Nick Eidenschink has picked up some life wisdom along the way to a nearly complete UMD pharmacy degree.
“It is always important to know where you came from,” Eidenschink said. “People worked hard for a living, and I think the average American probably takes their life a little for granted. It is important to remember that someone had to work to get us where we are today.”
When he says “people worked hard,” he’s generally referring to a time when life, in many ways, was more taxing than it is now; he’s specifically referring to his own great-grandparents, who emigrated from Finland to Minnesota’s Iron Range in the early 20th century.
When he talks about “us,” he could mean his generation, but he definitely means himself and his sister Megan, who graduated from UMD with a teaching English degree in December 2007. Nick, 25 years old, and Megan, 23, are from Detroit Lakes, Minn.
As UMD students, they both received FinnFest USA ’92 Scholarships, which are awarded to UMD students of Finnish heritage from a fund established after the school hosted FinnFest USA’s 1992 national event. FinnFest USA, a Finnish-American organization, is committed to engaging all people with Finnish culture and history through relevant programming and events.
FinnFest USA President Marianne Wargelin said FinnFest host sites decide what to do with profits generated by the festival, and 1992 organizers chose the scholarship. “It is the legacy of that 1992 FinnFest at UMD,” she said. “It seems to have created a wonderful spirit on campus—it’s generated many applicants, and it’s helped UMD think about itself as being part of a Finnish community.”
16 years, over 128 students and still going strong
Wargelin said that in the 2000 U.S. census, 29,602 people in Duluth, about 7.5 percent of the city’s population, identified themselves as Finnish, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area contained more Finnish folks—44,204—than anywhere else in the U.S.A.
FinnFest 2008 will be centered at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center July 23-27, and UMD people and places will be vigorously involved (see sidebar). Event co-chair and UMD Music Department Head Jeanne Doty echoed Wargelin’s words about the scholarship’s significance. “To date,” Doty said, “Over $57,237 has been given to 128 students. Those of us who work in education are acutely aware of how much our students have to work—or take out loans—to stay in school. Scholarships are essential. Our country would be well served if we used the Scandinavian countries as a model, and offered free education to students who work hard.”
Megan and Nick know about hard academic work. Since receiving the scholarships, they’ve also learned about the hard work it took for their great-grandparents to establish lives in Minnesota.
“Our great-grandfather was 100 percent Finnish,” said Megan. “He came to the United States without any knowledge of English and worked in a sawmill in Tower, Minnesota. He later moved to Gilbert, where he worked as a shoemaker and eventually opened up his own store. He married a 100 percent Finnish woman and they had four children.”
Megan says she and Nick didn’t grow up conscious of that family story. Even though Nick says the Eidenschinks are the “kind of family that has a cabin with a Finnish flag, Finnish signs and sayings all over,” he still “didn’t know a whole lot about my Finnish past before I first applied for this scholarship. It was a great reason to talk about it with my family, and it has stimulated several conversations since.”
Wargelin says that stimulation is part of FinnFest’s mission: “One of our goals is continuing the nurturing of a Finnish sense of community-—an awareness of Finland and Finnish culture, and certainly the scholarship does that. Any student who receives the scholarship has to pay attention to their own heritage. Yes, it gets some money to a student, but it becomes a catalyst for something much more ephemeral.”
“To be honest with you,” Megan said, “when I first heard of the scholarship”— one of their grandmothers clipped an ad for it in the Mesabi Daily News — “I was pretty excited about having an opportunity to be a recipient of some money to help pay for school. I later learned how little I knew about my family’s roots and history. This opportunity became more than just about money.
“I vividly remember sitting at the table with my grandma listening to the stories about my great-grandfather. It was sad to be 20 years old and just finding this out. I barely knew that I had Finnish blood in me! This scholarship has taught me to be aware of my heritage, and to be interested in and concerned with the history of my family.”
Learning Family History
Both Nick and Megan said their increased awareness of Finnish heritage has affected their current and future families.
“I think because both my brother and I received this scholarship,” Megan said, “it even made my relatives take a step back and think about how important it is to recognize and be proud of our roots.”
Nick said, “The older I get, the more important I think it is to enjoy some of the same traditions that family before me have celebrated. I am definitely excited about sharing some of the traditions that we have when I start a family.”
Megan said the scholarship and the raised awareness it inspired have helped her see herself and her education more completely.
“When I was applying,” she said, “I was right in the middle of my block courses for the education program. Of course, teachers need to be aware and accepting of the diversity in their classrooms. Each student needs to be recognized as an individual; a classroom unites a variety of cultures and heritages and it becomes crucial to celebrate and honor those differences.”
She’s experienced a bit of that individual recognition: “I guess because UMD is a larger campus, this scholarship made me feel unique and more than just a number. It shows that UMD supports and acknowledges its students’ cultural backgrounds. This scholarship made me think, ‘Hey, I can contribute to the diversity of this college and am recognized for it.’"
For FinnFest USA ’92 Scholarship information or to make a gift, contact Maryann Soleim, UMD, 315 Darland Administration Building, 1049 University Drive, Duluth, MN 55812, 218- 726-8993, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Chris Godsey
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