Finlandia presentation set for Wednesday

HANCOCK – Finlandia University has been a part of downtown Hancock for about 117 years, beginning as Suomi College, and its history will be traced during a presentation Wednesday, which is part of the monthly events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Hancock.

Karen Johnson, Finlandia executive director of communications, said she will give a slide show and lecture, called Picturing the Past Finlandia University 1896 to 2103 at 6 p.m. in the Finnish American Heritage Center at 435 Quincy St.

“It’ll be a kind of overview of Suomi College to Finlandia,” she said.

Johnson said Suomi College was created by Finnish Lutheran pastors from the Church of Finland. Although it had classes in English and Finnish languages, arithmetic, geography, American history, science and physical education, it also had a Lutheran seminary.

“It was a seminary until the (19)60s,” she said.

Although only men attended the seminary, Johnson said women attended the other classes at the college.

“It was male and female from the start,” she said.

There was a primary school at the college until 1932, also, Johnson said.

Many of the students who attended Suomi College early on were Finnish immigrants, Johnson said. Many attended to learn English, but many also attended the college’s commercial school, which trained men and women in basic business skills such as bookkeeping and secretarial abilities.

“It was to prepare people for work,” she said.

Johnson said her presentation will also include the physical expansion of Suomi College, from the first red sandstone building located on Quincy Street, now called Old Main, to its current footprint. The building at the corner of Quincy and Ryan streets, now called Hoover House, which contains the university president’s office and other offices, was a private residence and was purchased in the 1970s.

Johnson said finishing at Suomi College took much longer than a university undergraduate degree takes today.

“The original course of study was seven years,” she said.

Those attending the seminary stayed another two years.

Students could get a certificate in music in the 1930s, Johnson said.

“Music was an organized program pretty much from the beginning,” she said.

Although there were no athletic teams at Suomi College in the beginning, Johnson said in the early 20th century, they had intramural basketball and football teams.

“Physical fitness was part of the Lutheran tradition,” she said.

The curriculum at Suomi College was adjusted over the years, and in 1932, Johnson said it achieved junior college status and became a liberal arts institution. In 1996, Suomi College became accredited as a baccalaureate degree-granting institution of higher learning, and in 2000, the name was changed to Finlandia University.

However, the idea of making Suomi College a university had been a topic of conversation of college officials for a long time before 2000, Johnson said.

“They started talking about it in the 1920s,” she said. “It took resources.”

In the 1980s, Johnson said Suomi College began an effort to recruit non-Finnish international students, with people from Japan and Micronesia being among the first to attend. Now, about 18 percent of each semester’s student population are international.

Johnson said she and Deborah Frontiera will be writing a book about the history of Suomi/Finlandia, and she learned a lot about the institution during the research for the book, much of which won’t be part of her presentation Wednesday.

“I’m amazed how much there is to know just about Suomi College,” she said. “History is always interesting.”

Johnson’s presentation is the second of monthly events to mark the sesquicentennial of Hancock.

In March, Hancock Fire Department Captain Mark Dennis will give a presentation on the history of the department.