Sunday, September 22, 2013

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church, circa 1920s.
My family has been associated with Suomi Zion Lutheran Church in Fairport Harbor, Lake County, Ohio, since its beginning. Members of my family were among the church's founders. The first meeting of the congregation took place on December 13, 1891, in a hall above a grocery store next to Wolff’s saloon on Water Street, before there was a church building. Officers elected at that first meeting included my great-great-grandfather Matti Uhmusberg Hietanen Sr. (1857-1915) as treasurer.

The first couple married in the Suomi Zion congregation were my great-great-great-uncle John Heikki "Henry" Hirvi (1860-1935) and Justiina Johantytar Somppi Hirvi (1875-1935). The marriage was performed by the congregation's first pastor, Reverend Abel Kiviola, on January 26, 1892. Henry Hirvi was also a signer of the church charter and from 1898 to 1903 held the office of vice president of the congregation.

The family of my great-great-great-uncle Henry Hirvi (Hervey). Back row, left to right: Weino Hjalmer "Wayne" Hervey (1901-1991), Olga Sigred Hervey Palmer (1894-1955), Saima Ilona Hervey Oliver (1892-1951), Thomas John "Tom" Hervey (1898-1958). Middle row, left to right: Elvira Justiina "Ella" Hervey Meyer (1896-1991), John Heikki "Henry" Hirvi (Hervey) (1860-1935), Justiina Johantytar Somppi Hervey (1865-1935), Richard Henry Hervey (1917-1962). Front row, left to right: Linda Emelia Hervey York (1905-1992), Hilda Marie Hervey Finneman (1903-1928). Photo circa 1922.

Construction of a simple church building on Seventh Street was finished in July 1892. The building was dislocated and damaged by a storm in 1893, but put back in place and repaired.

On July 12, 1896, a lot at the corner of Fifth and Eagle Streets was purchased. The church building was moved and substantially renovated. A foundation, a steeple, and a belfry were among the additions. My great-great-great-uncle Henry Hirvi and Oscar Hill Sr. built a new altar. My great-great-grandfather Matt Hietanen Sr. built the pulpit.

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church sanctuary, early twentieth century. The pulpit on the left was built by my great-great-grandfather Matti Hietanen Sr. My great-great-great-uncle Henry Hirvi helped build the altar.

An eight hundred pound bell was installed in 1898. The purchasing committee for the bell included my ubiquitous great-great-great-uncle Henry Hirvi. The bell still tolls today. The number of times it strikes indicates things such as the beginning of the Finnish service, the beginning of the English service, the death of a congregation member, and a funeral.

In 1901 the parsonage was built on the lot next door. The chairman of the parsonage committee was—take a guess—my great-great-great-uncle Henry Hirvi. The congregation agreed that members would take turns filling his position on the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Company docks if Hirvi had to attend to parsonage affairs during the workday. The old parsonage remained beside the church until 1941 when it was moved to 428 Sixth Street and a new parsonage was built.  Also in 1901 the church balcony was enlarged to accommodate a manually-pumped pipe organ. About 1950 the most recent organ was installed, an M.P. Möller, Opus 8550.

The church established a Summer School in 1902 to instill patriotic and religious feeling into the youth of Fairport’s Finnish community. Confirmation classes were held beginning in the early years of the church. Members of my family appear in early photographs of both the Summer School and Confirmation classes.

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church Summer School, 1911. The first girl on the left in front is my great-great-aunt Elizabeth Stuuri Lehto (1903-1982). Sitting just to the right of her is another great-great-aunt, Elsie Emilia Hietanen Austin Behm (1904-1990). The boy third from the left in the top row is John Everett Ojanpa (1903-1968), my first cousin twice removed.











Suomi Zion Lutheran Church Confirmation class, 1902. The girl second from the right in the middle row is my great-great-aunt Liisa Emilia "Emma" Salo Klein (1887-1973). The girl second from the left in the back row is Maria Lepisto Hirvi (1887-1973), who married my great-great-uncle John Wilhelm Hirvi (1888-1918).
Suomi Zion Lutheran Church Confirmation Class, 1906. The girl on the left end of the middle row is my great-great-aunt Helmi Sofia Salo Syrjälä Haapala Lahti (1890-1961). The girl second from the left in the front row is my great-grandmother Wilhelmina Elizabeth "Minnie" Hirvi Stuuri (1890-1946).

In 1920 the original church building was moved to what eventually became the church parking lot and a new brick church was built on the old site. The new building was completed in 1925 and still stands at the corner of Fifth and Eagle Streets in Fairport Harbor today. The old building was converted into a gymnasium for a while. Then the building materials were reused to build what is now the Potti Funeral Home at 538 Fifth Street. This was the funeral parlor for my grandmother, "Muumma," in 1971, and all I could think of when I saw the name Potti—it was stenciled on the backs of all the chairs—was "potty." My mother was not amused.

Organizations within the church through the years have included choirs and singing groups, orchestras, Ladies Aid societies, the Luther League, the church council, and various committees as needs arise.

