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Ruth B. Pelo: Mother's and Father's Family

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Anders Pelo was born 16 August 1838 in Nedervetil. He married Greta Sofia Skriko, born in Nedervetil 9 December 1836. Several children were born to them. The oldest son was Anders, born 24 Mar 1864. As a young man he traveled across the Atlantic to Ludington, Michigan, probably in 1871. He was among the first of Finland’s Swedish emigrants who went to Ludington and stayed there. He was my father.

Erik Lågland was born in Palo village, Karleby on 1 August 1828. He married Anna Sofia Borg, b. in Palo village 28 Jul 1828. They had 11 children. The first born was Johan who made two trips to America and worked several years in East Tawas and Alabaster, Michigan. (Many of Finland’s Swedish emigrants were already there.) But he eventually returned to Finland and he and his family lived in Storby, Karleby where he died a few years ago.

His daughter Brita Lena Lågland was born in Palo village 7 December 1867. When she was 7 years old the family moved from Palo to Storby and she worked around the home until she was 20 years old. Then she got America fever and traveled the same way as her brothers Johan, Anders, Herman and sister Johanna who had previously emigrated. She went to Ludington where her brothers were and began to work in a hotel. She became my mother.

Anders Pelo married Brita Lena Lågland on 12 December 1890. They bought a little house on The Island and my father worked for a while in Hopkins Mill during the summer and at a lumber camp in the winter. My brothers Anders Thure and Erik Leonard were born in the little house on The Island.


GEORGIA AND FINLAND

Hopkins Mill moved to Brunswick, Georgia in 1896. They wanted my father to follow them there and, since it was difficult to find other work in Ludington at that time, he decided to move there. A short time later my mother and her two small sons followed and the family lived in Brunswick. I, Ruth Birgitta, was born there. My nurse was a Negro woman, the best that could be had at the time.

But the climate was not the best for us northerners. After several years father’s health began to fail and he wanted to go back to Finland. At first mother thought it would not be possible and she wanted to return to Ludington. But father decided we should go to Finland.

We left Brunswick on a boat that went to New York, and there we boarded an ocean liner that would take us over the Atlantic. But while the boat was still in the harbor, my father became so ill that he was taken to a hospital. Mother continued the journey with her three children, with the understanding that father would follow as soon as he was well. We eventually arrived in Gamlakarleby, but a telegram waited there for my mother and it said that her husband died in St. Vincent Hospital of malaria several days after we left New York.

For a while we lived with mother’s parents in Storby. When Erik Leonard was 9 years old he had scarlet fever and died. Then mother began to think that the future in Finland didn’t have much to offer for Anders Thure and me. It was a lucky day when Sanfred Molander came to visit his old mother at her home there to take her to her children in America. Mother packed our belongings and together with the Molanders we left Gamlakarleby – our mother, Anders Thure and Ruth Birgitta – on 10 June 1909. The next day we were in Hangö, where we boarded the Astrea to England and after several days of waiting in Liverpool we sailed on the Lusitania over the Atlantic. After many examinations at Ellis Island we took a ferry to New York. We took a train to Ludington and were met at the station by the Palm boys.

The years followed one after the other. In 1917 brother Anders was called to military service. He was in training at Camp Custer for five months, later he spent six months in France, serving in the signal corps and in the military police. Then he spent some time in the hospital. But luckily he returned home and has lived in Flint, Michigan since 1918. He is married to Edith Wargström from Oscoda, Michigan. They have four children: June, Robert, Ruth and Lorraine. He has worked for Buick Motor Co. since 1921.


SECOND TRIP TO FINLAND

I worked for many years for the Star Watch Case. Co. until May 1921 when I and my cousin Edna Johnson from Wrenshall, Minnesota took a trip to Finland. We sailed from New York 6 June on the Kungsholm and after 14 days we arrived in Gamlakarleby. We were guests of relatives there and in Nedervetil and attended a wedding. We also stayed several days at Richard Prest’s villa at Brudskär. There we drank coffee all day long. Time passed and soon we had to say farewell. A little group followed us to the station in the evening of 10 August. At Kronoby two of our travel companions boarded the train, namely Mrs. Sandeen from Oregon and her daughter Ellen. In Åbo we visited the ancient castle and cathedral. There we heard English spoken along with Swedish and Finnish. The coffee tasted good in the castle’s restaurant.

