Center at Saima Park, Inc., Fitchburg Mass. - a brief history
by June Ilona Rantanen
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
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.
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
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”).
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.”
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.
1966 the Saima Society deeded the Saima Park property to FACS.
Old performance and dance hall
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.
Finnish American Club of Saima celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996.
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.
Finnish Center at Saima Park’s First Meeting was held Wednesday, April 8 1998,
to begin a new era.
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
To develop and strengthen the friendship between Finnish Americans and
others interested in Finland.
To support and promote Finnish cultural, social and athletic activities.
To establish, develop and operate a library/museum as a Finnish cultural,
educational and research center.
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
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.
Finnish Figure Skating Committee prepares a skating rink under the pavilion.
Reipas track events held in conjunction with the Kesäjuhla bring people from
all over the north east together at Saima Park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
contact June Rantanen, click here,
or on her name in the heading.)
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
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