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Brief History
Finlandia Foundation National

In March 2013, Finlandia Foundation National (FFN) celebrated its 60th Anniversary. The Anniversary Gala Dinner and Concert was held at The Westin Pasadena Hotel in California, and the keynote speaker was Finland’s Ambassador to the United States, Ritva Koukku-Ronde.

FFN was founded in 1953 at the residence of Yrjo Paloheimo and his wife Leonara in Pasadena California. Those present wanted to encourage preservation of Finnish traditions in the United States. The mission statement of FFN (revised in 2009) states, “To sustain both Finnish-American culture in the USA and the ancestral tie with Finland by raising funds for grants and scholarships, initiating innovative national programs, and networking with local chapters.” Today there are 45 chapters throughout the U.S.

The current President is Anita Häkkilä Smiley, who lives in Preston, CT. FFN’s first president was Yrjo Paloheimo, who served in that role from 1953 to 1962, and the first chapter to be established was in Houston, Texas in January 1954. The Portland Chapter, Finlandia Foundation Columbia-Pacific Chapter (FFC-PC), was added July 14, 1954.

A thorough history of FNN appears in Black Ties and Miners’ Boots by Jon Saari, 2nd Ed., Finlandia Foundation National, 2010.

History of the Finnish Classroom

In 1955 President John F. Cramer of Portland State University wanted a living memorial to Finnish achievement in this area, so he appealed to Finlandia Foundation Columbia-Pacific Chapter (FFCPC) to help sponsor a “nationality classroom.” In a letter to Consul Gust Heikkilä, Cramer writes, “I would be most happy if the Finnish-American community of Oregon would accept the responsibility of furnishing such a room.” In May 1957 Dr. Vaino Hoover of Los Angeles and a native of Helsinki, enthusiastically endorsed the Finnish Room project, and under his guidance a working committee was organized that year. Much credit goes to John O. Virtanen, a member of the committee, in raising the financial support to see the project through. He helped raise over $12,000, and in the spring of 1959, the Finnish Room had a dedication ceremony in Cramer Hall at PSU.

In the spring of 2006, Professor Thomas Birnie of PSU World Languages Department challenged FFCPC to refurbish the Finnish Room, and a committee, chaired by Dave Alford, thoroughly cleaned the room from ceiling to floor, added new Nordic student desks, chairs, and storage. The room was rededicated on May 2, 2009.