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Finnished: Sebeka’s Pioneer School is set for another century

A dedication ceremony celebrates the renovation of the Pioneer School in Sebeka's city park.

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A crowd sat under the shade of trees Saturday, July 30, 2022, in front of the Pioneer Schoolhouse in Sebeka City Park.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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SEBEKA — August Mattila would have been prouder than proud.

Not only to see the structure he built 133 years ago still standing strong but that it had become such a revered building in a prominent place at the center of the city park. It would have been even more rewarding to see the generations of Mattila family members and friends that showed up to rededicate the historical place, among the many Finns of this region. He would have been tickled to hear and see the strong Finnish pride still beaming out of this little place along the river.

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The inside of the Pioneer Schoolhouse was cool and smelled of the oil used to keep the timbers from drying.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Presenters and a crowd of onlookers gathered at the entry of the school house Saturday, July 30, to celebrate the completion of the Pioneer Schoolhouse, back to its original glory when it was first brought into service in 1889 at Red Eye Township District 26.

The granddaughter of August Mattila, Marlene Mattila Stoehr, shared about the family history and recalled her younger days growing up near the Red Eye River. She could remember going to grandma’s and grandpa’s every Saturday for sauna.

“It was always a little scary because we would go out and reach into the Red Eye River and pull out water to fill the water tanks,” Mattila Stoehr said. “We would hear the sound of this Finnish that I never learned to speak very well, but it’s such a beautiful sound to my ear even now.”

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Emcee Jerry Mevissen addresses the crowd in front of the Pioneer Schoolhouse on Saturday, July 30, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Other speakers brought entertainment to the dedication including St. Urho himself, Jerry Miller, who sang a song about St. Urho with his fine tuned grill. Kenny Hillstrom provided some harmonica music to get the toes tapping. Emcee Jerry Mevissen kept the program going with insight on the helping hands it took to bring this project to completion.

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Finnish historian Frank Eld spoke of the historic significance of the schoolhouse as it was one of just two he knew of remaining in all his travels of Finnish settlements.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The keynote address came from Frank Eld, the Finnish construction and history master, who was decked out in traditional Finnish garb. He spoke to the importance of this structure to the Finnish heritage as it was one of just two like it remaining today, to his knowledge.

“This school embodies the philosophical importance of education to all Finnish people. Over a hundred years ago it served to educate our ancestors. Today it serves to educate the public and will continue to serve for many years to come because of the efforts of all of you to preserve and restore it.”

He gave great respect to those ancestors who made it happen and to those today who restored it. Eld said he recalls the phone call with Marlene Mattila five years ago that helped turn her dream into a reality.

Sebeka Area Historical Society members Robert Norman and Betty Warren spoke of the school’s history and the work of bringing this structure back to life.

Warren shared how the number of school children outgrew the space by 1906. Just 17 years as a school house, it found uses as a town hall and historical museum years later. It was moved to the city park in 1958.

“It’s always been used for something,” Warren said.

Norman spoke of the importance of this history and the way that Sebeka came to be. He was born in a log home not unlike this schoolhouse.

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“In honor of those who have gone before us, we are here to build memories and relationships,” Norman said.

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Sebeka Area Historical Society member Betty Warren gives history of the historical society and the schoolhouse.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Mevissen, as a thanks to the support from the city of Sebeka, presented Sebeka Mayor Dave Anderson with a United States flag that flew over the nation’s capitol on June 14, 2022. The flag was flown for the Sebeka Area Historical Society. Anderson gratefully accepted and thanked all those involved in saving the historic treasure.

The school itself was open wide for the community to admire. The smell of oil was strong as it impregnated the interior wood underfoot and up the large square log walls. The learning that took place in the lives of those early Finns was still alive and well today some 133 years later.

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Sebeka was filled with people over the weekend in conjunction with Red Eye River Days and an all school reunion. Crowds showed up for ice cream and polka music at the town square park just after noon on Saturday, July 30, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Related Topics: SEBEKAHISTORY
Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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