Texan Finnish Heritage
A Texas Roundup of Finnish-Americans
About 30 or so years ago in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, John Laine and a few others pulled out the local White Pages in search of seemingly Finnish names, with the intent of rustling up enough potential members to start an organization for Finnish-Americans.
“If it looked like a Finnish last name, they picked up the phone and asked what the interest might be,” says Jeremy Martin, president of the Dallas/Fort Worth Finnish-American Society. That effort met with enough success to form the group nicknamed TexFinns, which became a chapter of Finlandia Foundation National in 1991. John Laine joined the FFN board as trustee in 1992, and served as national president from 2003-2009.
Texas wasn’t known as a magnet for Finns during the Great Migration of the late 1800s and early 20th century. During the economic crisis of the early 1980s, however, the Lone Star State saw an influx of job-seekers from the Upper Midwest, including Finnish-Americans. That population has been augmented by employees of Finnish firms, such as Nokia, that have opened offices in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Whereas TexFinns is a social and cultural organization, the Finnish American Business Guild (FABG) headed by Vesa Jaamuru, connects companies and entrepreneurs in Finland and North Texas. It and the Finnish Language School of North Texas, which became a chapter of FFN in 2018, are two of the groups that TexFinns is associated with. Each organization fulfills different roles with the 1,000-plus Finnish people in the area.
Now, in addition to the Finnish hockey players, Dallas is home to women’s basketball player Awak Kuier of Finland, a new recruit for the WNBA Wings, and Liisa Vehviläinen, top tennis player from Finland who will play for the University of North Texas.
Pre-COVID-19, the TexFinns met each month from September through May at the Wooden Spoon, a gift shop, bakery, grocery store that carries goods from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. With its language and folk painting classes and special events, Plano Magazine says that the Wooden Spoon is “a Scandinavian cultural center smack-dab in the middle of Cowboy country.”
Highlights: The TexFinns President
Jeremy represents TexFinns at FABG events, such as a 2019 breakfast meeting with Ambassador of Finland to the U.S. Kirsti Kauppi. “She was surprised at how many Finns and Finnish companies are in the Dallas area,” says Jeremy. “It had been about 25 years since a Finnish ambassador came to Dallas or Texas.”
Although Jeremy has served as president of TexFinns since 2009, he is not of Finnish descent. He was introduced to the culture through his wife Shannon, whose mother’s maiden name is Jauhiainen. The couple’s two daughters, Bryna and Karita, are learning Finnish, and Jeremy and Shannon hope to make their third trip, with the girls, to Finland for Christmas 2021.