Cleveland was a destination city for 5 Fulbright Finland Scholars in 2022. The Cleveland Counsel of World Affairs in conjunction with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs hosted Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Seminars in May and December. The Theme of the Seminars was Climate change with emphasis on the environment, Social Justice, and Technology. Tiia Kekäläinen and Pirita Tolvanen visited in May and Carita Eklund and Saara Ala-Luopa in December. The scholars visited parks, neighborhoods that were reclaiming the land with green initiatives and of course The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame otherwise known as the Rock Hall. Olli Siitonen’s visit in August was an alumni networking effort and provided him opportunities to visit Case Western Reserve University and Kent State University. (His story is in the Fulbright Finland News magazine 2/2022).  

The December Seminar also included a reception at the Cleveland History Center and the Western Reserve Historical Center. At the reception, Carita Eklund and Saara Ala-Luopa met Jenni Carney, the development director at the Cleveland Counsel of World Affairs and a native of Helsinki. We all were impressed at how small the world really is when viewed through the lens of the Fulbright Program.

Two Finnish Fulbrighters, Carita Eklund and Saara Ala-luopa with alum Ed Sivak and Jenni Carney, the development director at the Cleveland Counsel of World Affairs.
From left to right: Carita Eklund, Ed Sivak, Saara Ala-Luopa, and Jenni Carney.

The visiting Scholars had an opportunity to experience Cleveland, a major city in North East Ohio. Few may know about the Finnish Heritage Center in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, just 39 miles east of Cleveland and a bit further east another in Ashtabula, Ohio. Perhaps none know the statues of Jean Sibelius and Elias Lönnrot located in the cultural gardens on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Cleveland.  

North East Ohio was an avenue through which many Finnish immigrants headed west. Going back bit in history, Oskari Tokoi’s father and uncle traveled through Ashtabula, Ohio and on to Wyoming where they worked in the mines of the Hanna Coal Company, owned by Marcus Hanna of Cleveland. Oskari followed in their footsteps to Wyoming and beyond working in the mines and forests from 1891 to 1900. The details of his journey to and from America and back to Finland and return to America are in his autobiography, Sisu, Even Through A Stone Wall. He provides the best definition of sisu that I have ever seen. My conclusion, there is no definition, only stories associated with the word. 

Finnish Heritage Museum, Fairport Harbor, Ohio
Finnish Heritage Museum, Fairport Harbor, Ohio

When I look at the list of the most recent Scholars and the states in which their host institutions are listed, only one ventured into the Midwest. On one occasion I talked to a Scholar whose host received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota but the scholar knew nothing about the role that Minnesota played in Finnish immigration to the United States.

Then it dawned on me that many Finnish Scholars may not know of the rich history created by Finns who came to America. I then started to search Finns and the various states in the U.S. and found 204 primary links, and 124 secondary links and countless other references ranging from the Library of Congress to Rosebury, Idaho.

My inspiration to do this came from a book written by John Kolehmainen, a Fulbright Scholar to the University of Turku in 1964. His book, From Lake Erie’s shores to the Mahoning and Monongahela Valleys: A History of the Finns in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia was published in 1977. Using the geographic theme of his book, I found that there are 34 institutions of higher learning in Northeast Ohio, all of which provide a rich background in the history of NE Ohio, especially from 1885 to 1924, a time when industrial growth attracted Finnish immigrants.

Northeast Ohio is again in the forefront with the launch of a Fulbright Finland Scholarship at Cleveland State University, established in 2022 to support Finnish scholars and students to attend the University. At the risk of providing too much information, the scholar or student, during leisure time could enjoy the Cleveland History Center with a tour guided by a docent whose grandfather emigrated from Finland to Fairport Harbor before the Russian Revolution.

Tervetuloa Clevelandiin!

Headshot of Ed Sivak
Ed Sivak
Core U.S. Fulbright Scholar 2015-17, Aalto University

Dr. Ed Sivak is Clinical Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.