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History of the Finnish American Heritage Center

The “Home and Hall” of Finnish-American culture and life

Since its grand opening in 1990, the Finnish American Heritage Center has become a community focal point and a national center, offering a multitude of exhibits, lectures, plays, musical programs and community events each year. The building is a popular stop for tourists. Finnish immigrants dreamed of an institution that would provide religious education, perpetuate the Finnish language and preserve their experience in North America. Suomi College (later Finlandia University) built in 1896, was the realization of that dream, and was the only remaining North American institution of higher learning founded by Finnish Americans until its closure in 2023.

The Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC) serves as the hub of Finnish-American life for Hancock, the region and the broader North American Finnish community. The FAHC houses the Finnish American Historical Archive, the world’s largest and oldest collections of Finnish-American archive materials and works of art, as well as hundreds of museum pieces. It’s also the site of the Martha Wiljanen Community Hall, a spacious room that accommodates a wide range of events. The FAHC is the home of the monthly international newspaper “The Finnish American Reporter,” and the Finlandia Gallery.  And no visit is complete without stopping in next door to visit North Wind Books.

Anchored in the past

The FAHC’s archive collections preserve and promote Finnish-American identity and history. Housed in a climate-controlled environment, the archive has been actively collecting Finnish-American and Finnish materials since it was established in 1932. The ever-growing collection consists of more than 40,000 items, ranging from works of art by Gallen-Kallela, Sailo and Nelimarkka, to centuries-old Queen Christina Bibles, to modern-day St. Urho’s Day kitch. The archive serves as the official repository of Suomi College/Finlandia University, as well as the Suomi Synod, Finnish Congregationalists, Federation of Apostolic Lutherans and the Knights of Kaleva. The collection also includes records and materials from many other Finnish societal, cooperative and political groups, as well as diaries, letters, photographs and other personal items. The FAHC is well known for its genealogical materials, including original records and microfilm from Finnish-American churches, societies, and organizations; newspapers and periodicals; personal papers and photographs; and hundreds of microfilmed church records from Finland.

Embedded in The Present

The Finnish American Heritage Center provides a wide variety of programming. The center hosts a Nordic Film Series; community enrichment courses, such as Finnish language, music and dance, among other topics; and presentations by scholars, artists, musicians, and performers. The FAHC is the central location of the City of Hancock’s midwinter Finnish festival Heikinpäivä and hosts an annual Finnish Independence Day celebration. It sponsors local groups such as the Kivajat Dancers, and serves as a meeting site for several local Finnish-themed groups.

The Finlandia Gallery exhibits fine art by local, national, and international artists, and hosts an annual Contemporary Finnish-American Artist Series, and shows by artists from Finland. The Finnish American Reporter newspaper, published in Hancock since 2000, provides a forum for all points of view within the Finnish-American community. The publication serves subscribers in all 50 U.S. states, most Canadian provinces, and several other countries and features contributions from writers around the world.

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