We stayed overnight at the Hotel Patria and traveled then to Helsingfors and stayed there for several days. While there we visited the Russian cathedral, the beautiful cemetery and other places of interest in the city. Edna and I stayed at the club house but Mrs. Sandeen with her daughter had a sister Sofia Nyquist who lived on Sanduddsgatan and they stayed there during the nights. During the day we visited the city together. Our return trip was by the boat Borgholm to Stockholm, by train to Göteborg and then on the Kungsholm over the ocean. The weather was beautiful and the entire journey was fine. We attended many good programs. Pastor Hultman was on board and we sang and talked each day. We arrived in Ludington 28 August. Edna continued later by boat over Lake Michigan to Manitowoc and on to Duluth and home in Wrenshall.

In January 1933 my mother Brita became very sick and underwent an operation, but died two days later on 22 January. After the funeral I went to live with my brother in Flint for several months until I once again packed my luggage for another trip to Finland for the third time.


THIRD TRIP TO FINLAND

I left Flint 25 May and on the 17th I was on the Gripsholm that went from New York to Halifax, then to Göteborg. After a day in Göteborg, the Gripsholm continued on to Klaipeda in Poland and anchored in Kronborgs bay. We transferred to the boat Suomi for the trip to Helsingfors. There we were met by Märta Schulz-Cajander who invited us to the old student hostel for coffee. Then Stig Calliander and Hugo Ekhammar welcomed us and Evert Ekroth sang some solos. A bus waited to take travelers around the city. In the bus we sang one song after another – Swedish songs, Home Sweet Home, and others. At 6 o’clock the train left for Österbotten. The next day at 11 o’clock we were in Gamlakarleby.

I rented a few rooms from Hongell and called it my home. But for the most, I was a guest of relatives and friends or else traveled around. In the summer I had the pleasure of going with my cousin Hildur Stenmark, who is director of the community home, to Sordavala where the Social Welfare Congress was held for four days. The program and meeting didn’t interest me much because Finnish was spoken most of the time. But there were many worthwhile sights to see around Sordavala. The memory still remains.

The high point came on Sunday when all the guests went to Sordavala’s harbor where a boat waited to take us to Valamo. On Ladoga the boat rolled so much that we thought we would succumb. At 10 o’clock we were in front of the thousand-year-old Valamo. It was as if we had landed in another world. What a sight! A terrace of sky blue with a gilded cupola! The beautiful church bells rang for mass and dark-bearded monks came from all the halls in the monastery and we followed. It was a holy moment although we did not understand a word of what was said. What grandeur for inexperienced eyes! Gold and color everywhere.

After a visit to the cemetery we went to the restaurant for a coffee or tea. A monk with long hair that hung down to the shoulders with a high firkin on his head served us. When we left we looked in the monk’s kitchen. Our next undertaking was to look in a monk’s cell. It is forbidden for strangers to go into their cells. But Mr. Nordström opened the door and we went in, but then a monk came and mumbled something and showed us out. We said farewell to all the magnificence and luster and in a few hours returned to Sordavala and prepared to leave Karelia. Most of our group left Sordavala earlier in the evening and traveled to Viborg. But Hildur and I steered our course to Österbotten and had to wait until 1 o’clock at night for our train. The hours were long while we lingered there after our comrades had gone. It was very interesting to visit the Russian side of Finland, but we were also glad to leave there. It was good to near Österbotten and to begin to hear the Swedish language again.

In the autumn of 1933 I was invited by my cousin Inez Stenmark, who was a school teacher, to go with her to Västerhankmo, and I gladly accepted. During the time I was there I became acquainted with school inspector Johannes Näse who was a brother of Andrew Nase of Flint, Michigan. He had also been to America. After we had coffee he invited Inez and me to go with him in his automobile to his home in Vasa for coffee.

During my visit in Finland I was for most of the time with Inez and it was sad to think she has now left this earth. Young as she was, she died 27 July 1941 in the hospital at Sienäjoki.

In Gamlakarleby I was also together with another cousin, Lucille Logland from Vancouver, Canada. She was good with the kick-sledge and we traveled in the winter on the road to Ventus and Storby for short visits. We often heard people say: “You can correctly speak pure and genuine Kokkola Swedish”. And Kokkola Swedish lets one know especially that one is in Finland. For example, when Hildur and I sat on a bench at Elisenvaara station a man walked back and forth with his cap in his hand. Then he came closer and asked if we were from Gamlakarleby. Yes, we answered, surprised. He said that he could hear us talk and that he had also been in Gamlakarleby for a while. So it goes that we could not hide out at Elisenvaara. It was our Kokkola Swedish that betrayed us.

