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Proud to be a Finn

Sebeka woman, 91, celebrates her heritage with new book.

Anni (Korpi) Putikka has always been at home on the farm. She milked her first cow at the age of eight years old in her childhood home of Teuva, Finland. Eighty years later she would milk for the last time at the age of 88, on her farm in rural Sebeka. The time in between has been a life filled with treasured relationships, hard work, memories of Finland and numerous adventures.

Arlene Tucker and her mom, Anni Putikka, of Sebeka, in traditional Finnish dress. Anni, who grew up in Finland, recently published a book and is passionate about preserving the Finnish language and culture. Contributed photo

Anni was born the eldest child of Hugo and Jenny Korpi in the rural village of Teuva, Finland on Sept. 24, 1928. Life on the Korpi’s family farm in Finland was difficult in those days. Farm labor all was done by hand and by horsepower. Being the oldest of four children, three daughters and one son, Anni had to learn to manage farm work from a tender age. She said that in her childhood the family raised what they could to sustain the family, including sheep, pigs and cattle, as they also grew their own barley, oats, rye and flax.

As an 11-year-old living in Teuva, Anni said that the Winter War of 1939 was a time that affected her family in so many ways. It was a time to pull together as a people and fight for their home. Like so many families in Finland, her father was off to fight in the war. The war got it’s name from the fierce cold that the war was fought in as the Finns fought to protect their country and their freedom.

“With all of the men off at war, the women had to do all of the work on the farm,” Anni said. She recalled baking a special kind of ‘ruis leipe’ (rye bread) for the soldiers that were off fighting battles against the invading Russians. The bread, a type that was both heavy and nutritious, was tough and hardened as it baked to allow it to last longer.

At the age of 21, at the urging of family members, Lauri began to correspond with Anni. After two years of the couple writing back and forth across the Atlantic, Lauri set forth on a journey to Finland. It was a long journey from Sebeka to Teuva in 1951. Accompanied by his uncle, Putikka traveled first by train to New York, then by boat to Finland and finally on another train to reach his future bride.

After their marriage in Haapavesi, Finland, in the summer of 1951, Lauri and Anni took a commercial flight back to America to begin their life adventure on the dairy farm together just miles southwest of Sebeka.

“The farm work for them was always a joint venture,” said their eldest daughter, Arlene Tucker. The Putikka’s raised their five children in Minnesota keeping close the Finnish heritage and language that they shared.

Lauri and Anni pictured with their children in Sebeka in 1965, about 14 years after the couple married in Haapavesi, Finland. Contributed photo

That closeness to her roots has been an important one for Putikka. For many Finnish-Americans, Finland still holds a special place in their hearts and minds. As a home to friends or relatives or a place that is high on a list of places they would like to visit. For Putikka, it is both the place of her birth and a place to visit family as frequently as she is able. On her last journey to her homeland Putikka celebrated her 90th birthday with her youngest sister and extended family in Teuva last year.

After 91 years of life there is still time for reflection. For Putikka, living a healthy and active life has also been a priority.

“The key to a long life is the sauna and just a little wine after,” Putikka said.

Along with those words Putikka said that she has kept busy with her handiwork as well. When the farm work was done, she said she has enjoyed keeping her hands from getting idle by creating her own patterns and designs doing numerous projects crafted by knitting, sewing, crocheting and spinning her own fabrics from materials produced on her farms.

“She has always enjoyed reading and writing,” said Putikka’s eldest daughter Arlene Tucker.

Tucker sometimes helps to articulate some things for her mother, who along with the English that she has learned over the years, has continued to speak her native Finnish language over the course of her life. That included her writings which have been another part of Putikka’s desire to live a healthy lifestyle.

Over the years many of Putikka’s writings have found their way into the New World Finn publication. The past few years Putikka and Tucker have been able to compile her original essays and short stories into a collection into a book, Child of Teuva, which was finished and published this past January.

Lauri and Anni near the Pyhajoki River in Finland in 1951. Contributed photo

Putikka and Tucker have been able to travel to present the material, speaking at Finnish gatherings in Detroit this past September and in Duluth in October. Tucker said that proceeds of the book sales will go to fund the Salolampi Finnish Language Village in Bemidji.

“We are very passionate about keeping the Finnish language alive for children and adults,” Tucker said.

The book includes a number of stories that display Putikka’s long hand Finnish writings, which along with historical photos, appear alongside the English translations provided by the work of Ivy Nevala of Cedar Grove, Wisc.

For her next chapter Putikka said that she will continue to live a healthy life keeping as active as she can for as long as she can. That will include more time for writing and creating more handicrafts. As for another trip to Finland, only time will tell.

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