Finlandia University has received one of its most significant endowment gifts to date from the estate of Onni and Dorothea Harju.
Like many other Finnish American men, Onni grew up on a farm with very humble beginnings. Through his lifetime of hard work and investment – which included growing Christmas trees on the Red Granite, Wisconsin farmland – Onni planted his strong Finnish roots by investing in the future.
Onni was born in Bessemer, Michigan in 1918, earned a degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and spent most of his career as the treasurer of the Consolidated Paper Company in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. While there, he also served as the director and treasurer of several of the company’s subsidiaries and affiliates. He participated on many corporate and non-profit boards, including the Suomi College Board of Trustees and Finlandia’s Finnish Council of America. Reverend Les Niemi, a Suomi Seminary alum working with Suomi College’s advancement office at the time, was a close friend of Onni’s and laid the groundwork for what would become a monumental gift.
As a successful businessman, Onni made frequent contributions to the college, leveraging his company’s matching gift program. While Onni was a strong supporter, he expressed humility by re-affirming his hardscrabble Finnish conviction for investing for the future, in a letter written to former president Dr. Ralph J. Jalkanen.
“At some time in one of our earlier conversations I told you that I am not yet of a mind to make very much of a financial contribution. This, no doubt, harkens back to my early years when I truly had nothing – it was a hard beginning. But, as you know, I have made a generous provision for Suomi in my will. This is as it must be now.” – Onni R. Harju, November 15, 1987
Sadly, Onni passed away only three years later at age 72. Upon his death in 1990 his wife Dorothea established a scholarship fund, as well as naming a room in the Finnish American Heritage Center in his memory. The couple had no children, and upon Onni’s death, Dorothea’s amended estate plan then reflected an endowed gift to Suomi College/Finlandia University which would occur after her passing.
The university’s advancement office was notified of Dorothea’s death in 2017, and began the process of working with the estate and other financial and legal institutions to verify and receive the gift. One year later, the Onni R. Harju Endowed Directorship of the Finnish American Heritage Center, and four scholarships for Finnish Studies was established.
32 years have now passed since Onni wrote that letter. His confident vision was rooted in tradition, and today his generous legacy continues in service to others.Tags: Advancement, Endowment, Finnish American Heritage Center, Finnish and Nordice Studies, giving, Harju Endowment, Onni and Dorothea Harju