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Effort Forming To Preserve Finnish Heritage In Pasco

Finnish roots go deep in the county, stretching back to the 1920s.

Ida Duffy feels the pressure of time as she tries gathering the histories and backgrounds of her fellow Finns around Pasco County before age takes those stories away.

Duffy, whose maiden name of Salmi means strait in Finnish, is working to gather and preserve the history and stories of people of Finnish descent.

The project is in its early stages, but Duffy, vice president of the Finnish-American Club of New Port Richey, wants people to start thinking about their parents or grandparents and what they might remember.

Any information is likely to advance the effort since so little is known about the Finnish population in West Central Florida.

“Today we have no idea of even the Finnish population in Pasco County,” Duffy said.

She’d like to get information and backgrounds from people in Pasco County and beyond.

The Finnish heritage in New Port Richey stretches back decades to the Roaring 1920s, Duffy said.

“There are a lot who are Finnish around here who don’t even know we exist,” she said.

People of Finnish heritage settled in western Pasco with newcomers moving close to others from the nation neighbored by Sweden, Norway and Ruissia.

Time hasn’t erased all signs of the Finnish influence. Maki Lane in New Port Richey is in what was a Finnish enclave years ago. Maki means hill in Finnish. A lot of Finnish proper names are based on geographical features, Duffy said.

The town’s Finnish-American Club itself goes back 60 years.

The center of Finnish culture in Florida is around Lake Worth and Lantana on the state’s East Coast. The largest concentration of people with Finnish background in the nation is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Duffy, 72, and her husband moved to New Port Richey permanently in 2001 but had been coming to the city for years. Her grandparents were from Finland and married in Massachusetts. Her parents met while her mother was in a Finnish college in Hancock, Mich. The town is now site of Finlandia University.

“Growing up, we spoke Finnish at home until we started school,” Duffy said. Her first instructions in English came when she went to class, though use of her parents’ language at home diminished over the years.

The memories of past generations are what Duffy hopes to capture and preserve, ultimately though video recordings, although that is in the future, as is a website to act as a clearing house for the information.

“We’d like to save what people remember about their family and traits that still affect their life,” Duffy said.

The approaching summer means activities at the Finnish-American group’s clubhouse will slow, but anyone who would like to provide information or wants to know more can visit after 4 p.m. on Thursdays when the clubhouse in open for Bingo.

The clubhouse is at 6016 Delaware Ave. in New Port Richey.

Each passing year means more memories can vanish.

“We have so many elderly members we need to get information from. It’s at the formative stage now, but we ‘re trying to treat this as a matter of urgency,” Duffy said.

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