In the spring of 1974, the school administration informed me that Finland was relocating itself. It felt like more was needed “Finish.”
In addition to this philosophy, a visit to Finland College in Finland in the near future was also planned.
The complete lack of fluency in the Finnish language was a problem both in speaking and in teaching the Finnish language to all non-Finnish choir members. The choir is, of course, expected to perform some standard Finnish songs. The writing was on the wall.
My teaching time in Finland was coming to an end. The president of the college gave me a very free letter of recommendation and the journey of my life was going in a new direction.
I will always look back on the time I have spent in Finland, its staff and students with a grateful heart. I learned to appreciate all seasons; the beauty of autumn, the majesty of Lake Superior and even record snowfall.
There were Stoic Yoopers, hockey matches and even a hockey organist. Michigan Tech’s famous hockey coach John MacInnes and I had become friends. His encouragement helped me overcome my fear of heights, I climbed a 50 foot ladder to the organ loft and I came “Hockey Trainer”.
I learned to eat pastries. I taught students from the surrounding area and distant states; The students came from Japan and some even from the distant islands of Samoa.
I was musically inspired and worked with talented local musicians such as David and Carol Waisana, Wilma Jenkins and members of the Michigan Tech Orchestra.
I organized a community choir and orchestra and introduced Handel“The Messiah and other choral classics. I formed and toured with a selected group of performers, “Finland singers ”.
I had the opportunity to play some of the historic UP organs; Some date from the days when mining was king. Leads worship, leads the choir and forms The “Gentlemen Singers” at the local Trinity Episcopal Church added to my memorable musical experiences.
I produced and directed “The Sound of Music” and “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown” at the magnificent Calumet Theater; and Finland gym, I produced and directed Holocaust-related, “I’ve never seen another butterfly. Earle Gagnon, editor of the Daily Mining Gazette, inspired me.”Climb the mountains. ”
In fact, to me, “Copper Country Hills had been and were alive to the sounds of music and drama. Whatever I gave, I was rewarded tenfold; and for that I am forever grateful.
Alongside God, I thank my parents and my Dutch upbringing for not spending much time in self-pity about losing my job. I had learned a long time ago that this feeling is just a downward slope, and no one will ever climb a mountain down. The end of one adventure is just the beginning of the next. I am responsible for my own destiny wherever it leads me, and there was no time for self-pity.
I had time before the Finnish spring term ended, and the time proved valuable. I didn’t give up looking for a job as a teacher for next fall. “Networking” was an operative word.
I found that music work, especially choral music work, is hard to find, especially in UP, but I had the time and the ambition motivated by financial need. I also believe in the power of prayer. I believe prayers are always answered, but I also knew that the answers we receive may not be our expectations.
Within a couple of weeks, I got a leader. Gwinn of the Michigan School District is looking for a high school and high school choir director.
When I study Gwinn ( “Before Google” era), I saw that it was about 30 miles south of Marquette. The total distance from Houghton was 113 miles on a two-lane road, most of it hilly. I decided to explore the possibility of work; but in the meantime I thought of continuing to search and hope that something closer would appear.
I called school and spoke according to principle. We had a wonderful discussion, and I gave him reference material. I also gave him permission to check with previous teachers ’employers. I gave my Finland students a homework assignment that they could work outside of class, took a day off, and drove to Gwinn.
It was a beautiful drive. The first part of the trip ran along Lake Portage. The Portage Canal is a waterway that flows from Lake Superior to the west and divides the peninsula. It then becomes Lake Portage, and to the east it eventually flows through another canal and empties back into Lake Superior. Highway US 41, the road I had to take, starts at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula and crosses the Portage Canal elevator bridge between northern Hancock and Houghton.
From there, the journey continues to Chicago and then to Florida.
My journey took me past Baraga and L’Anse (creek / entrance). The road turned east along the shores of Lake Portage and there, on a high hill, overlooking Lake Portage, stood a huge statue of Bishop Baraga (1797-1868) known as “Snowshoe priest.”
He was born in Slovenia to a wealthy family. He received a degree in law from the University of Vienna, but instead of a lawyer he chose the priesthood and in 1823 he was ordained a priest.
In 1830, he became a missionary to America, serving Indians and European immigrants in Ottawa and Chippewa in the Great Lakes region. He literally traveled hundreds of miles in his snowshoes for long, raw winters in northern Michigan, serving his flock. In 1853 he was ordained a bishop and appointed an apostle of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 1857 the Diocese of Marquette was founded and Bishop Baraga was appointed its bishop. His fame was legendary and the story of his life is worth exploring further.
As I continued my journey, an inspiring story about it “Snowshoe priest” stuck with me. Although our situations were very different, there were some similarities.
He traveled hundreds of miles through unforgivable UP winters to serve his flock, the indigenous peoples. I, too, would travel through hundreds of miles of unforgivable winters to serve my flock of Gwinn students.
He brought good news. I brought the joy of music. Of course, I easily understood that traveling on snowshoes or a nice, heated car with good winter tires isn’t exactly the same thing.
I felt a little ashamed even of the comparison. However, the image of Snowshoe Pap grabbed me and the following winters, as I struggled with snowstorms along the way, I just needed to remind myself of Snowshoe Priest to make me realize that I was really richly blessed.