Where are they now? Richard Hakanen
Voima, korapoo, sauna, Seinajoki, Jalasjarve, scarps...words with a foreign flair connected to the heritage of Finnish descendants and the focus of this week's feature, Nanty Glo native Richard "Rich" Hakanen.
Born March 24, 1936, to Waco and Isabelle (Leatherman) Hakanen into a family that includes siblings: David, 70, and Donna McCotter, 68, both of Titusville, Florida, and John, "J.C.," 64, Fredericksburg, Va., Rich is a 1954 graduate of Nanty Glo High School and served three years in the U.S. Army from 1955 to his honorable discharge in 1958.
He earned his property and casuality insurance license in 1973 after a year of study at Penn State's McKeesport Campus. Married to the former Barbara Lindsay, he and Barb are the parents of two daughters, Lynn Schirato, of Georgia and Dawn who lives in North Carolina. Lynn has presented them two grandchildren, 16-year-old Dustin and Lindsay, 11.
Richard Hakanen speaks openly and proudly of his Finnish heritage. His paternal grandparents came to America from Finland to settle in Vintondale, where they met and later married. "My grandmother, Mary Kivisto, came alone to this country in 1905 at the age of 14, having earned the money for her passage by caring for tuburculosis patients in her native village of Seinajorki. My grandfather, John Hakanen, is from the village of Jalasjarvi. My grandparents, along with several other Finnish families, moved from Vintondale to Nanty Glo around 1908 because the employment situation was better." They formed a neighborhood near the upper ends of Roberts and Rodgers streets that was to be known as "Finntown" and where the Finnish Cemetery is still found.
According to Rich, there were many Finnish families in Nanty Glo and many of them were related. Growing up in a Finnish household, among Finnish relatives and neighbors, was grounds for many pleasant and lasting memories. Coffee, coffee, and more coffee!. Finns love coffee! Coffee drinking started at 6 a.m. and continued at regular intervals throughout the day, and often included the children. The coffee was fresly ground and a pinch of salt was added to the pot to mellow the flavor.
Hard pastries called "korapoo"(a bread coated with cinnamon and sugar), "scarps," pronounced "scorps" (similar to italian biscotti), and "nisua," a hard bread made with cardamom seeds, were served along with the coffee.
"My grandmother loomed her own carpeting, and I remember knotting the strings on her carpets....she would pay me 5-10 cents and I would head for Palmonari's Store for candy." It's a generous culture according to Rich. "At Christmas, my grandmother would have gifts for everyone, including the neighbors, and she was always ready to help anyone who needed it."
And what would a Finnish neighborhood be without a sauna?....(pronounced "sew-na"). The sauna of Rich Hakanen's childhood was in his grandmother's back yard. Constructed of wood, the sauna consisted of two rooms separated by a swinging door, the dressing room and the actual sauna room.
"If you were alone, you could go into the sauna nude," Rich says. The sauna room was outfitted with a pot-bellied stove connected by pipes to a barrel filled with hot water, and a table where a person could sit or lie to absorb the heat. Behind the stove was a wall made of rocks that was kept hot from the heat of the stove. Water could be thrown on the rocks to make steam. "Switching" one's self with fine tree branches was done to increase circulation. "The men (miners) probably used the sauna every day...it was not only invigorating, it helped to cleanse the skin." The Hakanen sauna was destroyed by fire around 1960.
Another segment of the local Finn culture was a ball team called Voima (meaning "strength") comprised of local Finnish boys who would make monthly trips to Ohio for ballgames. Finn names on the Voima roster that will strike many who read this as familiar include Ditchcreek, Deetscreek, Kivisto, Pantilla, Aho, Oil, and, of course, Hakanen.
Richard Hakanen is no stranger to community service. He is president of the Nanty Glo Library, a member of the Historical Society, past president of the Coal Country Auto Club, and Lion's Club. He was Kettle Chairman for 25 years for the Salvation Army. These days, he pursues gardening, tinkers with old cars (having restored several in the past), and is known to fix a lawnmower or two for his neighbors.
His hopes for hometown Nanty Glo; "I would like to see all our borough officials work together and have a real vision for the betterment of our community."
If you have a suggestion for a subject for Where Are They Now, please write Judy Rose.
—Sent by Mike Harrison
year, the liturgical calendar relives and makes present again the sacred events
of our salvation so that we are there when they happen. The past reaches out and
joins the present. The acts of God for His people are not buried in the past.
They live in the present. History does not exhaust grace. God is present through
the centuries. He never ceases accomplishing the work He has begun.