The church was not well visited on Sunday if there was not something special. As long as the weather was nice I visited Karleby parish church that lies about a kilometer outside the city. In any event there also the city church where Pastor Max Oterdahl had a service for many years. The first Christmas I celebrated in Karleby church and the second in the city church. Both were glorious with their Christmas decorations and filled to the last seat and out into the cloak room. In the city church one celebrated on Christmas Eve with an evensong service at 5 o’clock. In Karleby church I was glad to be at an ordainment and a church wedding. Tor Krook was ordained as pastor and the church was again consecrated after going through a renovation. It was a festive day for the Karleby congregation. We sat in church from 9 o’clock until 2 o’clock in the afternoon with a half hour for coffee at noon. There was Bishop Max von Bonsdorff and priests of every category. I estimated nine at the altar in the beginning. Later in the evening we were there for vesper service. Pastor Paul Krokfors with his beautiful singing voice was liturgist, assisted by the excellent church choir.

By late winter it was time again to think of travel to America. To pack my luggage has become such a habit that I think it was part of my daily routine. After much preparation and saying farewell, I left Gamlakarleby 5 March 1935. A crowd of relatives and friends had gathered at the station in the evening. When the train arrived from the north I noticed that Bishop Raymond Wade stepped from the train. I greeted him and said that I was now on the way to America. He was surprised I had stayed in Finland so long. I had previously met him at the Methodist conference held in Gamlakarleby in the summer of 1933. We then spoke about one and another from America. Now the train whistled and we must separate. I felt as if a string had broken when the train left the station and I saw for the last time the little crowd that stood there and waved their handkerchiefs. Lucille Logland came with me only to Helsingfors. She would stay in Finland and in the autumn she traveled to her home in Vancouver, Canada.

TO AMERICA AGAIN

The next morning we were in Helsingfors. After eating in the Club House, I went on my way to Åbo and then on the boat Oihonna to Stockholm. On the Oihonna I met my cabin mate Hilda Mylly. She was Finnish and from Syväoro, Karelia. But she could speak English because she had worked in New York several years and was on her way there after she had been home for a while. After a visit to the zoo and other places in Stockholm, we were again on the way to Göteborg. On 9 March we boarded the Drottningholm and it was a stormy trip. But despite this, my 7th trip over the ocean, I had become more or less accustomed to the rolling and rocking so it was not so difficult for me this time. We had no priests or religious services on board. Nearly all the other classes that we came in contact with were those who had been home to Sweden for Christmas. We were only 75 passengers in second class and about 10 in first class with somewhat over 300 in third class. Time was long and there was not much to interest us. It was only to sit and wait for meal time. Sometimes I went to visit Astrid Mattson from Göteborg who was sick from the first day to the last. On the 11th day we were in New York and all those who had been in their cabins the whole time were on the deck healthy again. The American flag, I thought, was more beautiful than ever before when it floated over the great ship. After much bustling and running around in the toll house with our baggage, it was time to find the train. The next day I was in Flint and stayed with my brother for two years.

In 1937 I went to Ludington again. In the summer of 1939 we traveled to Minnesota and visited relatives in Duluth, Wrenshall, Eveleth and Virginia. In Duluth June and I stayed with mine spector Ed Smith and his daughter Marie who is married to William Mattson, a Ludington resident. In Duluth we stayed with our cousin Ina Anderson. One day I said to Ina it should be nice to talk with Pastor Silfversten about Finland. In the blink of an eye she took up the telephone and began to talk with Pastor Silfversten. After a moment we were on the way and it wasn’t long before we were there talking with him. We talked for an hour. We had no time to waste when we must cover all of Finland in an hour. We filled in our information quite well. One said in Finland that Finland is not so little when one begins to go around it.

So reads my life’s saga. And what do I do now? Nothing to talk about. I wonder like all the others. How shall it be in Finland? Can it ever be as before, that people can be calm and free to travel where they want? The young say it would be nice to see their parents’ homeland, but up to now it has been only a few who have met their wishes. We all wish it will soon be better.

Ruth B. Pelo, November 21, 1941

Translated from Swedish by her niece, June Pelo


Ruth Pelo wrote this for Anders Myhrman’s emigrant archive. It was discovered in Åbo Akademis bibliotek, Handskriftsavdelningen. The folder was labeled: Biographica, Födda in Amerika-biografier.

