- About Us /
From Determination to Success
From left to right: Tarmo Hannula, Bob Selvala, Ritva Scott, Cultural Attache, Embassy of Finland, Washington D.C and Tauri Aatio in a meeting in Helsinki, Finland in 1986.
FinnFest USA originated in 1982, when Tauri Aaltio, Executive Director of Finland Society, Helsinki, Finland, hosted a meeting in Minneapolis. Representatives of 39 Finnish American organizations met to discuss the idea of holding an annual nationally based summer festival like there used to be.Those gatherings had been central to Finnish American cultural life. The group liked the idea and the first festival was held in Minneapolis in 1983 with approximately 1,000 people attending. Since that origin, the festival has traveled back and forth across the country, hosted by regions and communities with connections to Finnish American cultural history.
That 1983 FinnFest created the basic paradigm all future FinnFests have used. Finnish food, arts and crafts, music, lectures, social dances became the core elements of the festival. Already at the second FinnFest held at Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1984, the local organizers added to the paradigm something they called tori, a marketplace. Tori became not only a place to buy and sell goods, but an information center and exhibition hall where organizations could present themselves to the public. Other things such as a parade, genealogy, a play written specifically for FinnFest, and a commission of a choral symphonic piece were later added to bring Finland together with America. FinnFest has had many prestigious guests from Finland, including the President Tarja Halonen, who has visited FinnFest twice. Olympic Gold Medalist Lasse Viren carried the torch to the opening ceremony in Hancock, Michigan, 1985.
FinnFest has become the place where Americans meet other Americans who share similar histories. Knowing that others share knowledge about people, places, and events, has become a major reward of attending FinnFest. The annual festival offers a place to meet and share a common culture largely invisible in American life. With the strength of numbers, dialogue about new goals for Finnish America and Finns in America has been born at FinnFest.
Robert Selvala served as the first President and Executive Secretary of FinnFest. He was a third generation Finnish American and a businessman who dedicated his entire life in creating the foundation for the FinnFest we know and enjoy today.