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The sad state of ethnic diversity

No one growing up in the last generation in Ely would have ever dreamed it could happen. The vanishing of St. Urho’s Day as one of the area’s most honored celebrations.

Years ago, Mill’s Clothing Store (later the JD Mills Company), under the proprietorship of the late Bill Mills (a Finn with an anglicized name) featured the day.  Restaurants were decorated green and purple and featured Finnish foods such as kola mojakka.

In dozens of homes, Finns gathered for more or less solemn observances. For years, the arbiters of Finnish culture and Urho lore were Ely’s Lorene and Ben Mauser. Lorene by birth, Ben by marriage. Why green and purple? Because St. Urho became known as the cleric who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland and saved the grape crops for wine. Aha, one might say, but is this not a takeoff on St. Patrick, the Irish saint who reportedly drove the snakes out of the Ireland? In a sense, yes; but that is not the only connection.

History records that one Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola’s Store in Virginia, became so fed up with the annual St. Patrick’s Day observances by the Irish, that he determined that something should be done for the Finns. He tendered his thoughts to some friends including Gene McCavic, also of Ketola’s who came up with a stirring poem about Urho.

Among the lore is the statement attributed to the honored saint which is as follows:

‘Heinäsirkka, Heinäsirkka, mene täältä Hiiteen!’ which translates: “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, get outta here!”

It was this order, it is said, which ran the grasshoppers out of Finland.

It is said that Urho gained his great powers by dining regularly on mojakka (moy-yakka) Finnish fish soup and sour milk. Mojakka is still a highly honored, tasty way to prepare fish. Sour milk? Well, we don’t know.

The problem with all of the St. Urho business is that nobody in Finland ever heard of him. Indeed, the Finns are largely Protestants who don’t register new saints since the passage of the original disciples and men of the New Testament.

Nevertheless, the celebration did provide some good times and festivity in the northland where Irish are in very short supply and St. Patrick’s Day is something watched on a TV station.

  Sad to say, there seems to be little observance of St. Urho’s Day in this enlightened age and our world is less joyous for the loss.

The 49th Annual St Urho’s Celebration will be held this year in Finland, MN on March 15, 16 and 17. The theme this year is St. Urho Travels the World.

But shed a tear and light a candle for St. Urho. - Ely seems to have lost a part of our heritage.

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