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Great day from start to Finnish at Waukegan church

1/13/13      Waukegan

Dancers with Kipaka-Linde Dance Group Finnish Swedish dancers perform for 8th Annual Finnish CelebratiSt.

1/13/13 Waukegan Dancers with the Kipaka-Linde Dance Group of Finnish and Swedish dancers perform for the 8th Annual Finnish Celebration at St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 15, 2013 6:12AM

There was music, food and dancing at Sunday’s Suomalainen Juhla, “Finnish Celebration,” at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waukegan.

A total of 102 people came to the eighth annual event at the church near the intersection of Yorkhouse and Delany roads. The event was an opportunity for people of Finnish ancestry to gather. It was also an opportunity for non- Finnish people like Helen Ostman of Gurnee to be Finnish for a day.

“It’s (about) getting together with the ethnic community,” Ostman said.

A luncheon with 10-15 Finnish dishes like sausages (makara) and oven-baked pancakes (pannukakku) was served. Some specialty dishes were handmade and others were purchased, according to Lucille Tolonen of Beach Park. Tolonen was the event’s hospitality team leader.

“(The event) is just a nice gathering of remembering your heritage. My husband is Finnish. Food is a big part of the party,” Tolonen said.

She said the food went “even better than planned” and tasted “wonderful.”

The event started eight years ago as a project by the church’s Travelers Club, according to club founder Judy Shales-Reinier of Weyauwega, Wis.

St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was originally founded as a Finnish church. Now the church has dropped the Finnish from its name, but much of the community, including Shales-Reinier, have Finnish heritage. She is a second-generation Finn.

“The celebration is just to get Finnish people and others who are interested together to celebrate the heritage and teach the heritage,” Shales-Reinier said.

For a long time, Finland, or Suomi, was not referred to as a Scandinavian country, she said. The world’s 65th-largest country declared its independence in 1917. Its population was more than 5.3 million in 2010, according to materials the Travelers Club put together.

“We’re going to keep doing this (celebration). We want people to get to know us. You have to hold on to your roots because that’s where you come from Be proud of your country, wherever you are from,” Shales-Reinier said.

“I think it’s a very good tradition to continue. With the food, singing and dancing, it’s a complete introduction to Finnish culture,” said Erv Uhlman of Oak Creek, Wis.

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