Several thousand young people have added Finnish language and culture to their lives through the Salolampi Finnish Language Village experience in the past 30 years.

An educational idea has grown into a $2.25 million physical plant at the 40-acre lake-lined setting where young people nationwide live a Finnish enactment each summer. In the spring and fall, adults and families take over the facilities for similar programs.

Finnish is one of fifteen languages in the Concordia College summer language program for 7-to-18-year-olds. Five of the cultures have architecturally authentic villages on Turtle River Lake: German, French, Norwegian, Spanish and Finnish. The other languages are taught at other sites and rental properties in the area.

Salolampi, too, first met at a rental property on Lake Andrusia near Cass Lake until a goal-centered group of Minnesota Finns formed the Salolampi Foundation and laid ambitious plans to fundraise and build a village of their own. Architect Jerry Jyring of Hibbing, Minnesota gave a generous gift of $300,000 to begin the work. He later added another $100,000 to that initial gift. Construction began in 1992, a week after Jyring died. His widow, Fannie Kakela Jyring, later gifted complete Arabia and Iittala tableware, coffee service, and a wall-length birch cupboard, among other gifts to Salolampi. Concordia College became the Foundation’s co-builder with an initial gift of $150,000 to the building program.

The marriage of Jerry and Fannie was a second marriage for both. They had lost their first spouses some years earlier. Jerry was entranced by Fannie’s granddaughter’s knowledge of Finnish that she had learned in summer sessions at Salolampi. Thus began the involvement. The couple made several trips to Finland to develop the village concept. Precise building plans were developed later by Architectural Resources of Hibbing.

University of Minnesota Professor Borje Vähämäki became the first dean of the village in 1978, where the instructional style is immersion. It’s a totally Finnish experience. Pesäpallo instead of baseball. Finn markkaa first and euros now instead of dollars. Meatballs instead of hamburgers. Tuulikki Sinks and Pirkko Gaultney followed as deans and Larry Saukko held the position from 1986 to 2011. Amy “Iida” Tervola Hultberg has the dean since 2012.

The building program progressed in three stages as funding became available. Lead architect Mark Wirtanen held firmly to authentic design, checking every detail for historic accuracy. The dark red main lodge, named Jyringin Talo, took its style from the historic railroad station at Jyväskylä, Finland. Three of the five cabins were ordered as logs from Finland, constructed on arrival by Concordia’s work force, together with Salolampi Foundation volunteers. Each building sleeps 16 in two-tier bunks.

But before the major construction began, a sauna from Finland was erected on the lake shore, in true Finnish tradition. One of the chores the Salolampi Foundation takes on at the Village during its volunteer spring and fall work weekends is the chopping of a huge supply of sauna wood.

Additional buildings came later—two wings to the main lodge, one in a period, the other in a modern architectural style. A Sami kota now stands on the path through the woods to the sauna and a new dance pavilion near the soccer field is currently being painted. Landscaping and walkways, again were a cooperative venture, the Foundation with Concordia College.

When the major construction plan was completed, the Foundation shifted its major focus to earning scholarship monies and to begin a Sampo endowment fund that it is hoped will assure the Salolampi Village scholarships in perpetuity.

A phonathon brings in approximately $60,000 annually, which together with gifts from individuals and organizations, allows generous scholarship awards each year. This, too, is a volunteer function of the Salolampi Foundation.

Management of the site, staffing, and instructional training are under the auspices of the Concordia College Language Village program directed by Christine Shulze and her staff. But the Salolampi Foundation still serves as a support group in many ways.

Enrollment of 150 young people spans the nation each summer, usually representing 20 to 25 states. Finns are still rare in a few states. The youngest children beginning at seven years of age enroll for just one week, but older children stay for two or four weeks. The four-week sessions award one year of high school credit for a more traditional and intensive course. Some students earn as much as three years of high school credit, beginning with their freshman summer.

The immersion approach to learning offers all of the instruction in the manner a child would learn it in a Finnish family situation, no pressure in the casual approach that makes learning fun and almost coincidental. No matter the month, Villagers celebrate Juhannus (Midsummer), Joulu (Christmas) and even a mock wedding. For restaurant night and other important meals, the table linens and Arabia and iittala tableware come out.

Adult programs in the spring and fall follow a similar program with instruction at all levels and many guest speakers.

By Armi Koskinen Nelson
Armi Koskinen Nelson was a Past President of the Salolampi Foundation. She continued as Director and Editor of the Salolammen Sanomat and was a Trustee of the Finlandia Foundation National.