Board of Trustees at Finlandia University

The Finlandia University Board of Trustees serves the university on a volunteer basis as they look to build upon the strengths of the century-old Upper Peninsula institution. Below are introductions to each of the board members.

Julie Badel, Board President

Julie Badel Finlandia UniversityJulie Badel’s maternal grandparents immigrated from Kuusamo, Finland, in 1901. Fleeing the copper mines during the strike of 1913, her grandfather, Herman Hyrkas, moved his young family to Tapiola and began farming and working in the lumber camps. Her grandmother, Jenny, came from an educated family of professionals and imparted to the ensuing generations the importance of education. While Julie has had a long and interesting legal career in Chicago, her passions are all things Finnish, the Copper Country and her pack of German Shepherd dogs.

Julie Badel is a former partner, now Of Consel in the Chicago office of the national law firm Epstein Becker Green. She represents management in all phases of labor and employment law, including employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, wage-hour, unemployment, traditional labor law and unfair competition. She practices before numerous state and federal agencies and defends employers in both single plaintiff and class action cases in federal agencies and courts. Also, she is a certified mediator.

Badel has served on the board since 2011.

Marilyn Clark

Both sets of Marilyn Clark’s grandparents emigrated from Finland in the early 1900s and quickly left the mines to own dairy farms in Chassell. The two families lived next to each other separated by the one-room schoolhouse between farms. Urho Metsa married Helmi Kemppainen in 1950 and raised six children, Clark being the oldest. Education was very important to the Finnish families. Urho Metsa was the president of the Chassell School Board from the time Clark entered Kindergarten to the time the youngest, Daniel, graduated from high school. All the Metsas went to college, most attained Master’s degrees.

Clark, a Chassell native, worked for Cummins Engine Company for 20 years before returning to the Copper Country in 2005. Upon returning, she worked for a startup in the SmartZone and taught in Finlandia University’s International School of Business before accepting the Chief Executive Officer position at SmartZone in 2012.

Clark has served on the board since 2018 and was the commencement speaker in 2018.

Shelby (Seaton) Hamar

Shelby Hamar was born and raised in Hancock, MI. Her mother, Lois Isaac Seaton, was a Suomi College graduate and her grandfather, Edward J. Isaac, was Suomi College President from 1952 to 1954.In addition, her father served on the Suomi/Finlandia Board of Trustees for many years. Her professional career as an Exercise Physiologist included work at a number of healthcare organizationsin the Midwest, two years in the Peace Corps and 15+ years at UP Health System-Portage in Hancock. Shelby is an active member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hancock, singing in the church choir and serving on a number of committees. She is married to Doug and has two adult children, Leslie and Reid. She enjoys skiing, golf, Nordic walking and travel.

Jeanne Kemppainen

Dr. Jeanne Kemppainen, originally from Detroit has lived in New York, California, Mississippi and North Carolina. She is an internationally recognized scholar and nurse scientist with extensive experience in both advanced practice nursing and higher education. Her groundbreaking work on symptom self-management in chronic illness, as well we the critical incident research methodology has been widely recognized through invited presentations, guest lectures, and publications in premier medical and multidisciplinary journals. Her international experience includes collaborative research and scholarly partnerships with nursing scientists in Japan and Finland. She is also an active member of an international collaborative of nurse researchers and was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing.

As a mental health nurse certified by the American Nurses Association, she served in a variety of leadership and advanced practice roles during a career with the Veterans Administration Health Care System. During her tenure with the VA, Dr. Kemppainen received a national appointment as a VA Postdoctoral Nurse Fellow. Within the realm of higher education, she served in academic leadership positions including assistant department chair and faculty chair in the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). In 2011, she received an appointment as an endowed research chair and distinguished professor of nursing at UNCW. Jeanne is married to Pastor Dale Kemppainen. They have three sons and six grandchildren.

Kemppainen has served on the board since 2011.

Paul Knuti

Paul Knuti was born in Biwabik, one of Minnesota’s Iron Range communities. His family were pioneer farmers and loggers in the Aurora area. Knuti lived in the Chicago area during most of his business career. He and his wife, Carol, now live in Embarrass, Minnesota, where they run a beef cattle operation. They have four children.

Knuti worked for Illinois Tool Works, Booz, Allen, Hamilton consultants and served as Vice President of Human Resources for Rollins Burdick Hunter Co. and The First National Bank of Chicago, a position he held for more than 10 years before starting the Knuti Farm in 1997.

Knuti has served on the board since 2011.

Mike Lahti

Mike Lahti Finlandia UniversityMike Lahti has been a businessman in the Hancock area for 40 years. He graduated from Hancock Central High School and Northern Michigan University. In 1994, Lahti was elected to the Hancock School Board where he served for seven years. He served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 2006 to 2010. Lahti enjoys spending time with his family, playing tennis and following sports. He is also interested in politics and history. Lahti is married to Sharon (Pardini) Lahti. They have six children and 11 grandchildren. All four of Lahti’s grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Finland.

