UP Centenarians’ Club: Louisa Kamppinen
Special to the Journal
MARQUETTE — As part of the Marquette Regional History Center’s 100th birthday celebrations, we’re recognizing people who have also joined the “U.P. Centenarians’ Club” by reaching that milestone birthday.
One of those centenarians, Loviisa or Louisa Kamppinen, attributed her long life to hard work and to taking a deep interest in people. She never believed in napping or resting during the day. She also took a sauna every Saturday night during her entire life, the newspaper even made sure to note that she took one just three days before her 100th birthday!
Louisa Luomala was born Dec. 20, 1860 in Kauhajarvi, Finland, to sharecropper parents. As a young child, she survived a famine in 1865-68 although the memories remained with her for the rest of her life. Affecting Finland and Sweden, it was called “the great hunger years” and was the last major naturally caused famine in Europe. The famine killed about 8.5 percent of the entire population, although Louisa lived in an area that was harder hit than most and the death toll may have reached as high as 20 percent. It was during this famine, at the age of 7, that Louisa remembered spending two weeks taking care of a newborn infant while its parents gleaned for pine boughs in the forest.
At the age of 21, Louisa married John Kamppinen. In 1890, John decided to immigrate to America, leaving a pregnant Louisa in Finland with their three children. She miscarried just two weeks after he left. John also struggled during their separation. While looking for work, he reportedly walked from Buffalo, New York, to Sault Ste. Marie where he finally found a job with the Union Carbide Company, working on a canal-digging project.
It took John nine years to save the money to bring his family to join him in the United States. But when Louisa and the children arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, he wasn’t there to meet them. She was so angry that she threatened to turn around and go back to Finland to continue raising her children on her own. Her brother, who had arrived to meet her, talked her into at least going to see her husband and they did reconcile. Initially the family lived in Cooks, near Manistique for a year or two before moving to Chatham in Alger County. Louisa and John had a total of nine children, six girls and three boys.
From 1900 until 1941, Louisa worked as midwife in the Chatham and Eben area, delivering hundreds of babies. She was always willing to be on call 24 hours a day for her services and she claimed the distinction of never having lost a mother or baby. She was particularly skilled at performing breech deliveries and it was not uncommon for her to act upon one of her “inner urgings.” There were times when she appeared at a laboring woman’s bedside even before anyone and notified or fetched her. She would often stay to help the family during the mother’s seven- to 10-day recuperation in bed.
Louisa had been educated to read at home, receiving her only formal schooling in confirmation classes. She was aghast to learn that one of her grandsons-in-law, a doctor, had trained for more than eight years to deliver babies.
Louisa’s husband, John, died from a heart attack in December 1917. After his death she supported her family by weaving fancy carpets and raising cows, in addition to her midwifery work. She also prepared the dead for burial in the days before modern funeral home.
Louisa spent her last years living in a small cottage. It had originally been built in her son Matti’s yard, but which later relocated to a wooded setting (probably after Matti’s death). Her youngest daughter and son-in-law, Saima and John Leppanen lived there with her.
She lost her sight to cataracts, leaving her feeling dizzy and reluctant to be moved about in a wheelchair, much preferring the familiar motion of her wooden rocker. Even with her infirmities, her mind was still quite sharp. When people came to visit her, she would hold their hands and after hearing a few words, she would recognize them.
She never learned to speak English, as many people in the community still spoke Finnish. She relied on family members to interpret for her when the need arose. After losing her sight, she would ask to be read to daily from the Finnish-American newspaper she subscribed to, as well as from her own well-worn Bible.
She was a life-long member of the Apostolic Lutheran Church and whenever she was able, continued attending services even into her 100s. She particularly liked singing the old Finnish hymns and was quite strict in spending Sundays and holy days in quiet contemplation, reading her Bible.
Louisa Kamppinen died peacefully in her sleep on July 21, 1966 at the age of 105. At the time she was the oldest person of Finnish descent in the world, according to the Lutheran Church in Finland. She was also the oldest resident of the Upper Peninsula and the third oldest person in the state. She outlived eight of her nine children and her oldest granddaughter, Fannie Hallstrom, who died just two days before Louisa. Even with all of these losses she was survived by 153 descendants, including her youngest child, Saima, 22 grandchildren, 81 great-grandchildren and 49 great-great-grandchildren.