The church has continued to be a center of community in Fairport Harbor, especially for the descendants of Finnish immigrants to the USA. Church services in Finnish, in addition to weekly English services, are still held on the first Sunday of every month, as you can see on the church's website here.

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church—or simply Zion Lutheran, as it’s been called for decades—has been a touchstone in my life, too. It was where my parents were married in August 1962, although I was not around for that event. I was around in the summer of 1970 when I attended Vacation Bible School for a week. My great-aunt Adela Mirjam Stuuri Bixler (1918-2003) was teaching it.

Many of my relatives are buried in the church cemetery on East Street between Fifth and Independence Streets. Land for the cemetery was purchased in 1902 and clearing began in 1903. Among my family buried there are my grandmother Arlene Wilhelmina Stuuri Hietanen (1917-1971) and my grandfather Everett John Hietanen (1915-1998). I attended both their services at the church and their burials in the cemetery. The memorial service of my grandfather, “Paappa,” was the most recent time I was inside the sanctuary.

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church sanctuary today, from the church's website.

The most memorable feature of the sanctuary is the painting above the altar. It has nothing to do with my family directly, but all of my family who have attended that church can’t fail to have been struck by it. Painted by Reverend Hannes Leiviskä, pastor at Suomi Zion in 1905, it pictures Christ in Gethsemane. It’s based on the oft-copied Heinrich Hoffman original from 1890, now in Riverside Church in New York City. But Leiviskä used the Hoffman original merely as a starting point, adding substantial touches of his own. The most curious touch is what has always looked to me like a bolt of lightning in the sky. I remember attending Suomi Zion Lutheran as a child and trying to figure out exactly what was supposed to be represented by the brush strokes and paint colors forming this bolt. When I’ve seen the painting as an adult, it immediately evokes overwhelming nostalgia. Now it looks to me that what I thought was a lightning bolt is actually light reflecting from a cliff.

"Christ in Gethsemane" by Hoffman, 1890.
"Christ in Gethsemane" by Leiviskä, 1905.



I thank my second cousin once removed Sharon Ojanpa Mackey and Elaine Kangas of the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, for providing the Zion Lutheran Church 90th Anniversary booklet from which I took the black and white photos in this blog post.

5 comments:

  1. Eric, did I mention there are a bunch of confirmation pictures hanging up in the basement of the Suomi Lutheran Church? One per class...from back in the early part of the century. At least there were like 12 years ago. One of the first pictures of my grandfather Jacob Hietanen was from that collection....Bob H.

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  2. Would love to see some of those pictures. My great grandfather John Hemming was one of the founders of Suomi Zion . His name had been changed from Hemmenke when he entered the USA. He built the family home at the corner of Fifth and Plum in 1890. He was one of the first Finns in Fairport. WOuld love to see those pictures posted as I remember seeing my great grandparents and grandparents in them when I was growing up. Anyone have access to them? Thanks.

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  3. MY GRANDPARENTS JACOB AND MARIA WERE MEMBERS OF SUOMI ZION
    THEY LIVED ON SEVENTH STREET IN FAIRPORT. MY MOTHER LILLIAN KOKKO WAS CONFIRMED HER PICTURE IS HANGING IN THE CHURCH BASEMENT. I ALSO ATTENDED SUOMI ZION AT DIFFERENT TIMES AS MY MOM AND DAD SAM AND LILLIAN KOKKO HARCLERODE HAD MOVED TO CLEVELAND. I SPENT MANY SUMMERS WITH MY MUMMU AND PAAPA IN FAIRPORT. I WAS BAPTIZED AT SUOMI ZION ON OCTOBER 31, 1943. ALSO,
    I STILL HAVE A CARD THAT WAS SENT TO ME THAT SINCE NOW THAT I WAS 3 YEARS OLD I COULD ATTEND SUNDAY SCHOOL. MY GRANDPARENTS LIVED NEXT DOOR TO HILDA HAKOLA AND MILLIE AND KAYLETTE IT HAS BEEN AWHILE SO FORGIVE ME IF I HAVE SOME MISPELLINGS. PASTOR GABRIEL LIPSANEN WAS A PASTOR AT SEVERAL LUTHERAN CHURCHES. I AM SO PROUD TO BE HALF FINN MY MOTHER WAS VERY PROUD OF TO BE FINNISH. I HAVE SO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR MY LESSONS AND THE TIME I SPENT IN FAIRPORT. I MISS MY GRANDPARENTS SO MUCH. I WAS SO BLESSED TO HAVE THEM.

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  4. Does anyone have any information about my family name, Tuuri in relation to Zion Lutheran? My great grandfather was a founding member and I am trying to find information for this coming Sunday's Founding Fathers recognition.

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    1. Sorry not to get to your comment until too late, herbalmom, although I don't think I have info that you were looking for. My best suggestion is to contact the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, and see whether they can help you. I do have Tuuri relatives on my family tree, but they seem to be all back in Finland no earlier than the first half of the 19th century.

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