Lahti has served on the board since 2011.

Stephen Nikander

Stephen Nikander is the great-grandson of Finlandia University founder Rev. Juho Kustaa Nikander as well as the grandson of its former president Dr. Viljo K. Nikander. Nikander is a 1987 graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, with a major in Actuarial Science, initially following in the career footsteps of his uncle John Nikander. However, he had many talents and also considered potential careers as a cartoonist or sports writer, having his own editorial column in the college newspaper. After a few summers of semi-pro baseball post-college, Nikander settled into a finance path, putting his applied mathematical skills to work as an investment accountant in Los Angeles.

For the past 25 years, Nikander has accumulated diverse finance experience in the investment banking and insurance industry. As a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), he is a specialist in investment administration, fixed income analysis, and treasury management as well as a project manager with experience in implementing back office investment accounting and front office analytical solutions, having worked on both the buy side and the sell side for large institutional firms. In these positions, he managed and traded a multi-billion dollar fixed-income portfolio, evaluated a trillion dollar notional derivatives hedging program, recommended insurance capital allocation mix, implemented several large investment systems, while serving in the role of a chief investment operating and accounting officer. Nikander has also served as the chief finance executive for a captive insurance division and as a pension actuarial analyst. He has published credits as a subject matter expert for the CFA study curriculum and serves as Treasurer on the regional board of directors for the Insurance Accounting & Systems Association (IASA).

Nikander resides near his parents, Peter and Margot, and brother Mark in Santa Clarita, California along with his wife, Anna, and two children. The family is active in their community through their church and their children’s school, athletic and scouting endeavors. Nikander loves being outdoors hiking, biking, and skiing, and continues to play multiple sports recreationally and dabble in his drawing.

Nikander has served on the board since 2018.

John Niska

John Niska Finlandia UniversityRaised in a bilingual home on a beef farm in a Finnish-American Community near Ontonagon, Niska learned basic Finnish and Finnish cultural traditions as a child. All four of his grandparents had emigrated from Finland in the early 1900s and instilled in both their children and grandchildren the value of education, the importance of hard work and pride in their heritage.

Niska’s comfort with other cultures and enjoyment helping younger students learn began to broaden while in college at Michigan State University. He spent his senior year as an exchange student to Ecuador, where he taught a sixth grade class and ran recreation programs for rural youth. This experience was augmented with seven summers spent as a leader and cross-cultural facilitator to countries in all parts of the world including Finland. A career in education followed – classroom teacher, guidance counselor, assistant high school principal, middle school principal and state executive director, concluding with a 15-year stint directing a middle level teacher training college program in the East.

Dividing his time now between his home in Providence, Rhode Island, and his cottage near Ontonagon, he continues to travel worldwide, study the Finnish language, cycle, cross country ski, and enjoy film and photography. He recently reconnected with relatives in Finland and is conducting genealogical research with them. He also continues to engage in some educational consulting.

Niska has served on the board since 2018.

John Perras

A native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, John J. Perras resides in Grand Rapids Township, Michigan, with his wife Pam. They are the parents of two grown daughters. He is a provider of quality employee benefits, insurance, and financial services since 1982. John is a registered investment advisor and his professional specialties include personal and business life insurance, employee benefit plans, pre-retirement planning, education funding programs and estate planning. His personal interests include golf, hunting and biographical reading.

Perras has served on the board since 2010.

Ross Rinkinen

Ross Rinkinen Finlandia UniversityRoss Rinkinen is a 2004 graduate of Finlandia University’s International School of Business and is a founding member of the varsity men’s ice hockey team (2000–2004). Upon graduation, Rinkinen joined Finlandia’s Office of Admissions and continued with the men’s ice hockey program as an assistant coach. Together with head coach Joe Burcar, they went on to lead the Lions to an MCHA Playoff Championship in 2007. From 2005 to 2011, Rinkinen fulfilled many development roles for Finlandia, including serving as director of annual giving and major gifts before launching his own Thrivent Financial practice. He specializes in retirement planning, life insurance, wealth management and end-of-life financial needs from his office in Hancock.

Rinkinen founded the Copper Country Walleye Association in 2011 and is president of its board. The Association has assisted in planting 6.5 million walleye in the region, and is responsible for the annual Angler-Young Angler Tournament in partnership with Lund. Rinkinen serves as the second vice president on the Chassell Lions and enjoys working with fellow Lions during the Copper Country Strawberry Festival each July.

Rinkinen resides in Chassell with his wife, Shannon, and two children. Together they operate Chassell Bay Cottages vacation rentals. In his free time, Rinkinen enjoys walleye fishing, spending time at camp in Escanaba, playing “old-timers” hockey, and coaching youth soccer, baseball and hockey.

Rinkinen has served on the board since 2018.

Eric Sauey

Eric Sauey Finlandia University Eric Sauey began his career with Seats Incorporated in 1977, working his way up to become President and CEO in 1983. His areas of expertise include administration and planning, financial and business management, and personnel management.

