A loom made by Matt Riihinen in Negaunee during the winter of 1945-1946.
Photo courtesy of Christine Simonen
This loom has a fascinating history, and helped inspire the Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers, a field of interest fund established at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2003.
Johanna Pohjala (1919 – 2003) was born on Case Street in Negaunee. Her parents, Anna (Kotka) and Matt Riihinen were Finnish immigrants who settled on the Riihinen farm in Negaunee. Like so many immigrants to the area at the time, Matt worked in the iron mines to supplement their income from the farm. During the Finnish-Russian War in 1939, Matt received numerous donations of secondhand clothing from customers along his dairy route. The Riihinen’s sent as much as they could to Finland, but much of it was of poor quality. Anna requested a loom to make rag rugs with the clothing. Matt, who was also a blacksmith and woodworker, built the loom almost entirely from lumber harvested on their property over the winter of 1945-1946.
Johanna was Matt and Anna’s only child, and she graduated from Negaunee High School in 1937. She married Sulo E.Pohjala in 1941, and ten years later they moved to the Riihinen farm to help care for her parents. Johanna began weaving on the loom in 1952, and this began a journey of over 50 years weaving rugs on this loom.
Johanna Pohjala on the loom in 1954. Photo courtesy of Christine Simonen
As a toddler, Johanna spent over a year traveling in Finland with her parents and stayed in contact with her Finnish cousins. Her Finnish background influenced her weaving, and the more she created, the more her craftsmanship was widely recognized. Orders for Johanna’s rugs came from all over the U.P. and the country. As a member of the local weaving guild, Yarnwinders, Johanna explored different techniques and patterns in her rugs. In September 2000, Johanna was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the U.P. Weavers Exchange annual conference.
Johanna Pohjala, Rosepath Rug, Collection Michigan State University Museum
In the 1990’s Michigan State University Professor Yvonne Lockwood travelled to the Upper Peninsula to interview rug weavers. Her research was published as a book titled, “Finnish American Rag Rugs: Art, Tradition & Ethnic Continuity”. MSU Press published the book in 2010. Johanna was one of eight weavers featured in the chapter titled, “Weavers”. The Michigan State University Museum holds some of Johanna’s rugs in their textile collection.
Johanna was also a poet, educator, and traveler. A charter member of the Finnish Language Class in Negaunee, Johanna served as a substitute for well-known Finnish language educator Tanya Stanaway. Three more trips to Finland allowed Johanna to stay close to her Finnish family and heritage. She was a translator of family histories and correspondence for several different Finnish families. She was also a published poet, writing in both English and Finnish.
Christine Simonen, Johanna’s daughter, established the Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2003 after her mother’s passing. The purpose of the fund is to create opportunities, for fiber artists and fiber arts education in Marquette County. This fund has supported Yarnwinders and Lake Superior Art Association to create educational programs and exhibitions around the tradition of weaving.
Christine Simonen (bottom right) with her husband Fred after delivering the loom to The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in 2017. At left are Karen Greenly (standing) and Robyn Sendelbach (sitting).
And what about the loom? Christine took up her mother’s interest in weaving but knew the loom needed a permanent home that would fully appreciate and care for this historically significant artifact. In 2017, the family donated the loom to The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, in Vista, California. The Museum is a nonprofit that “collects, preserves and displays examples of mechanical ingenuity and crafts associated with the early days of the American farm and rural community”. The loom is on permanent display with over 50 other looms from all over the country. The loom is still fully operational, and is utilized for demonstrations by museum volunteer weavers.
Schenk Scholarship Legacy Fund : Fund Spotlight
The children of Wilbur and Catherine T. Schenk wanted a way to honor their parent’s memories and support the educational pursuits of Forest Park High School’s graduating seniors. Wilbur Schenk was principal, then superintendent, of the Crystal Falls school from the mid-1950’s until he retired in the 1980s. Daughter Sue Schenk Drobny recalls her father as a strong yet caring school leader:
“His job was very important to him, he was a strict disciplinarian and expected you do your best, but also, I have heard in years since, was quietly and privately compassionate and helpful with students that were having issues with “life”.
