Patti Lindelof's family would partake in the Finnish tradition of taking a sauna at her grandmother's house every Saturday when she was growing up in Oulu, Wis.
Her grandmother emigrated from Finland and both her parents spoke Finnish as their first language, but she said she remembers her father saying that they would get in trouble for speaking it in school. There were a lot of Finnish families in the Oulu area, she explained, but she married David Lindelof, who descended from Norwegians and Swedes.
"He's only allowed in Oulu because of me, because I'm 100 percent Finn," she said with a laugh. "They said it wouldn't last, but we're making it work, almost 50 years later."
The Lindelofs were among the crowd at the Duluth Depot on Wednesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland's independence. In addition to Wednesday's Finnish Independence Gala, organized by the Finlandia Foundation Northland Chapter, Enger Tower was lit blue and white in honor of the anniversary and a Finnish-American art exhibit called "Together — Yhdessä" will be on display for the next month at the Duluth Art Institute.
People munched on pieces of pulla bread and put pins in maps to mark where they or their ancestors immigrated from, while the growing crowd overflowed into the Depot's hallways.
"The turnout has absolutely surpassed any of our wildest dreams and imaginations. This is absolutely wonderful," Hanna Erpestad, a member of Finlandia Foundation's local chapter, said at the conclusion of the gala.
Following the national anthems of Finland and the Sami — the indigenous people of Scandinavia — the gala's hourlong program included the recognition of local veterans who fought for Finland during World War II: Rainer Mäkirinne, Suoma Sibilla Jousi, Yrjö Kaarlo Johannes Gronquist and Tyyne Lothberg.
Reading a letter to all expatriates from Finland's President Sauli Niinistö, Finnish Honorary Consul James Johnson read, "Throughout my term as president, I have had the opportunity to meet with you, people of Finnish heritage and Finns from all around the world. Some have moved from Finland recently, while many others have belonged to Finland only through their grandparents." Niinistö noted in his letter that meeting people of Finnish heritage around the world makes him ponder the identity.
"Finnish expatriates have created the Finnish brand," the letter read. "You'll be the first and perhaps the only connection to Finland for many people that you ever meet. I'm pleased with what you reflect. You present courage, curiosity, openness. You have the 'sisu,' the guts, to preserve in a foreign culture and a heart to keep Finland close."