Students in field

Finlandia joins community in response to crisis

January 19, 2019
Finlandia Employees Volunteering

Finlandia employees volunteering after the June 2018 flood that ravaged the Copper Country.

Copper Country Strong

Early on the morning of Sunday, June 17, 2018 the Copper Country was changed forever as about seven inches of rain came down, mostly between 2 and 5 a.m. For some it was a night they’ll never forget as thunder boomed like a rock band was hitting its mark right in people’s bedrooms, water streamed into basements and first floors after rushing down our tree-covered hills. The four walls of houses that are usually safe, secure and dependable began to literally cave in.

One family lost a son that night. Several families lost their homes. Countless more will never think of rain the same way.

The intensity of that night gave way to a mess 10 times worse than any snowstorm, and over the next few months the Copper Country community came together in a way that showed true sisu, a belief in community and the kind of tenacity that you’d expect to see in a proud community like ours.

Neighbors helped neighbors move rocks and debris from yards, thousands of people grabbed shovels and face masks to empty basements, and supporters all over the world donated money, cleaning supplies, building supplies and food. Area residents looked on as the Portage Health Foundation and Keweenaw Community Foundation started funds to make sure no homeowner had to pay for the damage out of their pockets. Local and national politicians stood up and demanded our area receive the funding needed to rebuild, eventually getting President Donald Trump to sign an executive order for Houghton County to receive federal disaster relief funds. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder followed that up by guaranteeing that the State would pick up 100 percent of the needed match for roads and infrastructure.

Finlandia University was basically physically unscathed from the event. Small flooding and exterior damage was easy to fix. With that, the university looked to spread its wings to help others who weren’t so fortunate.

The week of the flood Finlandia University employees left their office to volunteer in homes, community areas and help clean up roads. When student athletes returned to campus they helped fix public trail systems that had suffered damage. Many employees stayed on throughout the summer to help where it was needed.

FEMA welcomed to campus

While all of that was helpful, one of the biggest ways Finlandia University continued to help in the recovery efforts was by offering office space in the Jutila Center to more than a dozen people in town with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The group gathered at the Jutila Center in late August, and will likely be on campus through the end of November.

“When we found out that space was needed, we wasted no time in making sure they knew that we were available,” Vice President of Advancement Karin Van Dyke said. “Our community is in need, and these people are here to help us.”

While much progress has been made and most people have been able to fix their houses or move into a new house, the scars are still all too real. Every bolt of lightning and far-off thunder has people on edge as we together move on from what will always be remembered as one of the most difficult days in Copper Country history.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 Donor Edition of the Bridge Magazine. Learn more about the Bridge at finlandia.edu/thebridge

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