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Ellen Huusko Lahti

“Tässä ole synnyinmaa, mutta Suomi oli kotimaa,” said 99-year-old Ellen Lahti of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “This is my land of birth, but Finland is my homeland.”

My maternal grandmother, Ellen Maria Josefiina Huusko, was born in the U.P. in 1907, but at nine months moved with her parents to Finland, and grew up in rural Halsua. There she married Reino Oskari Lahti, and daughters Eva and Elma were born before they left Finland to return to the U.P., where son Ervin and Elsie, my mother, were born.

Like other Depression Era Finnish immigrants, the family moved to Detroit, where Reino found work at the Packard car plant. In 1937 Ellen and children returned to Finland, joined by Reino in 1938. They lived in Halsua until the Winter War prompted them to return to Detroit. The couple worked long hours—Reino in a tool and die shop and Ellen at her popular diner, Ellen’s Finnish Restaurant.

In retirement the couple moved to Rock, a farming community in the U.P., which reminded them of Halsua. On their acreage with farmhouse, sauna and barn, they kept busy clearing the fields and gardening, with Reino woodworking and Ellen creating quilts and knitting and crocheting hats, mittens, slippers and afghans. Ellen survived Reino by 35 years, and continued to bake pulla and make strong coffee and family dinners. She made many visits to her homeland with family members (including me, on my first trip to Finland).

To the generations that follow in their footsteps, our grandparents—but especially Ellen, probably because she was with us longer—remain an inspiration and model of industriousness, generous spirit, strength, resourcefulness, humor and sisu.

Kath Usitalo
Naubinway, Michigan