MARQUETTE - In the past, the Marquette Scandinavian Midsummer Festival organizers have invited local cultural, civic and/or religious leaders to take part in the opening ceremony and/or the closing bonfire of that event.
This year, they have chosen from their own ranks: Pauline and John Kiltinen will be the honored guests at this year's edition of the festival, set for June 25 in Presque Isle Park in Marquette.
The Kiltinens have been involved with the festival for years, just one of the many ways the two celebrate their heritage, gaining them many admirers in the community.
John Kiltinen of Marquette, top center, talks about Finland as his wife Pauline Kiltinen of Marquette holds up a book of pictures during a Little Christmas presentation at St. Marks Lutheran Church in Marquette in 2006. (Journal file photo)
"As a folk dance leader, I have had much opportunity to experience how immigrant communities do and do not celebrate to keep their culture alive," said Bob Railey, co-chair of the Midsummer Festival and leader of the Marquette Folk Dancers."In the U.P., the Finns definitely get first prize. The efforts of John and Pauline in providing leadership for the two Marquette FinnFests have helped keep Finnish culture high in local consciousness.
"Marquette Scandinavian Midsummer has benefitted immensely from Pauline (using expertise she gained from FinnFests) serving as our PR person for these last several years," Railey added.
Marquette native John Kiltinen is third-generation Finnish American while Pauline, who hails from Wisconsin, is of Finnish, Norwegian and English heritage.
John grew up hearing his parents and grandparents speaking Finnish, but didn't learn the language until he took an intensive summer course in 1968 at the University of Minnesota.
In 1970 - the year before the Kiltinens moved to Marquette when John took a job teaching math at Northern Michigan University - they took a trip to Finland, awakening their ethnic cultural connection.
The connection really began to flourish when the Kiltinens took a year-long sabbatical in Finland in 1978-79. It was then, in visiting family and becoming immersed in Finnish culture, they became even more impressed with how much like us the Finns are.
When they returned to the United States, the Kiltinens became involved in a number of Finnish-connected adventures.
For instance, Pauline was invited to be a musician for the Finnish African Gospel Match that was part of FinnFest USA in Hancock in 1985, then participated again when FinnFest returned to Hancock in 1990.
In 1992, the couple got involved with the planning of FinnFest USA 1996, which was going to take place for the first time in Marquette. With Carl Pellonpaa as chair of the planning committee, John Kiltinen became the organization's computer guy while Pauline was the volunteer coordinator.
The Upper Peninsula Chapter of the League of Finnish-American Societies was something the Kiltinens helped organize in 1996, with Pauline selected first vice president. The chapter here is connected to the parent organization in Finland as well as being associated with the Finlandia Foundation.
The Kiltinens were only getting started.
In 1999, John began serving a 12-year term on the national FinnFest USA board.
In 2002, Marquette was chosen to host FinnGrandFest 2005, a joint celebration between U.S. and Canadian Finns held every fifth year. Pauline was appointed chair and John her "chief of staff" for that event.
In his last semester of teaching at NMU in 2006, John was asked to advise a student Finn Club, which remained active until last year.
Then in 2009, the pair launched a monthly FInnish heritage discussion group that meets usually on the third Thursday of the month at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Marquette.
Railey said he believes the couple's most significant contribution to the promotion of FInnish heritage in the area may be in the area of music, specifically commissioning three musical works by Finnish composers, including two for the FinnFests.
"The committee of the Marquette Scandinavian Midsummer invites everyone to join us in celebrating this rich and continuing legacy of contributions in the broad area of Finnish culture from two of Marquette's grand citizens," Railey said. "Thank you John and Pauline."
The Kiltinens, who travel extensively from their Marquette base, are the parents of one son, Eric, who lives in Lexington, Ky., with his wife, Jane Calvert.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.