Hankookin Heikki

Following in a Heikki-inspired theme each year the Finnish Theme Committee of Hancock selects a Hankookin Heikki (The Heikki of Hancock), who then presides over the Heikinpäivä festivities.

The official announcement is made each December during the annual Finnish Independence Day program at the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University. Chosen because of his/her contributions to the preservation and enhancement of Finnish American cultural life in Michigan’s Copper Country, Hankookin Heikki’s main task is to ride what is the arguably the world’s largest kick sled nicknamed “Big Louie,” a crowd favorite at Heikinpäivä, donning the traditional Hankookin Heikki robes and crown, and waving the copper scepter in the festival’s mid-winter parade.

The roster of honorees includes:

2024 – Finlandia Foundation National Board of Directors —Finlandia University, founded in 1896 as Suomi College in Hancock, Michigan, announced on March 2, 2023, to not enroll students for the 2023-2024 academic year. Upon learning of the decision, the board of Finlandia Foundation National acted to assume responsibility for the many cultural assets of the university, and the organization is now the caretaker of the Finnish American Heritage Center and its extensive archives and artifacts, the monthly Finnish American Reporter, the Finnish American Folk School, the Art Gallery, War Museum and North Wind Books store. In January 2024, the Foundation finalized the purchase of the FAHC and bookstore buildings. Executive Director Tommy Flanagan (pictured) represented the Foundation at the festival.

2023 – Mary (Aho) Brunet — Along with coordinating the Heikinpäivä parade annually for the past many years, Mary can be found lending a hand wherever festival work needs to be done, whether that’s in the kitchen, at a registration table, or taking minutes at a meeting – she’s been the Committee recording secretary for a number of years. A Hancock High School graduate, Mary worked at Michigan Tech University. She then took a job with the State of Michigan in a lab that did testing for public health; she worked there until her retirement. Brunet also taught at Gogebic Community College for a couple of years, and served as Franklin Township clerk for nine years.

2020 – Mary Pekkala —The Hankookin Heikki for an unprecedented three-year reign, thanks to Covid, has been a devoted and tireless behind-the-scenes volunteer for the Finnish Theme Committee, as well as numerous other civic and cultural organizations, for decades. She is also a member of the Finlandia University Finnish Council in America, FinnFest USA 2013 board member and volunteered at the Finnish Folk Music Camp and is a regular volunteer at the Finnish American Heritage Center.

2019 – Kevin ManninenA native of the Copper Country and the grandson of Finnish immigrant copper miners, Kevin is Dean, International School of Business at Finlandia University. He lectures in global entrepreneurship, business strategy and project management. Kevin lived and worked in Finland from 1995-2010, lecturing for the International Business Program at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä. He also served as a board member for FinnFest USA 2013. He and his wife Liisa, a Finland native, live in Atlantic Mine.

            2018 – Filmmaker Kristin Ojaniemi of Bruce Crossing. A lifelong resident of Bruce Crossing, Ojaniemi recently created the award-winning documentary film “Co-operatively Yours,” telling the story of the Finnish cooperative movement in North America through the lens of the Settlers Co-op in Bruce Crossing, which celebrated its centennial in 2017, and in 2019 her film on Sirkka Tuomi Holm “Sirkka: Past & Present” for which Ojaniemi traveled to Finland to conduct research and interviews, and through this project has gained a stronger appreciation and understanding of her Finnish roots, and those of her home community. She is a member of Finlandia University’s Finnish Council in America and is the producer of the popular outdoors television program “Discovering” on WLUC-TV.

2017 – The Mark & Riikka Hepokoski family of Hancock. The Hepokoskis have literally been the poster children for Finnish culture in the Copper Country, featured on the poster for FinnFest, the FAHC’s Facebook page, Finlandia Foundation literature, the Finnish American Reporter, and the 2017 Heikinpäivä events. They were also featured on an episode of “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations,” a television program on the Travel Channel, during which many of Riikka’s Finnish dishes were featured.

2016 – John & Pauline Kiltinen of Marquette, Michigan. Both are members of Finlandia University’s Finnish Council in America, are active in numerous Finnish American organizations that have Copper Country connections and were the driving force behind the recent renovations in the FAHC’s Martha Wiljanen Community Hall. Most significantly, perhaps, they personally led the effort to commission the international opera “Rockland.” The opera played to sell-out audiences both in Finland and in the Copper Country. John served on the FinnFest USA board of directors, and both played key roles in organizing the FinnFest USA celebrations that took place in Marquette in 1996 and 2005, as well as the 2013 FinnFest held in the Copper Country.

