The Finnish Center at Saima Park

Fitchburg, MA


Finnish Ski Club History

by Raimo Ahti

for the Fiftieth Anniversary festivities

at the Finnish American Club of Saima

December 31, 1996.

    The Finnish Ski Club was established September 14, 1946, at the Imatra Hall in Brooklyn New York.

The officers were:    Leo Carlson – president;

                                Julie Auvinen, New Yorkin Uutiset sports editor, -- vice president;

                                Eelis Ross – treasurer;

                                Eino Massa – secretary;

                                Emil Elo – communications;

                                Leo Massa – race entries;

                                Leo Sjögren – membership secretary.

    Two weeks later our club’s first dance, “Seuramme alkaistanssit,” was held at the Vesa Room at the 5th Avenue Hall.

    Next, the Finnish Ski Club joined the Eastern Ski Association on January 25, 1947.  That winter, a dozen FSC members went to an 18 km race in Worcester, Mass.  The Scandinavian S.C sponsored the race.  Leo Carlson told me he doesn’t remember how they did.  Not too well -- because their equipment wasn’t really up to date.  He does remember that Worcester had lack of snow on the racecourse.  There was a ten-foot wide brook that had to be crossed over on a twelve-inch wide log.  From New York, they had a German girl in this race.  She slipped into the three to four feet of water in the brook.  Leo got to his hands and knees and helped her out from the water.   Ten years later, Leo did see her again at some ski race in upper state New York and they both laughed at the Worcester swimming incident with skis on.

    St. Moritz, Switzerland, was the site of the 1948 Winter Olympics.  FSC did not have any members in the Olympics that year.  However, a skier named Olavi Ala-Kulppi won the 19 km USA National Championship.  Olavi was a Captain in the US Army.  He was a member of the Finnish Army Ski Troops, 1939-1945, and did earn the Mannerheim Cross during the Finnish-Russian conflict, equal to the Medal of Honor in the US Army.  Olavi later became a contributing member of FSC.

    During the years 1949-51, FSC in Brooklyn had a membership over one hundred, including all the contributing members.

    The next Olympic year was 1952: winter in Holmenkollen, Oslo, Norway, and summer in Helsinki Finland.  Close associates of FSC, Vennel (Chummy) Broonhall from Rumford, Maine, and John Caldwell, from Putney, Vermont, were on the 1952 USA team.  Many FSC members were spectators in Holmenkollen.  Many more went to the summer Olympics in Helsinki.

    In the early 1950’s, first Yrjö (George) Kurronen came to New York; then Paavo Satama and Olavi (Leo’s Comet) Hirvonen.  Hirvonen brought with him the so-called Olkinuora style for cross-country skiing.  There was also Tauno Pulkkinen, USA Champion 1953-54-55-57.  Tauno skied considerably well up to the early 1960’s.  Leo Massa from New Jersey was one of the best in US skiing in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  He was in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, as were Olavi Hirvonen and Pekka (Peter) Lahenpera from Fitchburg, Mass.  Peter graduated from Fitchburg High in 1955.  He was a member of the USA Olympic Biathlon team 1960-64-72.  Peter did a lot of training at Saima Park and behind the Burbank Hospital with Uuno Koittila and Raimo Ahti.  Wayne Fleming was another FSC member and Biathlon athlete on the USA team in the 1964 Olympics.  Wayne’s home was in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

    In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, FSC also had Erkki Kaunisto, Olavi Tokola, Rudy Lahti, Veikko Puputti, Veijo Kokko, and many others.  At the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, FSC had ten members compete in the 15 km – 30 km – 50 km and also a 4 x 10 km relay for the USA.

    In August 1961, FSC headquarters moved from New York to Fitchburg and has been here for the past thirty-five years.

    Historically, the Finnish Ski Club had two-day races at Mt. Watchusett, a 15 km on Saturday and a 30 km on Sunday.  The first ladies 5 km race sanctioned by the USA was held in February 1961.  Donna Heistad from Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the winner.  Two FSC members, Helen Alho and Helmi Long, were second and third.  Vesa Aunio and Elmer Aunio skied in the 5 km Junior I and II races.  They were the fastest Juniors in the East.

    The annual two-day Mt. Wachusett Ski Tournament was held until 1968.  In 1969-70, FSC had the cross-country races moved to the Mt. Watatic area in Ashby, Mass.  However, the start and finish were at the farm of Mr. & Mrs. Jim Daley of New Ipswich, New Hampshire.  There, FSC again made history in 1971, when the first 50km (eleven laps on a 4.6 km loop) sanctioned by the USA Ski Association was held.

    The following year, 1972, the race scheduled for the first of February was postponed because of no snow.  Later in February and in early March, the Fitchburg area got over eighty inches of snow!  On March 16, a 50km race was held at Saima Park (two km loop twenty-five times around).  Ule Wenger, Swiss Olympic Team ’72 Sapporo and bronze medal winner 4 x 10, won, with USA team member Bob Gray second, Raimo Ahti third, Birger Vigness fourth, and Valio Liedes fifth.  Multi-loop 50km races were held at Saima Park up to the late 1970’s.

    1978 was a no snow year at Saima Park.  The FSC 50km was held at Franklin Pierce College, Rindge, New Hampshire.  Raimo Ahti was the winner.  Eric Ahti, skiing as an 18 year old in his first 50km was a close second.  Later the same year, Eric was in Fairbanks, Alaska, as a Junior National Championship Team member of the Eastern 4 x 5 km gold medal winning team.  From 1977 – 1984, Eric was also a member of the USA National Team, Junior and Senior.  In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, Eric skied many 50km, winning some of them and a sustainable near front finish in every one of them.  Skiers call them ski marathons.

    In the 60km, Mora Vasaloppet in Minnesota, Eric Ahti was second in 1981 and third in 1982.  He placed second in the 1983 USA National 50km Championships.  Who was the winner?  Bill Koch, World Cup Champion himself.  Bill skated and Eric skied classical.  In that era, both styles were acceptable.  Later, in 1988, the classical style and free style were separated.  Today, FSC has both styles of skiing and races available.

    From 1968 to 1983, the Finnish Ski Club was a member of the US Bicycle Federation.  Club member Lynn LeMaire made history in 1973, as the first woman to break one hour on a 25-mile trial.  Barbara Amburgey was the top woman cross country as an alpine skier and bicyclist in 1974-80.  The Finnish Ski Club sponsored a four-man 100-mile US team Championship in Concord, Mass., in 1974.

    What FSC needs today is Bill Koch league full of youngsters.  This terrain is easy to ski and a great place to learn.  Skiing is a healthy outdoor sport.  Later, continue as a junior skier in college or possible USA team, or any other team.  This way, FSC will make another fifty years as an All-American Ski Club!

    The past fifty years, FSC has also produced a few ski coaches in US colleges, USA teams, a world champion team and Olympic teams.  Some of the members have been in marathon teams, World Loppet teams, etc.

    Membership in this type of ski sporting club goes up and down.  Some stay for a short time and some longer.  Personally, I estimate that on any given year three years is a long time for sixty percent of the membership.  Ten percent and less is what is called lifetime members.  It doesn’t matter if the membership fee is $10 or $500 a year.  This phenomenon is clearly seen at all clubs, especially sporting clubs.

    Last, but not least, FSC has had many presidents.  I did mention Leo Carlson earlier; Leo is living in Lake Worth, Florida.  At the present time, Veikko Honkala is the leader of this organization.  Veikko is a superior skier and racer himself and knows all aspects that all types of ski club members need to stay in and contribute to FSC and US skiing, plus continue in healthy sports.



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