Sibelius Lodge Finnish Masons Make Donations to Finnish Organizations

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq., a Past Master and Trustee of the Sibelius-Bredablick Lodge, announced on February 18, 2015, at the Prime Catch Restaurant in Boynton Beach, Florida, to the Finnish Masonic Lodge members in Florida at their annual Florida luncheon, that the Lodge was considering requests for donations from the Finnish organizations.

Sibelius Lodge was initiated in 1965 as the Finnish Masonic Lodge in New York City. It was originally formed by members who were Finnish or of Finnish background. Prior to its initiation, there were Finns in many Lodges, but no one Lodge was considered to be the Finnish Lodge until Sibelius Lodge came into being. Crescent Lodge in NYC had many Finns. Robert Alan Saasto’s father, Ernest Olavi Saasto, formerly Saastamoinen, was a Master of that Lodge. Many of its members left Crescent Lodge to join the newly formed Sibelius Lodge. The father and grandfather of Eric Star (see biography below) were both charter members of Sibelius Lodge, having both been members of the Finlandia Masonic Club from whence the lodge originated. John Konkola (see biography below) served as VP, Treasurer and Secretary of the Finlandia Masonic Club.

There has always been a strong connection between the Masons in New York and in Finland. Before Sibelius Lodge was formed, in 1922, a delegation of the Grand Lodge of New York went to Helsinki and Suomi Lodge No. 1 was founded. In 1924, another delegation from New York crossed the Atlantic again and founded the Grand Lodge of Finland.

Jussi Himanka, a Master of  Sibelius Lodge in the 1960(s), was a well- known correspondent for several Finnish newspapers and the Finnish Broadcasting Company. He maintained relationships between Finnish and American Masons and organized visits of Finnish brethren to Sibelius Lodge. Jussi Himanka opined that the greatest gift Finnish Freemasonry gave to Masonry was the ritual music (Music Religieuse Opus 113) composed by Jean Sibelius, who was a founding member of Suomi Lodge No.1 in 1922 in Helsinki.

From its inception and well into the 1990(s), it was very common for there to be in excess of thirty Finns at every Sibelius Lodge meeting, where Finnish was spoken both before and after the actual meetings. Since then, many of the members have passed on or moved to Florida, giving rise to the annual luncheon in Florida.

Robert Alan Saasto explained that at present, the Lodge has decreased in membership, such that a merger with another non-Finnish Lodge was on the horizon. Unfortunately, membership has dwindled and it is uncertain how long the Lodge will be active, as there are no Finnish immigrants or influx of members to continue its operations. This trend of merging of the Lodges, due to decreased membership, is not a new development. Frederik Lodge, a primarily Danish Lodge, merged into Sibelius Lodge several years ago. In 2006, Bredablick and Sibelius merged as Sibelius-Bredablick Lodge. The early members of Bredablick Lodge were predominantly Swedish and Norwegian immigrants.

John Konkola, a former Past Master and Treasurer of Sibelius Lodge, organizes the annual Florida luncheon for those members who have retired to Florida. His son, Alec Konkola, the current Treasurer of the Lodge, was present at the luncheon to explain that although a new merger was not imminent, potential candidates were being sought as part of a long term strategy.

Robert Saasto is an attorney well known in the Finnish communities. He is President and co-founder of the Finnish American Lawyers Association (FALA). He requested that the Lodge members present, who are members of the various Finnish organizations in Florida, make contact with their groups and present in writing to Robert a request for funds, with details as to what the funds would be used for. Those requests would then be reviewed by the Lodge members in New York for consideration and approval, to the extent that funds were available.

The Finnish Masons in Florida went to work on the proposals. In a picture taken in front of Finland House in Lantana Florida, are from left to right: Juha Makipaa, Peter Junttila, Heikki Vettenranta, John Aarnio, Harry I. Manner, and John Konkola.

