MAURI OLAVI “Olli” SEPPALA
May 4, 1924 – April 26, 2020
Olavi Seppala, age 95, was born in Viipuri, Finland on May 4, 1924. He was the youngest of eight children. As a child, his whole family enjoyed skiing as that was the only way to travel in the winter. In the summer, they rode their bicycle or walked. This kept them all in good physical shape.
When Olavi was eighteen years old, he enlisted into the Finnish Army as was mandatory at the time, as Russia had invaded Finland and was fighting with all its might to take over the country. Russia had bragged that it would take Finland in just a couple days, but the proud and stubborn Finns outsmarted the Russians. They stopped the Russian tankers by inserting trees into the tracks of the tankers and when they stalled they threw “Molotov Cocktails” down the hatch, blowing up the tankers. The Finns dressed in white and skied with their rifles on their back and took the Russians by surprise. Olavi was one of these soldiers. During one of these raids, the Finns came face to face with the Russians and Olavi took one of the hits. A blast went off right in front of him, knocking him unconscious. He was carried by his fellow soldiers to a train which took him to the nearest hospital. He said when he awoke, he was sure he was in Russian hands. He was scared to death. He said he couldn’t open his eyes as they were full of debris. He said he said he heard the doctor talking in Finn and realized he was safe. He also heard the doctor say, “This man isn’t going to make it.” He proved them all wrong! You might call it that Finnish “Sisu!” Olavi still carries shrapnel in his head, inside of his mouth and his neck. He is thankful to his Lord that he made it through this nightmare.
In the meantime, Olavi’s parents had lost their home in Viipuri to the Russians and had to evacuate to a farm near Pori. One day, Sirkka’s cousin asked her if she would like to go to a circus in town, ten miles away. Of course she would go, with their bicycles. About halfway there, her cousin said he wanted to see a friend who lived nearby. When they got to his house, here came this tall, handsome, charming, young man who stopped Sirkka in her tracks and his name was Olavi Seppala. Olavi said he knew right away that she was the one for him. Oh, by the way, they did make it to the circus.
The wedding day came sometime later. Olavi and Sirkka were united in marriage on October 29, 1950 in Pori, Finland. To this union was born their daughter, Rita, and son, Matt.
Olavi worked in a foundry in Pori and Sirkka stayed home and took care of the children. Times were hard in Finland. Good paying jobs were hard to find. It was about at this time a letter came from Sirkka’s great aunt and uncle who had earlier immigrated to the United States. They wanted someone to come to America to take care of them in their old age. They said they had 160 acres of land, good machinery, and everything they needed to make a good living. Wow! Sirkka and Olavi thought this would be a dream come true. So, in November 1959, they packed their few belongings, and with their then six-year-old Rita and two-year-old little Matt, they boarded a big ship to the big United States. After thirty days, they landed in New York. From there they took a bus to Minneapolis and then to Menahga, Minnesota. Neither spoke English. It was in the middle of the night. They did not know how they were going to get to the Mattson farm. The Lord must have been by their side as a Finnish speaking woman (Mrs. Ryti) from Wadena heard their plight and told the bus driver to inform the Menahga Police that these people needed help. He in turn called Charley Lindroos who took them to Mattson’s. They knocked on the door and the old man yelled, “Come back in the morning.” A neighbor lady who had been sleeping upstairs heard their conversation and came down and let them in. She gave up her own bed and went and slept the rest of the night in a chair as no other beds were available. The Seppala’s were exhausted as all four of them crawled into the bed. Olavi put his arm around his wife (as he looked at the stars through the boards in the roof) and said, “Welcome to America!”
This was only the beginning of what was yet to come. In the morning, they looked out the window for the first time at what was to be their new home. Two inches of snow had fallen during the night. As they looked around the yard, they saw the rusty old machinery scattered all over the yard, the rusting old tractor, and an old Pontiac car. Two outhouses sat in the front yard so they knew they would not enjoy the conveniences of indoor plumbing. The buildings were rotten and ready to fall apart. They didn’t know if they should laugh or cry. They had always heard that America was a free Christian nation. It didn’t take them long before they learned that their host was a strong Atheist and had adopted the Communist ideology. After listening to him rant on and on about how the Finns had first attacked Russia, how good the Russians were, etc., Olavi had finally heard enough. He told the old man just what he thought and how it really was. The old man responded angrily and said he was sorry he had brought such scum to America.
It was December and Rita and Matt were all excited because Christmas was near. The old man let them know that Christmas never has and never will be celebrated in his home. Neighbors (Edwin Kinnunen’s) had heard that Finland people were living with the Mattson’s, so they went to visit them. They told the Seppala’s that Christmas will be celebrated and invited them to their home for dinner. Olavi and Sirkka had wondered if all the people in the United States were like the Mattson’s.
A few weeks later, the old man became very ill, so they took him to see Dr. Mortenson in Menahga. After examining him, the doctor told him he should be admitted to a nursing home in Wadena. While there, he became as violent as he had been at home. He kicked and spit at the nurses and used foul language. He was out of control. From Wadena he was placed in the mental institution in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Dr. Mortenson was very concerned about the well-being of the folks who had come from Finland to take care of them. The great aunt eventually joined her husband at the nursing home, once he was able to return there.
After being in America for four months and feeling a little homesick, the Seppala’s decided to go back to their homeland. They sold all their meager possessions and returned to Finland, only to find that the economy was as bad as when they first left. They decided to once again return to America and find a place of their own. They wrote a letter to a former neighbor who encouraged them to come back. He knew of a farm nearby, which they could rent and Olavi could get his old job back. And so, they returned to the United States. The neighbors came and offered their help. The men helped with the fieldwork, plowing, and seeding and putting up the hay. The women brought food. A welcoming party was held at the Meadow Apostolic Lutheran Church. Edwin Kinnunen took them to Senator Hubert Humphrey’s office in St. Paul and got them a permanent visa which enabled them to get a job and make a living. Sirkka worked at the Badoura Tree Nursery and learned to speak the English language. Olavi worked in the woods as a logger and his fellow workers were Finns, so he continued using the Finnish language. Rita and Matt enrolled in school and the other children taught them the English language.
With determination and hard work, the Seppala’s were able to buy a farm, machinery, and cattle. They harvested wild rice and did whatever it took to make living and raise their two children. Eventually, they were able to retire and they bought a lovely home near Little Blueberry Lake where they could go fishing and skiing, as they had in the past. They will be forever grateful to their neighbors and friends who were so willing to help them when help was needed.
In 2019, Olavi received the very distinguished White Rose of Finland Medal of Honor which was presented to him by the United States Ambassador to Finland for his brave and courageous military service to his beloved Finland against the Russians. In the military, he learned to ski smoothly, quietly, and fast so he could attack the Russians by surprise. Throughout his life, Olavi won many trophies and ribbons for his talents with cross country skiing in Finland and the United States. The MN Nordic Ski Association, (MNSA) honored Olavi with the 2018 Master Skier Award which he received at the Vasaloppet Nordic Center in Mora, MN. Olavi was a longtime member of the Spruce Grove Apostolic Lutheran Church near Wolf Lake, MN.
Olavi and Sirkka were forever saddened by the death of their only beloved daughter, Rita, at the young age of 57 years.
Olavi will be lovingly remembered by his wife, Sirkka; his son, Matt (Mijumg) Seppala of Dallas, TX; his grandson, Michael Seppala of Little Rock, AR; great-grandson, Matthew Seppala of Tennessee and granddaughter, Anna-Liisa Wegschied.
He was preceded in death by his parents; 5 sisters and two brothers; and his beloved daughter, Rita Wegscheid.