As superintendent, Wilbur was responsible for calling “snow days” during the winter. He was known for rarely calling off school unless temperatures were 25 degrees below zero. His children recall the popular saying among students that “THERE WILBUR SCHOOL TODAY!”. They thought it seemed unfair at the time but are now proud of the fact they made the trek to school in the winter weather and survived to tell about it.
When Wilbur passed away in 1999, the Schenk children established a scholarship fund in his name. After their mother, Catherine T., passed away in 2008, they added her name, noting how her support helped Wilbur during his years of employment.
The Community Foundation of Marquette County began administering the scholarship in 2011. To be eligible for this scholarship students must have participated in extracurricular activities for at least two consecutive years such as varsity sports (player and/or managers), student council, band or drama. Students must have been accepted in a 2- or 4-year educational program at a vocational school, college, or university for continuing education in any field. Since 2011, this scholarship has supported over twenty graduates of Forest Park High School who have gone on to study at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, St. Norbert’s College, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Northern Michigan University, and Central Michigan University, among others.
The Community Foundation of Marquette County, including four affiliate funds – Negaunee, Greater Ishpeming, Marquette, and Gwinn Area – recently granted over $100,000 as part of the annual competitive grant cycle.
Of the total grant funding, over $25,000 was awarded to programs related to human services. Over $21,000 was awarded to environment and recreation. Over $17,000 was awarded to arts, culture, and music. Over $15,000 was awarded to youth and education. Over $14,000 was awarded to health. Over $5,000 was awarded to community improvement. This grant cycle included funds from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund to support nonprofits that continue to navigate organizational and operational needs from ongoing pandemic response.
2021 grantees included Willow Farm Therapeutic Riding program, which received funds to replace expired helmets for youth involved in the program. The grant was made possible by the Stephen Blondeau Memorial Fund, which was established at the Community Foundation in 1996 to support projects related to youth safety in the Upper Peninsula.
Willow Farm Therapeutic Riding volunteer Luanne Peterson said, “As an affiliate program of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, horseback riding helmets are a safety requirement that we continue to adhere to. PATH International requires all participants to wear protective headgear that is American Society for Testing and Materials – Safety Equipment Institute (ASTM-SEI) certified. Depending on the amount of use, riding helmets hold the ASTM-SEI certification for 3 – 5 years after they are purchased. This grant will allow the program to provide required safety gear for youth and continue to follow PATH International’s protocols for safety.”
Volunteers from each of the Community Foundation’s affiliate fund form committees to review applications and recommend grants to the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Grant distribution events were recently held for the Ishpeming, Negaunee and Marquette affiliates to celebrate the grantees making an impact on residents of Marquette County. A final grant distribution event will be held on July 4 in Gwinn at The Up North Lodge. This event is part of the popular Bike Night event series and is a fundraiser for the Gwinn Area Community Fund.
The COVID-19 Community Response Fund, a collaboration of the Community Foundation of Marquette County and United Way of Marquette County, recently granted over $35,000 to twenty-three Marquette County nonprofits. These grants were given as “phase two” of the fund, supporting operational expenses for local nonprofits.
The COVID-19 Community Response Fund volunteer committee met weekly and biweekly since March 2020 to establish the fund, review applications, and quickly disperse grants as part of phase one. The fund distributed over $88,000 in grants in phase one, supporting basic needs such as food for children and seniors and protective equipment for front-line workers and volunteers, among many other requests.
The committee met in January to review phase two applications, providing operational support for nonprofits. These organizations have been affected by decreases in funding typically provided by fundraising events and admission or program fees. The committee awarded $35,620 in phase two grants to help offset these losses – the complete list of phase two awardees is below.
In the last ten months, the COVID-19 Community Response Fund has awarded over $124,000 in phase one and phase two grants to Marquette County nonprofits and charitable causes.
COVID-19 Community Response Fund Phase Two Grant Recipients
906 Community Church
Bay Cliff Health Camp
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Marquette and Alger Counties, Inc.
Cancer Care of Marquette County
Forsyth Township Police
Hope Free Lutheran Church
Ishpeming Historical Society
Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly
Marquette Alger Resolution Services
Marquette Regional History Center
Moosewood Nature Center
Negaunee Senior Center
NICE Community Schools
Room at the Inn
St. Anthony’s Catholic Parish
Superior Children’s Advocacy
Superior Housing Solutions
The Salvation Army – Marquette and Ishpeming
UP Children’s Museum