Juha Makipaa, born in Helsinki, held IBM Marketing and Executive positions in Europe HQ, Asia Pacific HQ, Americas HQ and World HQ. He immigrated to the US in 1974 from Tokyo and was raised to Master Mason in 1975. Juha Makipaa was instrumental in securing for Kerho
Talo, or the Finnish American Club, a donation of $11,000 to install a new commercial grade oven for the kitchen, and a ceiling suspended commercial video projector for showing Finnish and Scandinavian films. The AFC is the oldest Finnish hall in Florida and is host to the Nordic Heritage Club. It has become almost a second home to many of its members. Both the AFC and the Nordic Heritage Club have Masons among its members.

Peter Junttila , a Mason since 1979, did the 32 degree Scottish Rite. During the Vietnam War he worked for Victory Carriers transporting bombs to Air force bases in Thailand and Saigon. After that he continued working on ships as a First Engineer and then as Chief Engineer. He retired in 1994 after total of 26 years as a member of American Maritime Officers.

Heikki Vettenranta, born near Tampere Finland, immigrated to the USA in 1975. He became a Sibelius Lodge Mason in 1982 and worked as a computer analyst for 30 years for Pitney Bowes before his retirement. Heikki Vettenranta was instrumental in securing for Suomi Talo, or Finland House, a donation of $20,000 to replace the original windows with windows able to withstand the many hurricanes in Florida. Finland House, the American Finnish Tourist Club, currently has 370 members, with many recent retirees from Finland. Annually, approximately 25,000 members and visitors attend cultural and educational events, entertainment, and activities in their two story building in Lantana Florida.
John Aarnio, a Mason for many years, spends his winters in Florida and lives permanently in Voluntown Connecticut. Prior to retirement in 1997, he operated large capacity air conditioning  systems in large buildings in NYC, including Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Harry I. Manner, born in Viipuri Finland, immigrated to the USA in 1957. He produced the first full length color Finnish American Motion Picture "Copper Country", a fictional story about Upper Peninsula Finn's from the 19th century. He worked as a freelance TV producer and cameraman in New York for the Finnish, Swedish, Dutch and American Television Companies. He worked for the largest textile manufacturing company in the world "Burlington Industries" for 27 years. He became a Sibelius Lodge Mason in 1968, served as Master, and as the Grand Representative of Finland to the Grand Lodge of New York. In 2014 the President of Finland awarded Harry Manner the rank and title of "Commander Knightly Order of the Lion" for establishing and running The Price of Freedom Museum Lantana Florida.

Harry Manner was instrumental in securing for The Price of Freedom Museum Inc. a donation of $13,000 to install an elevator chairlift to assist veterans, the elderly and disabled to access the Museum, library, language school and other activities located on the second floor of Finland House.

Harry Manner was also instrumental in securing for the Finnish War Veterans in America Inc. a donation of $2,000 to assist Finnish War veterans who need physical therapy, massages or foot care.  That group is supported by individuals and from funds received from several pea soup luncheons held each year at Suomi Talo.

John Konkola was born in NYC to his parents who were born in Finland and spoke Finnish at home. He became a Sibelius Lodge Mason in 1975, was the Master in 1982, and served as Secretary from 1990 to 1998 and from 2003 to 2004. From 1996 to 1997 he was the Grand Representative of Finland to the Grand Lodge of New York.  Prior to his retirement, John worked as a tax manager for large corporations in NYC.

John Konkola was instrumental in securing for the St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Lake Worth Florida a donation of $10,000 to be applied to any of their numerous needs, which include repair or replacement of storm damaged stained glass windows and frames, a restaurant quality dishwasher and garbage disposal unit, carpeting, and audio visual equipment. St. Andrews Church has a large Finnish American congregation and is active for the entire year.

The Masons in New York met to evaluate and approve the Florida requests and others. In a picture, taken at Lodge Room in the Masonic Building at 23rd Street in NYC, are the following from left to right: Lauri Ilmoniemi, Trustee, Alec Konkola, Ilkka Kalliomaa, Stephen Morabito (in back), Robert Alan Saasto, Esq. Trustee, being congratulated by Carlos Cruz, current Master of the Lodge, Eric Star (in back), and John Gargan, Trustee.

