Already as early as 1930s, Florida’s desirable climate attracted Finns to the area during the winter months. A Finnish Club was established 1935 in order to organize dances, picnics, other gathering. During the years of war, all money was sent to help those suffering from war. January 22, 1944, Finnish club updated its name to Finnish Tourist Club. From early 1944, Finnish Tourist Club did massive fund raising to help war widows and orphans in Finland.
During 1945, local Finns started to talk about purchasing a piece of land, where they could have outdoor activities and possibly build a hall. In 1947, they nominated a committee for locating a suitable site. Several lots were available around Lantana and Lake Worth, but after thoroughly discussing the options, they decided to purchase two lots along Dixie Highway in Lake Worth. A nine-man building committee planned the hall and had blueprints made. At their annual meeting on December 13, 1947, however, they decided to sell the lots after realizing the building would cost much more than they could afford. They forfeited the cost of the blueprints, but were able to sell the lots at the purchase price.
During the winter of 1947, the Finnish Tourist Club organized two huge outdoor festivals which brought in $700 for the building fund. Individuals who donated $5 each to the fund had their pictures taken. The same year a new committee was formed to locate a new building site. In 1948, a historic meeting was held in Lauri Hyyti’s basement in Lake Worth. In this meeting, Väinö Heinonen’s offer was unanimously approved. His offer was for three lots situated just north of the current hall on East Coast Avenue. The lots were priced at $100 each. After the meeting, Mr. Heinonen announced that he and his wife agreed to offer a similar property at the corner of Central Boulevard and East Coast Avenue for the same price. This offer was met with great delight and today the hall is located at that site. Also, in this meeting, they collected $140 in donations. They elected a building committee as well as other committees, including one to create bylaws that could be modified to meet future needs.
There was now a rush to be able to carther under the own roof. Although the building fund was only $745, their enthusiasm was immense. Estimated cost for the hall was $6,000, but actual costs turned out to be higher. Responsibility for the building project was accepted by a local well-known building contractor, Lauri Hyyti. In January 1948, earthmoving machines moved in to clear the lot. Huge pine trees were stacked for use as lumber for the hall, and other debris was removed. Both men and women diligently worked at the building site. Women sawed wood into shorter pieces to the amazement of American-born folks, who took pictures of the women at work. Women also helped the carpenters and masons. They carried lumber and cement blocks. They helped everywhere. Martta Nurmi laid bricks for the hall’s cooking stove, which was in use for many years after the building was completed. Hustle at the work place remained in their memories forever. The work was so rewarding that nobody ever felt even a bit tired. Their dream was a hall where tourists and locals alike were always welcomed and would feel at home in harmony and good mutual understanding. The Tourist Club’s guiding principles stated: “Know your own value but give value to others as well. It is more honorable to correct old mistakes and scars than to cut new wounds.”
The construction work progressed well and the project was completed in three weeks with a final cost of $7,681. Opening festivities drew a crowd of approximately 500. With that number of people, the members immediately realized that both the hall and the kitchen were too small and impractical and both would need remodeling. The expansion project was started immediately. The kitchen was remodeled and restrooms were added. At the same time, loudspeakers were connected at a cost of $253. During the first three years of operation, late 1940s, the club donated money to several charities such as the March of Dimes, Tuberculosis Society, the Lantana Civic Center and other charitable organizations. Charitable activities have continued ever since.
After it was realized that the hall was too small, members voted unanimously to build a large addition next to the original hall. A committee was formed to bring new plans forward. Locally known building contractor, Hannes Vuori, was elected as the committee chairman and construction manager. Part of the work would be completed by volunteers, and many did volunteer, including several in the building trades. Thus work was completed with 4,000 hours of volunteer work, which saved the club a huge sum of money. Simultaneously they began a vigorous fund-raising campaign. They organized events and published an advertising booklet in which individuals and businesses paid $1 each to have their names printed, bringing in $800. They also received many interest-free loans. There was never a shortage of money during the entire building process. The new large hall was opened with a two-day celebration on March 10-11, 1956. Attendance was tremendous, which brought in a hefty sum of money.
Finland House leaders would deserve a detailed description of the creative work done by these pioneers. The years have been so multifaceted and so much has occurred that the history could never be covered by a few lines. The following persons have served as Tourist Club and Finland House Presidents: Charles Arvio, Henry Frantila, Werner Sippola, Albin Moisio, Emil Lehto, Väinö Heinonen, John Äijälä, Willehard Kärki, Joe Salo, Hannes Wäre, Sam Miller, Eero Matilainen, Kalle Nikula, Seppo Vilkkila, Kari Konnos, Mauno Laurila ja Tapio Salin. We should mention that in 1992, members voted to officially name the building complex as Finland House, which is the home of the American Finnish Tourist Club. There was also discussions about conducting business in English, but the members preferred to continue using the Finnish language.
Before the large hall was completed, plays were performed on the small hall’s stage. Later, the stage served as the library area. The new large hall with its large stage was perfect for the theater performances and other entertainment activities. Numerous guests from Finland came to perform in Finland House. Many said the best times were the rehearsals where more than 40 actors were present. It was no wonder that they sold more than 800 tickets on opening night of largest productions. Many violins, accordions, and other musical instruments were played on Finland House’s stage. During the 1960s, a popular mixed choir performed for many years. The Floridan Laulumiehet (Male Singers of Florida) was organized during the 1969 and they continue at Finland House today. Many visiting artists, choirs, orchestras, and dance groups from Finland, Canada and the United States have performed here.
The affiliate groups of Finland House provide a variety of cultural and entertaining activities. Also popular are language lessons, which are available for those who want to learn English or Finnish.
Connections with Finland’s government are strong, as evidenced by the Embassy of Finland’s continued desire to conduct Finnish elections at Finland House. Finnish citizens in the area have for come for many years to Finland House to vote in the elections.
To raise necessary funding for Finland House, we have opened the doors to local families and organizations to rent the halls and kitchen for special events. A key goal is now to create new activities which will inspire future generations to become a part of Finland House.
More Finland House history can be found at the library on the second floor. Everyone is warmly welcome to visit Finland House to become acquainted with the building and the many activities held there. The annual meeting is held every January where Board members are elected. Monthly meetings are advertised in local media.
This information was translated into English from the Finland House Suomi Talo, The American Finnish Tourist Club, Inc. Turistiklubi 45 vuotta 1947 – 1992, Arvo Katajisto and Anita Tarvainen. English translation by Arlene Tervakoski, edited by Sirpa Aho.