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Swede-Finn Visits Washington


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Max Svedlund



Being invited several times by cousins visiting Finland, I finally decided to go there after three years of consideration. It was not my first trip to the U.S., as I have been in several other states during my career. But this was my first time in the State of Washington, August 2003.


The natural surroundings are memorable: great contrasts - high mountains in ranges including the Cascades and Olympics and deep gulfs and bays from the ocean cut into the coastal line and extending far inland. The river valleys make excellent farmland, and small lakes with clear, clean water provide comfortable sites for summer homes. The old forest is now logged off in many places, but you can still see huge trees growing in some areas. Wild berries grow, even along the sides of the highways.

History and Background

The area was Native American land until white pioneers came and settled in the region. Logging, the Gold Rush in Alaska and, later, fishing were especially attractive to the Scandinavians, and the oil industry brought in many immigrants to the area.

Society, Buildings, and Religion

The State fits my view of America. Some of Washington's bigger towns like Seattle and Tacoma have downtown areas with high skyscrapers in long, rectangular blocks. Otherwise, towns are built of single-story buildings and homes in endless rows along avenues and streets.

I was impressed by the size of some of the huge residential areas. One can walk long distances in an area of private homes and see an endless promenade - miles after miles of blocks. In the countryside farmhouses are widespread across the fields. One can see cows and horses eating grass in pastures surrounding the farmhouses. Every little community or village has at least one little church or a chapel. The parishes seem to attract the people in the area.


I saw a mixture of people: Europeans from different countries, Native Americans, Asians, and African Americans, to name a few. It seems that everyone has one thing in common: they are all Americans in their hearts and souls. Most people were easy to get along with. They were happy and polite, willing to start conversations, even with a foreigner like me.

It didn't seem there was a separation of people. Americans speak to a person dressed in a suit and driving a Cadillac in the same way they speak to a long-haired youngster in shorts on a skateboard. To me, that shows a great respect for human dignity and appreciation for the value of humanity. As it is well known in the old countries of Europe, we sometimes respect people for what they have achieved or for what they are born to be.


Material wealth is cherished. People use their accumulated wealth to build luxurious homes. A house of more than ten rooms for two people is not unusual in Washington. My impression is that people live very well in America. Cars, boats, and all kinds of recreational equipment are obviously very popular. Family, kinfolk, relatives, and history are also of great value and interest to Americans. This is also the reason I came into contact with my relatives in America.

Vern and Jeannie Lindquist

After the flight from Copenhagen and the strict security check in Seattle, it was nice to meet with well-known faces at the airport, Vern and Jeannie Lindquist. They have a nice house on the beach of Lake Sammamish. I stayed there for ten days and they took care of me like a prince.

Vern is interested in genealogy and we discussed our ancestors. He wanted to show me how people really live in America, so they arranged a Thanksgiving dinner complete with decorated table and slow-roasted turkey, and invited other cousins. So, I had a chance to experience how families celebrate over there. I gave a speech to my relatives and thanked them for all they had done for me. I also reminded them of Mr. Alexander Koll who emigrated in the beginning of the 20th century from Finland to the U.S. He is the one who linked us all together around the table. It was a special memory and feeling to use the table china that once belonged to Alex.

I also had a good view of the daily life of the family, their work and amusements. Boating, waterskiing, and kayaking on the lake were very interesting. From the shore, I could see all the luxury homes surrounding the lake.

Vern and Jeannie took me to visit many relatives and friends. They also arranged a family gathering of about 70 people. Everyone was welcome at Vern and Jeannie's home. People brought food with them - an unbelievable smorgasbord was the result. Scandinavian food was included. In sum, it was a very successful day, with many new faces and cousins.

Mount Vernon

One day we visited Rodney and Eleanor Olsen in Mt. Vernon. Eleanor is my mother's first cousin and a retired cantor of the parish. Theirs is a family of farmers who live in a valley that is a farm district. They have a store that sells agricultural equipment and caravan campers. Eleanor is 84 and still speaks some Swedish. I met new cousins once again at their summerhouse on Lake Samish in Whatcom County.


Norman Englund lives in Ballard and he took us out sailing on a tugboat tour with a skipper named Mike. The sighting began on Lake Union with views of downtown Seattle and went through the locks out into Puget Sound. The boat was built in 1934 and was powered by a Washington diesel. It has its own history. Norman grilled halibut (which we can't get at home) along with salmon and many more items that Norm and Mary had on the menu for an unforgettable evening party.

SFHS & Nordic Heritage Museum

Vern and I visited Syrene and Don Forsman at the Swedish Finn Historical Society. They do a vital job of keeping in touch with the old country and creating new contacts. I left them my books, "Warvakull" and "Manifestet" which unfortunately are available only in Swedish. The Nordic Heritage Museum has large exhibits and thoroughly describes the history of the logging and fishing industries.

Clear Lake and Tacoma

On Saturday August 23rd it was time to visit 84 year-old Ralph Nelson, with his daughters Bev and Carolyn, at their summer house on Clear Lake near Eatonville. He is my second cousin. They have visited us twice in Finland.

Again there was a family gathering with lots of food and more new cousins. Vern and Jeannie performed Scandinavian folkmusik. I spent the rest of my time in Washington there with Ralph and bid farewell to the Lindquists.

On Sunday we went up to Paradise located high upon Mt. Rainier. It is an impressive mountain 4,000m high, with glaciers and rivers flowing downwards creating huge waterfalls. The road up the mountainside is of the serpentine type - very scary for a flatlander from Österbotten The evening sunsets by Clear Lake at the Nelson's summerhouse with the mountain in the background are among the sights that I will never forget.

We toured Tacoma, where I met Ralph's brother Sidney who is 88. It surprised me that Sidney reminds me so much of my own father. On the day I left, we still had time to go to the State capitol at Olympia. Pastor Suzanne Olson Appelo, my second cousin, presented her church and parish and bought us lunch at the Olympia Oyster House before we left for the airport at SeaTac. A successful visit ended with my take-off from Seattle.

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