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Finlandia Week concludes today
By Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post Staff
Sunday, February 9, 2003
LAKE WORTH -- Mention the cities of Chicago or Boston to people in Finland and you may be met with blank stares.
But mention the city of Lake Worth, and you can get their attention.
For decades Finns have traveled to Lake Worth and the surrounding areas as tourists, sometimes setting up permanent homes to enjoy the warm winters and beautiful beaches. It was just 21 degrees in Helsinki on Saturday and the Gulf of Finland has frozen over for the first time in more than 35 years.
Since 1985, the now 25,000-strong Finnish community in Palm Beach County has celebrated its traditions and history at the annual Finlandia Week, nine days of Finnish movies, dancing, singing, and art exhibits.
The celebration culminates this weekend with the Midnight Sun Festival in Lake Worth's Bryant Park.
"We're bringing the community together and keeping our heritage alive," said Harri Sankamo, who will take over next year as president of Finlandia Week. "We want to remind people that they are Americans, but they also have roots in Finland."
Tom Ramiccio, executive director of Lake Worth's chamber of commerce, said the city continues to court Finnish tourists. Recently, chamber representatives attended a tourism convention in Finland where Lake Worth was the only U.S. city represented.
Ramiccio, a former mayor of Lake Worth, said some Finnish people stopped coming to the city in the 1980s when prostitution and drug dealing became common near downtown. But with much of the crime now cleaned up, and a burgeoning downtown full of shops and restaurants, Ramiccio wants the Finns to return.
"We're trying to bring the Finns back to Lake Worth," he said.
There could be as many as 10,000 visiting next year as part of the international Finnish Festival. In 2002, the celebration was in Canada, and before that in California.
Jyrki Koivuharju, treasurer of Finlandia Week, said the local Finnish community is already preparing for the event. "It's going to be a really big thing," he said.
The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at Bryant Park.