My next Finnish-American documentary ~
I had heard a lot about Sirkka Tuomi Holm, mainly from Jim Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center. Every since I met Jim 2 ½ years ago he has been talking, more like hinting, about doing a documentary on this fascinating woman. From the stories he told me and what I have read in publications, including her own, she sounded like a woman with a lot to tell.
At 98 years old she has seen and done many things history books could never reveal.
I don’t recall exactly when I agreed to do this film. Sirkka’s memory at 98 is better than my 36-year-old one. But soon enough Jim and I were making plans to travel to Francestown, New Hampshire to sit down with Sirkka, camera in hand, and capture her stories. We were already going to FinnFunn Weekend in Troy, NH to show the “Co-operatively Yours” documentary, and I was going to film the event for this blog. It only made sense to give Sirkka a visit while in the neighborhood.
Sirkka Tuomi Holm was born in Virginia, Minnesota in 1920 to Finnish immigrant parents —“eleven days before the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote,” she said. Her parents, and grandparents in Finland, were politically active and paved the way for Sirkka. They worked and fought for a better world for everyone, no matter their class, race or gender. As a child in 1931 she witnessed a police attack on strikers in Warren, Ohio.
Sirkka enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, serving in London, Normandy and Paris. She recently flew to Washington D.C. on the Honor Flight, convincing the tour leaders to stop at the Women’s Memorial, which isn’t normally on the itinerary.
After World War II, Sirkka studied in New York to become an actress and spent three years on the summer stock stage. Her love of an audience is still strong; at one point during our first day with her, after admitting she was getting tired, but had one more story to tell “because she had such a great audience here.”
In 1957 Sirkka was the first woman in Baltimore called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where she was questioned about her participation in the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. She was also asked about her activities in the Finnish Hall. Sirkka was deemed an “unfriendly witness” and repeatedly exercised her Fifth Amendment rights.
Sirkka has written for The Finnish American Reporter since its inception in 1986 and continues to do so today. Her monthly article “Past and Present” is the favorite article of FAR readers, according to Jim Kurtti, who’s the editor in chief of that paper.
This is a very brief depiction of this incredible woman’s life. She shared stories for hours in the 3 days I spent with her. And we didn’t cover everything. I’m still in awe of how much she can remember and how much history she knows. Sirkka is a living Finnish-American history book. We asked her why she is passionate about sharing her life’s story. One of the reasons is she believes in passing on to the future the contributions that the Finns made to America.
Sirkka is also sweet as can be. I left with hugs and kisses and cannot wait to visit again. I saw firsthand the impact she has made on the lives of people around her. She is able to live independently at home because of the many people who care about her.
While in Francestown, Jim and I stayed with Sirkka’s friends Steve and Jan Griffin. Before we arrived, I was unsure if this documentary should only include Sirkka or to ask others what impact Sirkka has made in their lives. After interviewing the Griffins, I knew they, and others, needed to be part of the story.
We also interviewed Barry and Katy Heiniluoma of Hubbardston, Massachusetts and 94-year-old Roy Helander of Maynard, Massachusetts, another veteran thespian of the Finnish-American stage.
The next stage of this documentary is to start transcribing Sirkka’s interviews, see what else needs to be filmed, and start putting the pieces together to tell her story. Like “Co-operatively Yours” this film is being produced in partnership with the Finnish American Heritage Center.
We are currently seeking grants and funding to be able to complete this important film. If you would like to support our filmmaking endeavor please email me or call the Finnish-American Heritage Center at 906-482-5300.
Kristin Ojaniemi is a Finnish-American filmmaker, video creator and proud Yooper full of sisu.