View Full Version : Order of Runeberg

10-10-03, 03:51
What exactly is this "Order of Runeberg"? I've heard it mentioned a lot on both the old Finlander list and this forum. What was/is its purpose? Was it only for Finnish immigrants to belong?

I don't recall ever hearing about it growing up. I wonder if my grandparents would've been participants in the organization. Three out my four grandparents were already deceased by the time I came around and I only saw my grandmother a few times in my life.

I do remember even as a teenager that our church had Finnish church services on Sunday afternoons and my parents were raised in Finnish speaking churches. Was this Order related to the church?


10-10-03, 18:02
Hi all,
By the turn of the 20th century, two concerns occupied the "movers and doers" in the Swedish Finn communities, primarily in Michigan-Minnesota-Wisconsin, Massachusetts-Connecticut-New York, and Wash-Oregon- California: alcohol and sick or death insurance benefits. At that time, no unions existed to provide coverage benefits, and the jobs held by the majority of the men were dangerous: logging, mining, fishing, longshoring. Many were bachelors. They often went as a group to enjoy a precious day off, taking their paychecks to the nearest tavern.

Two types of organizations were formed: temperence and fraternal insurance orders. They offered social activities as alternatives to the tavern, and as a place where well-chaperoned young women could be seen. Best behavior was required, although the organizations were not associated with any particular church. (In my research on Newcastle WA, three organizations turned up: IOGT, Temperence, and church. The membership lists didn't overlap for the most part.) Finnish-speaking immigrants also had similar organizations: the Finnish Order of Kaleva, the Finnish Brotherhood, and so on.

The Order of Runeberg combined the two goals when it was formed, sometime in the 20's. (I'll have to dig around in the archive to get the exact date.)

More than 100 lodges developed over the next 30 years. Some, like Crosby Minnesota, dissolved when the mining game shut down. Those names can be located a decade later in the Hoquiam/Aberdeen WA area in the two lodges which developed in the logging/sawmill/plywood mill towns.

Today, SFHS is attempting to collect as many extant records of the OR as we can. (The International Order of Runeberg has made SFHS its official repository.) Many of the lodges dissolved and the records cannot be traced. In a very very few instances we are lucky enough to have someone inquire if we would like the boxes in their attic. (This happened last weekend at the SFHS exhibit at a local Scandinavian festival. We were jumping up and down:) ) Today, the remaining Lodges are struggling, since contemporary culture has more or better alternatives to insurance and social activities. The temperence has fallen somewhat to the wayside, depending on the lodge. The virtues always a part of lodge goals have not, however, and correspond to what was held to be characteristics of an honorable person in homes in Finland, and elsewhere in the Nordic countries.

You can become a member if there is a lodge near you, by contacting the officers through the newspaper, the Leading Star. It's very awkward. However, Hasse has stated that the OR may submit graphics for a page about OR and a downloadable membership application and he will enable that page on SFHS website. We wait now for the IOR board to generate that material. I

I know there are a lot of Swedish Finns in Florida, but that is a relatively recent development. (Since the 50's?) So there was never a lodge in Florida that I am aware of. However, if your gparents lived elsewhere, they may well have been members. Don (Forsman, husband and real genealogist) has made sure that the OR obituaries, and now the Norden obits are underway, have been entered into a database. It can be searched for your names if you like.

One of the biggest problems SFHS has is winnowing out the names of Swedish Finns from the list in congregations, Vasa lodges, and so forth. Because the Swedish immigrants (from Sweden) had arrived in the USA some twenty years earlier, and established such institutions where they settled, latecoming Swedish Finns often entered those organizations. Their grandchildren might have known Grandma spoke Swedish, althouth the gchildren didn't know the language, so they made the assumption that the gparents were from Sweden. People were hardly aware of Swedish Finlanders. Unless the gparents and parents made it clear, through pride perhaps in their homeland, that they came from Finland, that fact was lost in the "mists of time."

Hope this answers some of your questions.

June Pelo
10-10-03, 19:15

The Runeberg Order publishes a newspaper - The Leading Star - which contains news about the activities of the lodges in the US. The paper was published monthly, but because many lodges have closed there isn't enough financial support to print monthly - now they print quarterly. I write articles for their Genealogy Corner and if you are interested in reading some of the newspapers, I could send some to you.


10-10-03, 19:58
Thanks Syrene for the explanation!

My great grandparents were in Minnesota (New York Mills, Otter Tail County) area in the late 1880s. Their children were married about 1915 and lived in the same area. They all were farmers so I don't know if they would've found a need to belong, at least for the insurance, but maybe for the social aspect.

Their names were Peter & Greta Maijala and Alex & Lydia Karhoja (Americanized) and my grandparents were Toivo William & Helmie Maijala. No big hurry, but if you ever get a spare minute and have nothing to do (!) it'd be interesting to learn if they were members.

I just recalled my mother telling me that occasionally she was allowed to go to some kind of social "dance" as a teenager. Her father always told her to "Take Jesus with you" when she went and my mother said it took some of the fun out of going! :)

June, if it's not too much trouble, pop an issue in the mail. I'd be interested to read an issue.

Thanks again!

12-10-03, 01:23
I just checked the info from the Temperence organization for Swedish Finns in 1908, 1917, and 1967, and found no lodge in the New York Mills area. However, from numerous conversations at FinnFests I know there were plenty of Finns there. So if I were seeking relatives in that area, I would turn to Kaleva Lodges or Finnish brotherhood, etc. And a query to the Finnish American Reporter monthly newspaper ought to get some response. As well, you might contact Jim Kurtti, former editor of the above FAR, and now director of the Finnish Archives at Finlandia University in Hancock Michigan.
He's an excellent contact, and will do what he can up there to find someone who might have info.

Best of luck!

12-10-03, 02:23
Hi Syrene,
Actually, I've got all the info I need for my great grandparents in New York Mills. That doesn't sound right, but hopefully you know what I mean. :) I was just curious if they appeared in any references to those organizations. Thanks for checking tho!