Lauri J. Ilmoniemi , born in Pihlajavesi near Jyväskylä Finland, immigrated to the USA in 1963 and became a Member of the Carpenters Union the same year. He became a Sibelius Lodge Master Mason in 1984. He was the Master of Sibelius Lodge in 1989, and the Master of the merged Sibelius-Bredablick Lodge from September 2009 to June 2010. He is currently a Trustee of the Lodge.

Alec Konkola is the current Treasurer of Sibelius-Bredeblick Lodge. His wife works in the Finnish Consulate General in New York. He is a tax manager for Barclays, Commodities Tax Group and previously held positions in the Investment Banking Finance group at Bear Stearns & Lehman Brothers. Alec proposed the donation to the New York Finnish Lutheran Church in the sum of $5,000, which was approved. A major factor in the Church’s budget deficit of $30,000 was caused by the reduction in value of the Euro, as the Finnish government’s financial support was tendered in Euro(s). Alec had previously supported a donation from the Lodge in the sum of $3,500 to the Finnish Language School, which holds classes at the Church in NYC.

Ilkka Kalliomaa, a past Grand Representative of Finland to the Grand Lodge of New York, active in the Sixth District Masonic activities, was the Cultural Attache of the Finnish Consulate General in New York prior to retirement. He was instrumental in strongly supporting the following donations: $2,500 to the Finnish Heritage Society of South Florida to support their project to preserve the history of the Finns in Florida and Palm Beach County; $2,000 to support the recommendation of Alec Konkola to assist the Chelsea New York Music Festival in presenting a Jean Sibelius program; and $1,500 to Finlandia University.

Stephen Morabito has served several terms as Master of the Lodge and is currently the Secretary. He is a 32 degree Scottish Rite. He has his own business as a managed service provider. His dedication and service to the Lodge, together with Carlos Cruz, Alec Konkola and Eric Star, has enabled the Lodge to continue to exist despite dwindling attendance and membership.

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq., a Mason since 1989, was the Master in 1995. He is a present Trustee and coordinator of the donations herein. He supported the following donations: $5,000 as a sponsor of the Sibelius Concert at Carnegie Hall; $1,500 to Finland Center Foundation in NYC; $1,500 to Finnish America Reporter; and $1,500 to Amerikan Uutiset.

Carlos Cruz, affectionately known as Karlo(s) Cruzanen, the current Master of the Lodge, has been a tremendous supporter and recruiter of new members for years. Carlos is a Past Assistant Grand Lecturer, Past Grand Lodge Staff Officer and Past District Deputy Grand Master. In Scottish Rite he is a Past Thrice Potent Master, Past Most Wise Master, presently the Orator and a 33rd degree elect, as he will receive the 33rd degree in the summer of 2015. He is also a Royal Arch Mason. As the Assistant Grand Lodge lecturer he presented Masonic degrees or lectures to numerous other Lodges. He works for Omega Watch dealing in high end watches.

Eric Star, a Mason since the early 1990(s), is a Past Master and Secretary of Sibelius. He is the present Grand Representative of Finland to the Grand Lodge of New York, and is a third generation Mason. Eric Star’s mother Helmi was born in Finland. His father, Albert A. Star was very well known in the Finnish American community in New York and an avid Mason. Eric's grandfather, Albert Star, also an avid Mason. Both were very early supporters of recruiting Finns into the Mason Lodges. Eric Star supported a donation of $1,500 to the Cub Scouts.

John Gargan, a Past Master of Sibelius Lodge, travels frequently between New York and Florida and therefore participates in the Masonic functions at both locations. John Gargan worked as a Senior Tax Accountant for an international mining company prior to retirement.

Active Masons in New York not shown within the photo are: Ernest Saasto, Esq.; Bob Brutsche; Gustave Westerholm and Klaus-Peter Finke-Harkonen.

In total, the sum of $75,000 was given to 14 charitable organizations. In additional, $12,000 was given to Masonic charities to be designated by the current Master, Carlos Cruz. The $87,000 given in charity represented almost half of the assets accumulated by the Lodge over many years. One of the major purposes of the Lodge is to engage in charitable giving, and fortunately the Finnish community was a major beneficiary.

Written by Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.
Trustee Sibelius-Bredablick Lodge
President Finnish American Lawyers Association