2015 – Reuben Niemistö – A longtime board member and past president of the Hanka Homestead near Askel, Michigan, Reuben devoted many of his nearly 9 decades of life to sharing Finnish cultural traditions, especially those from the more distant past. His knowledge of the past and his ability to fluidly speak English, Finnish and Fingliska made him a favor Hanka Homestead tour guide. (Sadly, Reuben passed away in 2017.)


2014 – Dave Mäki – The managing editor of the Finnish American Reporter and director of the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University, Dave has worked in Finnish American activities for all but one year of his “working” life. He was also a member of the FinnFest USA 2013 board of directors, and a longtime member of the Finnish Theme Committee. He serves as the assistant to the Upper Peninsula’s Finnish honorary consul and is a member of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce – UP Chapter.

2013 – Dan Mäki – A longtime history and Finnish professor at Finlandia University, Dan, now retired, has been regularly involved in Finnish activities in the Copper Country throughout his life. He is often seen on stage (in plays and concerts) and as various costumed characters in the Heikinpäivä parade.


2012 – Hazel Tepsä — Hazel has been a Finnish Theme Committee member, as well as a volunteer for numerous other area organizations, for much of her life. She prefers to provide her contributions in in behind-the-scenes ways, but due to her increasing involvement in Copper Country activity she is becoming more readily recognized.


2011 – Esther Pekkala —Esther was always interested in her Finnish heritage. A longtime employee of Suomi College, she was part of the committee that organized and executed Finn Fest USA in 1985 and 1990. Esther was also the last active charter member of the City of Hancock’s Finnish Theme Committee. (Sadly, Esther passed away in 2022.)


2010 – Melvin Kangas —Longtime Finlandia University (Suomi College) music professor and theater director Melvin Kangas’ contributions to Copper Country Finnish American culture are not limited to the campus. Trained at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, Melvin was a master kantele player, he performed at countless weddings, funerals, and other events. Many of the plays he directed have had a Finnish connection, including his most recent production, which he translated from the original Finnish. (Sadly, Melvin passed away in 2021.)

2009 – Kay Seppälä —Most recognized for her efforts leading the youth dance group Kivajat, Kay Seppälä is one of Finnish America’s most active promoters in the Copper Country. A native of Ontonagon now living in Chassell, Kay also offers kantele lessons on both 5- and 10-string instruments, and has taught dance for adults with her husband, Hal. The Kivajat traveled to Finland in the summer of 2009, 2015 and 2019 to perform at the Tanssiva Turku festival. While living in the Twin Cities, Kay was a member of the Kisarit Folk Dancers ensemble and Koivun Kaiku kantele ensemble.

2008 – Oren Tikkanen – Well known to folk music enthusiasts around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Oren Tikkanen has played a key role in countless concerts and other Finnish and Finnish American musical endeavors. Not only does he play with numerous area bands, but he is also teaching his skills to Kelly Suvanto through a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant. Tikkanen also finds time to write columns and articles about Finnish and Finnish American music, as well as poetry.

2007 – Mary (Biekkola) Wright & Rick Kauppila —Community artist Mary Wright created perhaps the most visible aspect of Heikinpäivä 2007 with the colorful mittens that lined Hancock’s streets. That project was one of several that Wright led in recent years. The project would not have been possible, however, if not for the skill and generosity of Rick Kauppila, who crafted the stands for each mitten. (Sadly, Mary passed away in 2021.)

2006 – Jim & Debbie Kurtti —Painesdale residents Debbie and Jim Kurtti have long been leaders in the Copper Country’s Finnish community. Jim is involved in numerous Finnish American and Finnish organizations. He recently retired from his posts as the editor of “The Finnish American Reporter” and director of the Finnish American Heritage Center and Historical Archive, positions he held for more than 20 years. He also taught Finnish in area high schools. Jim is also the honorary consul for the Republic of Finland in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and has honored by Finlandia Foundation for his service to the Finnish American community and was a recipient of the Hopeinen Ansiomerkki by Suomi Seura. Debbie, while not as immersed on an official sense, has become nearly as recognizable for her regular participation and assistance at Finnish-themed events in the area. Her Finnish creations in the kitchen are frequently a hit at events and she has been a presenter at Heikinpäivä, as well as FinnFunn Weekend. Debbie was awarded first prize by the Kalevan Naisten Liitto in a Finnish-American recipe contest.