In 1941 she also wrote the following for Mr. Myhrman about Finlands Swedes in Ludington, Michigan:

They who came here from Finland did not have much schooling. Many of the older people cannot write. But their children have all gone through high school and many received a higher education.

But while Ludington is a city of less than 10,000 residents, there is not much work for the young people and therefore they have to seek a career in larger cities. Most of them went to areas around Detroit and Chicago.

The young people wish to see the old country. But they say they cannot speak Swedish. The older children went to Swedish summer school for a while and were confirmed in the Swedish language. But about 15-20 years ago the Sunday School began to be completely English speaking. And while this language is used mostly in the home among the children, Swedish was difficult for them. And now the younger generations who grew up don’t understand a single word of Swedish.

No organizations are found here for our people. If there are any societies they belong to they are English “lodges.” They all belong to the Lutheran church except Mrs. Maria Johnson who joined the free mission church over 30 years ago. They who work for the railroad and in factories are nearly all members of “unions”. As far as I know there are none of our people who are in politics or civilian work.

Nearly all of the older Finländares have had some position in church such as trustee or deacon. Finns have always been scarce in Ludington. Our folks have blended with the native Swedes through marriage and association while we all belong to the same church. But in our daily lives the older Finländares get on best with their own country people.

I cannot say that any of the Finländares are poor or rich. They are in between. Most of them have their own homes and some are farmers. There are some who were on “relief” during crisis times. And the older who are over 65 years receive old age assistance.

There are not many who have traveled to the “old country” since they came here. Those who have gone there are Hjalmar Sedlander, Mrs. A. A. Palm, Mrs. Anna Peterson, Mrs. Anna Olson and Mr. And Mrs. Charles Johnson, American-born Esther Skoog and myself. Those who wish they could take such a trip say that they think they would die on the ocean.

The years when emigration from Finland was the greatest was between 1890 and 1900. It was economic conditions there that drove them here. They came direct from Finland. Some moved away after a while here. My mother’s brother Anders Eriksson moved to Aberdeen, Washington, some to Montana. John Gustafson and Charles Johnson went to Florida for a while but came home again to Ludington. Several families were in Deward for a while but also came back here. Gamlakarleby is well represented here. The largest numbers of our country people were here after 1900. During the last 10-15 years the number has lessened through death. About 25 Finland-born now remain in Ludington. The greatest number of them live on West Loomis St. The greatest employment was first in the woods and some have been fishermen and carpenters and some farmers. Nearly all have their own automobile and their own house. They who own farms have not so much land that they produce more than enough to support themselves. Petersons were in the dairy business for 15 years and at the same time they had about 30-40 foxes and sold the skins.

They who have been in business a long time are Palms furniture business that began in 1892. Skoog and Borg had a hardware business for some years but now it is only Skoog’s business. There are two pastors Ernest and Arthur Palm. Many are teachers. And many have been and are good singers. Among these are: Albin and Martin Johnson, Donald Borg and Anna Palm (wife of George Palm). Those who have passed away are: Ed Mattson, Herman Skoog, Anna Johnson and Esther Mattson. Hildur Holmström-Johnson and Estelle Skoog-Spaulding are both organists and pianists and music teachers.

We have no Runeberg order or national festivals. The church is not entirely English-speaking yet. Each Sunday we have English service at 10 o’clock and Swedish service at 11:15. But the older people who want to have their mother tongue services are becoming less and less.

Our countrymen are not in politics. Both Swedish and Swedish Finns have been Republican since they began to vote.

I am the only one who receives any newspapers from Finland. It was not much that could be done for Finland during the war 1939-40. People here were indifferent and some gave some dollars for “Finlands help.” Some of us also sent clothing and goods there. A Swedish woman had a more open heart and sewed small children’s clothing the entire winter and sent several packages of items.

The young who grew up don’t care much about their mother tongue. Some married with Swedish Finns and some with Swedes. Others with Catholics. It has become a blending of all nationalities and languages.

Those who studied for higher education are Ernest, Vera, George, Ellen, Arthur and Albert Palm in Augustana College. Hildur Holmström at Ypsilanti, Chicago and Augustana. Estelle Skoog at Mount Pleasant. Elmer and Norman Sedlander and Roger Holmström at Michigan State College. Donald Borg at Mount Pleasant. Most of them now live in larger cities.


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