June 24--WEST PARIS -- Hundreds of people attended a recent performance of Finnish and local musicians and dancers at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Forum.
"The performance by Keiketys and A'Chording to Kantele at the Forum exceeded my wildest expectations," said Dale Piirainen of West Paris, president of the Finnish-American Heritage Society of Maine. "I saw something I had never seen before... the Forum was standing room only."
Piirainen and the society hosted 30 members of the Piirainen Family Association on their first trip as a group to visit family members in West Paris and the Oxford Hills area, along with the 20-member Keiketys.
Keiketys has performed throughout Europe, as well as in Brisbane, Australia, in 2009, but this was its first visit to America. They asked to "tag along" with the Piirainen Family Association and gave a free performance to residents.
Piirainen said the group arrived June 13. After settling in to the Bethel Inn, they toured Mount Washington in New Hampshire the next morning. In the afternoon, they visited the Finnish Cemetery and the Piirainen farm in West Paris. That evening, they gathered at his house for a cookout and more singing and dancing.
On June 15, they attended services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Paris and brought greetings from the mother church in Kuhmo, Finland.
After the Sunday evening performance, they stayed a few days in Connecticut, another area where Finnish descendants settled, then traveled to New York City before returning to Finland.
Some 400 Finnish families, largely from one parish in Finland, came to this area between 1900 and 1914 to take over abandoned farms and escape the famine in Finland, according to information from Piirainen. Many descendants remain in the area, and treasures which have been passed down to them from their Finnish heritage have become the basis of the Finnish-American Heritage Society of Maine 's extensive holdings at its headquarters at 8 Maple St.
The active society, which holds meetings and public events, was formed in 1982 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Finnish heritage, celebrating Finnish culture and educating the community about Finnish customs. The headquarters also has rooms dedicated to research, immigrant history, displays, artifacts and archival storage.
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