The Finnish Center at Saima Park

Fitchburg, MA


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Finnish Center at Saima Park, Inc., Fitchburg Mass. - a brief history

Prepared by June Ilona Rantanen

The Saima Society, Fitchburg, Mass., was formed as an outlet and tie for immigrants from Finland, who naturally gravitated together because of their common language and interests in an alien environment.  It had been active as a social group in the Fitchburg area since 1898, bringing to the Finnish community many cultural, educational and athletic activities.  Saima Hall, where the majority of functions were held, was built in the early 1900’s.

Ground breaking at Saima

A gymnasium became available to the athletic arm of the Saima Society , the Reipas, when the Finnish newspaper, Raivaaja, purchased a building on Wallace Avenue in Fitchburg where a myriad of activities took place until the early 1950’s.

Saima Farm in Fitchburg Mass was purchased in 1912 by the Old Saima for its summer activities.  The brook was dammed, and a swimming pool constructed.  Since 1912 the Finns have gathered at Saima Park for festivals, dances, track and swim meets, etc.  In the early 1920’s, a new hall, including a stage, was built.  The place had been known as Saima Farm, but the name was formally changed to Saima Park.

Finnish American Club of Saima, Inc. (FACS), also known as “young Saima” was organized with 91 registered charter members on May 16, 1946.  It was an English speaking branch of the Finnish Saima Society (“Old Saima”).

The primary purpose of this new club, as quoted from by-laws adopted in September 1946 was, ”To preserve and cherish the Finnish culture which our fathers brought to America and to integrate and adapt it to our American culture.”

With the passage of time, and the advancing age of the members, Old Saima’s activities decreased considerably.  By 1947, Finnish American Club of Saima was asked to take over the management of Saima Park.  The Park’s “face was lifted” over the next two summers with volunteer labor by FACS members (as had been done earlier by Old Saima members).  In 1949 Saima Park was first rented under FACS management.

In 1966 the Saima Society deeded the Saima Park property to FACS.

Old performance and dance hall

The Park has been and still is available to community groups for outings, weddings, picnics, etc.  President Urho Kekkonen of Finland, who visited Fitchburg in 1970, tops the list of the many Finnish dignitaries and entertainers who have been hosted at Saima Park, our year-round home. Unfortunately, the old performance and dance hall by the brook burned in March of 1977.  Back then, the monthly meetings were conducted at the Coop Center.  The current function house was completed in 1980, thanks to the generous support of members and friends.

 The Finnish American Club of Saima celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996.

In the spring of 1998, after years of preparation by multiple unification committees, several local Finnish organizations began to unify.  The initial vote brought together the former Finnish American Club of Saima, the Finnish Cultural Center at Fitchburg State, and the Finnish Ski Club in unity under the name of the Finnish Center at Saima Park, Inc.  This is a new entity, with a life of its own.

The Finnish Center at Saima Park’s First Meeting was held Wednesday, April 8 1998, to begin a new era.

As quoted from by-laws adopted in April 1998:

“The purpose of this organization is to preserve Finnish culture and to integrate it into the culture of the United States of America as described below. 

A.      To develop and strengthen the friendship between Finnish Americans and others interested in Finland.

B.       To support and promote Finnish cultural, social and athletic activities.

C.       To establish, develop and operate a library/museum as a Finnish cultural, educational and research center.

D.      To present and sponsor exhibits, performances, courses, lectures, and other activities related to Finnish culture.

To maintain Saima Park as a living memorial to the Finnish Community.”

We continue to make improvements on the property.  The Finnish Ski Club maintains cross country ski trails.  Each winter, they host the Mass Sr. Games with free style and classic Nordic ski races, over the last weekend of January.  Everyone 50 and older is invited to sign up.  Races for the general public are conducted every Sunday during snow season with registration at 10:00 A.M. and races at 11:00 A.M.

The Finnish Figure Skating Committee prepares a skating rink under the pavilion.

The Reipas track events held in conjunction with the Kesäjuhla bring people from all over the north east together at Saima Park.

At the Finnish Center at Saima Park, we celebrate our “Finnishness” and share it with the world.  The Kesäjuhla and the fall Tori brought hundreds of faces of all ethnic backgrounds to enjoy Saima Park.  We have had performers from Finland and around the country to entertain us.

Now a new era is beginning as we celebrate our future.  A dream is becoming reality as the board of directors of the Finnish Center at Saima Park, Inc., under the leadership of president Alida Herring move toward a new monument to our Finnish ancestors.  The planning for a new facility progresses.  A fund raising drive is mounting.

FCSP binds together Finnish Americans, who take pride in their Finnish background, and those of other cultures who are interested in Finnish culture.  We hope Saima Park will remain as a reminder to future generations that a part of Finland is here, and of the Finns who played vital roles in the history and growth of this area.

Part of this growth comes not only from the Finns who migrated here, but also from those of us who are third and fourth generation Finnish Americans.  Many of the current activities are frequented by the grandchildren, and yes, even the great grandchildren of Finnish immigrants.  May it long continue.

(To contact June Rantanen, click here, or on her name in the heading.)

Jim Daley is changing the official name sign on the Function Hall at Saima Park

Finnish Center member, Jim Daley, has just finished installing our new name plate over the function hall entrance.

Jim holds the old, pre-unification, sign board which had been occupying the spot for over 20 years.

Lets hope that this is a "sign" of good things to come as we move into the next millennium!

 

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This page was last updated on: 10/23/17

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