Seats Incorporated is a designer, manufacturer, and marketer of seating and related accessories for vehicles with wheels or tracks, other than passenger cars. During his time with the company, Sauey and his team have grown the business from approximately 130 employees in 1977 to more than 1,000 employees today. The company’s main facility is in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, with additional facilities in Spring Hill, Kansas and Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. Seats Incorporated is a member of the Nordic Group of Companies and a family-owned and managed business.

Eric and Elizabeth, his wife of more than 30 years, have four grown children — two daughters and two sons — and eight grandchildren. Sauey has served on the board since 2012.

Peter A. Vorhes

Pastor Vorhes is married to Liz Siivola, a retired nurse. He has two children (Erik, B.A., St. Olaf College 1999; and Kirstin, B.A., 2002, M.S.N., 2011, Pacific Lutheran University) and four grandchildren. Vorhes is an avid cross country skier and he has completed 24 American Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski Races. He also enjoys biking and snowshoeing. He has served as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1976. He spent most of his career at Faith Lutheran Church in Calumet.

Vorhes has served on the board since 2013.

Daniel Niemi

Daniel J. Niemi (’74) is the son of Rev. Leslie E. Niemi. Rev Leslie E. Niemi graduated from Suomi College Theological Seminary in 1954. Leslie was on the Board of Trustee and President’s staff. As his father, Daniel is a Suomi College graduate. Daniel went on to Northern Michigan University, graduate with a BA in Psychology and Mathematics in 1977, Central Michigan University in Counseling for Higher Education in 1980 and further studies at the University of South Florida.
Athletics has always been apart of his life. Playing basketball for Munising High School (Michigan) he was named to the All-State team. He was also named to the All Region Team while at Suomi.  Daniel coached and pitched men’s fast pitch softball at University of South Florida, and Clearwater Florida.  Currently he does fast pitch clinics for local high schools.
Daniel is married to Tanya Jennings and they reside in Marquette. They have five children and six grand children.

Professional History

  • Small Business and Individual Financial Planner, 1988-2016
  • Assistant Athletic Director / Women’s Softball Coach at the University of South Florida, 1984-88
  • Assistant Housing and Food Service Director at the University of South Florida, 1980-84
  • Residence Hall Director at Central Michigan University, 1977-80

Organization / Memberships

  • Messiah Lutheran Church Council Member; Marquette, Michigan
  • Board Member of Lake Superior Life Care & Hospice; Marquette, Michigan
  • Board Member of Marquette Adult Day Care; Marquette, Michigan
  • Board Member of MCAC; Marquette, Michigan
  • Board Member of Wawonowin Golf Course; Ishpeming, Michigan

Board of Trustees News


  • Ken Seaton completes pledge to Finlandia University

    Accompanying students as they uncover their vocation, or calling, is at the core of Finlandia University’s vision: to advance expansive learning that best prepares students for the 21st-century workplace and world. As an institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Finlandia focuses on helping students discern their purpose by asking big questions like, “who am I going to be?” along with “what am I going to do?”. The Seaton Center for Vocation & Career guides students in uncovering [...]

  • Alumna Kathleen Harmon (’86) named Chief Clinical Officer of PatientSafe Solutions

    PatientSafe Solutions, an innovation leader in mobile Clinical Communication & Collaboration (CC&C) solutions, announced today that Kathleen Harmon, MS, RN, CENP (’86) has joined the company as Chief Clinical Officer. Bringing more than 30 years of nursing and executive experience to PatientSafe, Harmon will be responsible for setting the clinical vision for the company. Her unique, holistic and outcomes-driven approach will help transform care delivery through mobility initiatives that can improve an organization’s financial health, [...]

  • Bob Ubbelohde left a lasting mark

    This summer the Finlandia University community was devastated to learn former president Bob Ubbelohde had passed away at the age of 75.

    The former president is still fondly remembered on campus, especially by employees walking behind the Hoover Center to the area where he was often found and available for the kind of casual conversation you just can’t have in a board room. While those memories are exciting, Ubbelohde will always be remembered for two incredible accomplishments – Advancing Suomi College [...]

  • Niska Named New Leader of Finnish Council of America


    The Finnish Council of America elected John Niska as its new president this past May. Niksa was raised on a beef and horse farm in Green, MI, just west of Ontonagon. His parents were bilingual and often spoke Finnish in his home, shared in Finnish customs and were very proud of their Finnish heritage. Niska went to Michigan State University for his undergraduate degree and worked in the education realm until his retirement from

  • Finlandia Introduces five new Board of Trustees

    In 2018 Finlandia University officially welcomed five new members to its Board of Trustees.

    “This new cohort reflects those qualities that have marked those who have served in the past: a tenacious resolve and unyielding dedication to advance Finlandia’s vision and see it thrive,” Finlandia University President Philip Johnson said.

    The latest additions bring to Finlandia’s governing body a promising blend of professional acumen, leadership experience and deep personal affinities.

    Stephen Nikander

    Stephen Nikander, the great grandson of Rev. Juho Kustaa Nikander, who served [...]


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