncategorizedFinnFest’s North Shore Tour Brings Visitors to the Larsmont School

FinnFest’s North Shore Tour Brings Visitors to the Larsmont School

Finns, and fans of Finns, flocked to Duluth last week for the annual FinnFest celebration. The five-day event draws folks from all over the country to immerse themselves in Finnish culture. The press release for the event touts “Everyone is invited to experience the fami­ly friendly FinnFest, North America’s premier event featuring the fabulous Nordic life and in­gredients of happiness from music and movies to saunas and shopping.”

According to the event schedule, all of the above is included as well as workshops, key­note speakers, seminars, and tours.

As our North Shore has a great Finnish heri­tage history, many festival goers made the deci­sion to jump on the bus and check out the sites. I met up with the tour as they stopped in Lar­smont on Wednesday, July 26th to check out the one-room Little Red Schoolhouse built back in 1914. (Larsmont is named after Larsmo, Fin­land.)

I had not been to the school, currently a Com­munity Center and used to educate students about local history, and wasn’t really expecting it to be in such beautiful shape. It is easy to tell the building is well-loved and cared for. As I entered, I noticed it was a bit like Dr. Who’s Tardis, magically bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside.

By the time the bus arrived, I had received a bit of information about the history of the building from Marlys Wisch, secretary/treasur­er of the club, and club president, Bill Tranah. Though the building has remained, mostly, the same throughout its lifetime, it’s gone from a school to a church to a missionary training base to a Volunteer Fire Department and now a com­munity club. It’s been meticulously maintained; siding has been replaced and new sheetrock re­placed some of the plaster that was not in good shape.

Many events have been held at the location throughout the years. Marlys recalled that, as a teen, she would be a server at “fishcake feeds” for the community. In the building, there are his­torical documents and pictures lining the walls, as well as antiques that give visitors a feel of what it might have felt like to be a student in the early 1900s.

As the FinnFest visitors began to file in, you could see they were as impressed with the school as I was. When I spoke to Ruth Koehler and her daughter, of New York Mills, MN, about the tour, they both said it was fun to see the dif­ferent sites along the shore.

Ruth is a proud 100% Finn. Her mother had come over from Finland and Ruth’s first lan­guage was Finnish. She attended a country school for six years, herself. It may have been a bit bigger than Larsmont’s, but she said it was “not as elegant,” marveling at the tall ceilings in the building.

Larsmont School doesn’t have a bathroom and neither did Ruth’s school. However, they were installed later in her school years. (I shiv­er to think of those outhouses in the Minnesota winter!) She is now a retired schoolteacher, the school she taught at being much much larger than the one she had attended as a child.

Arnold Alanen, of Madison, WI, organized the tour. He has done similar tours previously and has a lot of knowledge about the North Shore and the communities along it. Originally from Northeast Minnesota, Arnold is a retired profes­sor who taught in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Madison University for forty years. Bringing students to the cultural and his­torical sites was a valuable and engaging way to bring history to life. The schoolhouse is a favor­ite stop. “This building is one of the best-pre­served schoolhouses of its era anywhere in the state. It’s really a true treasure,” he said. “Lar­smont has such an interesting history.”

Arnold has written a few books on local his­tory, including Finns in Minnesota which was published in 2012 and includes information about Larsmont. Another book is in the works as Arnold says he is very interested in the his­tory of the people who live on the North Shore and what they have built. The upcoming book is, according to Arnold, “really a history of voices and people of Northern Minnesota.”

When asked what the most interesting thing that he has learned in his studies of the area, Ar­nold talked about the development of what we now call Scenic 61 and how far back it has been traversed. Native Americans, slave trades, car­riages, a basic road, and now a national scenic byway.

After coffee and rolls, cheesecake, and/or gi­ant muffins, the tour loaded back onto the bus to continue their way further north. When my new friend Arnie asked if I could join them on the journey, I was tempted to play hooky from my day job to go up to Grand Marais, have a Finn­ish lunch at the Finland Historical Center, and check out all the sites along the way.

If you would like to learn more about the Lar­smont School, visit www.larsmont.org. Thank you to Marlys, Bill, and Arnold for teaching me so much in such a short time. I am definitely looking up Arnold’s books and I hope you do, too.

Feel free to contact me at sarahwritesnsj@yahoo.com with any news we should news about!

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