UP Centenarians’ Club: Oscar Salo
For more than 40 years, Marquette area residents enjoyed the baked goods made by Oscar Salo as he baked his way into local history. He was born Oscar Kirtuula on Dec. 14, 1886, one of the youngest of Anna Pircula and Hendric Kirtuula’s 10 children.
He grew up on the family farm in Pirokkila, Finland, near Helsinki, where they raised rye and wheat for sale. He said, “I was one of the youngest boys who didn’t have anything to do at home.” Because the older children were responsible for the farm chores, at the age of 14, Oscar accepted an offer from his married sister to work at a bakery in Helsinki, beginning a job that would become his life’s occupation.
It was while he was working with his sister, that he decided to change his last name to his sister’s married name, Sinisalo. He later said, “I was young and I don’t care what I do so I turned it to Sinisalo myself.”
After a few years working for his sister, probably in 1903, a co-worker immigrating to join relatives in Ishpeming asked Oscar to join him on the journey, which he did. Once in the Upper Peninsula, Oscar found a job working at Larson’s Bakery in Marquette.
Oscar continued working at Larson’s for many years, with a brief interruption from May to December 1918 when he served in the American Army during World War I. He reported, “We were ready to go to France just at the time armistice came to America. We really didn’t have much to do the last days when armistice came. We got ready to go home.” While he never went overseas, he did change his name again, this time from Sinisalo to just Salo while in the service. After his discharge, Oscar returned to Larson’s Bakery.
In 1925, Oscar and two business partners, Alf Alholm and John Norgard purchased their own bakery at 521 N. Third St. They changed the name to the Marquette Baking Company and opened for business. He remember, “We didn’t get anything that first day, but the next day we got some [customers]. It started to get better and better.”
Oscar worked in the back of the store, baking from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. He described it as, “My part was to make cakes and cookies…I enjoyed it. It didn’t bother me at all. [But] I couldn’t ever get to see much people.” The one thing that disappointed him was not being able to speak much English during work because both Alholm and Norgard spoked Finnish and Swedish more than they spoke English.
Two years after opening the Marquette Baking Company, in September 1927, Oscar married Gertrude Hutander of Negaunee. Gertrude had graduated from Northern Normal School and was a teacher in the Palmer and National Mine area.
In the mid-1950s after nearly 29 years in business, ill health forced Oscar to dust the flour from his hands and hang up his apron for the final time. After selling his shares of the business to his partners, the bakery was sold several times and underwent a number of name changes before finally closing as the Breadbasket in 1984. Retirement gave Oscar and Gertrude the chance to travel, which Oscar said were among his favorite memories. They spent 12 winters in St. Petersburg, Florida, and even made two trips to Finland.
When they weren’t travelling, they spent much of their time at their camp on Farmer’s Lake in Little Lake. “We would go out to camp…fishing and swimming and having a good time. Almost every day in summertime, we went to camp. There used to be lots of blueberries. We used to go picking.” Oscar also took up hunting rabbit and grouse, and even bagged two deer.
Gertrude passed away in August 1982 after 55 years of marriage and that September Oscar moved in to the Jacobetti Home for Veterans. Even after the move, Oscar remained active. Jacobetti would rent out the pool at the Ramada Inn and he was one of eight or nine men who would regularly go swimming. Oscar noted that the employee who accompanied the men was worried about him swimming due to his age. “But I swam just like at camp, I was so good swimmer.”
In a Mining Journal interview, Oscar noted “There are lots of changes in the world. In my time there were so many wars all over…the big war… and second war…and so many small wars between. But I am oldest here now.” He died three months later in April 1989 at the age of 102 and was buried in Park Cemetery.