2005 – Ed Lauluma —A lifelong Chassell resident who played at countless dances and Finnish American events around the Midwest, including an appearance on stage with Garrison Keillor in Minneapolis. He also taught his Finnish-style fiddling to Kelly Suvanto through a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant. Ed composed numerous fiddle tunes well-known among Finnish dancers. (Sadly, Ed passed away 2005.)


2004 – Arja-Leena Karstu—Longtime proprietor of FinPro store in Hancock, former Finnish language teacher at Finlandia University. She and her late husband Pekka were resources for every Finnish person in Hancock and the surrounding area.

2003 – Dr. Robert Ubbelohde —President of Finlandia University, Ubbelohde served as the first non-Finnish president of Suomi College, which evolved into Finlandia University under his administration. In short order Dr. Bob became every bit as Finnish as any of his predecessors, and during his time created the Sibelius Academy Music Festival at Finlandia, brought the newspaper “The Finnish American Reporter” to Hancock and hosted a long list of Finnish diplomats, celebrities, and scholars, most notably President Tarja Halonen in 2003. Robert was granted the title of Knight First Class of the Order of the Lion in the year 2000 by President Tarja Halonen of the Republic of Finland. He also served as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Finland in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from 2003-2007. He also received the Arts and Letters Award of the Finlandia Foundation of New York. (Sadly, Bob passed away in 2018.)

2002 –Carl Pellonpää — Host of “Finland Calling”, which was the only Finnish Language Television Show in the United States, which was also the longest-running TV program in the world with the same host. Throughout Carl’s illustrious career he had the great privilege to interview two Presidents of Finland: President Urho Kekkonen in 1996 and President Tarja Halonen in 2003. Carl was a member of Suomi College Board of Trustees and U.P. Chapter League of Finnish American Societies. Carl received many distinguished honors and award which includes, in 1988 The Knight of the Order of the White Rose, he served as Honorary Consul of Finland for 2 terms, 1970 and 1990. in 1994 was Recipient of Gold Award from the Finnish Society at Finn Fest USA, and Siirtolaisuusinstituutti’s John Morton Award. Carl served as Chairman of Finn Fest 1996 held in Marquette, Michigan. He enjoyed attending many Finn Fest celebrations throughout the country. Carl traveled to Finland 32 times. (Sadly, Carl passed away in 2018.)

2001 – Seppo Mäkinen – Architect who specializes in snowhouse (lumitalo) construction, Seppo was invited to come to the Copper Country to create first-ever snowhouses in Michigan’s Copper Country, believed to be the first in the U.S. His moniker is “Mr. Snowhow.”


2000 – Maija Stadius—Retired Hancock elementary school teacher who was one of the driving forces behind the Hancock school system becoming the first to offer Finnish for credit as part of its curriculum. Maija keeps herself busy with many volunteer and Finnish related activities. She is a member of the Finnish Theme Committee of Hancock – Finlandia Foundation Copper Country Chapter. Under Maija’s influence the Hancock Public Schools recognizes the contributions of Finns in the Copper Country.

1999 – Rev. E. Olaf Rankinen — Retired Lutheran pastor and Archivist Emeritus at Finlandia University. Olaf was involved in Finnish radio and television ministry for more than two decade and editor of the Suomi Conference Yearbook, as well as charter member of the Finnish Theme Committee. He is fondly remembered as the “Bush Pilot Pappi.”  (Sadly, Olaf passed away in December 2004.)


1998 – Katherine Heideman —Longtime Hancock City councilwoman and all around “force majeure,” who worked tirelessly to encourage the council to promote the city’s prominent Finnish heritage. Heideman became a visionary for all women to model. As superintendent, in 1974, she succeeded in having a law passed in Michigan, HB 5013 (known as the Heideman Bill), allowing intermediate school districts to own and operate schools for people with disabilities. A Finn by marriage, Katherine was a charter member of the Finnish Theme Committee and an avid supporter of the creation of Heikinpäivä. (Sadly, Katherine passed away in 2003.)