The Finnish Council of America elected John Niska as its new president this past May. Niska 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 Rhode Island College as a professor and director in July 2017.
Q: When and why did you become involved with the Finnish Council?
Niska: My good friend, the late Carl Kinnunen, nominated me to become a member of the council in 2009. Carl told me he felt my strong interest in the Finnish culture and community, together with my work experience in university education, could benefit the council’s work. I soon realized my appointment to the council would be an opportunity to help a Finnish American Institution. A focus on the importance of education and pride in our Finnish heritage have always been strong values of my family.
Q: What do you enjoy most about it?
Niska: I enjoy both working with the council members who are a smart, talented, dedicated, and convivial group and with supporting the college and the Heritage Center. Serving as the leader of a group which is preserving, maintaining, and promoting our Finnish culture and heritage is also important to me. I also keep abreast of news from Finland and hope to share significant items with our members. The Finlandia staff is also very supportive, of which I am appreciative.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as president?
Niska: I have three main goals for the next year: to continue to build on my predecessors’ foundation and expand the influence of the council; to increase both internal and external communication; and to strengthen the work of our four committees (Academic, Outreach, Historic, and Heritage Center).
Q: Why do you think the Finnish Council is important?
Niska: We are living in a very challenging, changing time. Finlandia, in its second century as an institution, is unique being the only private college in the U.S. founded by Finns and its curriculum and program can help to keep Finnish culture and interest alive. The Heritage Center, with its artifacts, activities, and home for the Finnish American Reporter, serves an important role in its outreach to the Finnish American Community. As a council, we need to support both.
Q: What can people do to support it?
Niska: A number of things: take part in activities at Finlandia and the Heritage Center, donate to the artifacts at the Center, encourage college-age relatives and friends to examine what courses of study Finlandia has to offer, contribute to scholarships at Finlandia, subscribe to the Finnish American Reporter or gift a subscription to a family member or friend, and finally consider to become a member of the council.Tags: Fall 2018 Edition of the Bridge, Finnish Council, Finnish Council of America, John Niska