It was the middle of June when Megan Gmitro arrived to begin her summer internship with Finlandia University, a place that holds so much of her family history. Gmitro is the great granddaughter of former FinnU president Antti Lepistö. Lepistö served as president from 1927 to 1930 after moving to Hancock from Mäntyharju, Finland. Gmitro’s grandmother and grandfather, Jane and Antti Lepisto, also have ties to the university. Her grandmother graduated from Finlandia in 1959 and served on the Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2018, while her grandfather was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the university in 2005.
While originally from Naperville, Illinois, Gmitro will be graduating from Luther College in the spring of 2020. This summer, she’s working as Finlandia’s Archives Intern, spending a lot of time in the archive of Finlandia’s Finnish American Heritage Center. Being a history major, it’s both exciting and fitting for Gmitro to be interning in a place with such a strong Lepisto family history.
Discovering the Finnish Ties of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Walking the same pathways and working in the same buildings as her great grandfather and grandparents once did has been interesting for Gmitro, to say the least. She’s also come to notice the Finnish ties within the university and community.
“Small things have made this experience really cool so far,” she said. “I went to the Kaleva Cafe and noticed they had nisu (a Finnish sweet bread) there, which was nice to see. I also recognize a lot of Finnish names around campus and, in the archive, I come across names of my family members.”
Gmitro has also enjoyed the language nuances of the Upper Peninsula.
“I notice most people actually pronounce ‘sauna’ correctly up here, whereas in other areas, a lot of people don’t say it right,” she said.
What Finlandia Means to the Lepisto Family Heritage
Gmitro spoke of how she has known about her Finnish roots since she was a little girl, with her mom being one of the first to educate her on her Finnish heritage. Gmitro mentioned how, when she was younger, her mom used to bake nisu and pannukakku and play the kantele, a Finnish plucking instrument. Her grandparents would also speak of their Finnish heritage fondly.
“The Finnish heritage here makes the university more special to my family,” she said. “I’m learning new things about my family and what my grandparents’ and great grandfather’s life was like here.”
Gmitro will be on campus through early July. You can learn more about the Finnish American Heritage Center at finlandia.edu/fahc.Tags: Antti Lepistö, Finlandia, Finnish American Heritage Center, Jane Lepisto, Kaleva Cafe, Lepisto, Luther College, Megan Gmitro