October 24, 1961: Finnish President Urho Kekkonen visits Northeastern Minnesota

On this day in Duluth in 1961, Finnish Urho Kekkonen, along with his wife and other dignitaries, landed in Duluth at 11 a.m. for a tour of Northeastern Minnesota. The group included Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahti Karjalainen; Richard R. Seppälä, Finnish Ambassador to America, and Max Jacobson, Chief of the Press Bureau of Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were greeted in a ceremony that included the Esko High School band directed by Richard Sarkela, after which they were escorted to the Hotel Duluth for a reception in their honor. The next day the president and his contingency visited Esko, a community immersed in Finnish culture, where they were meet by a throng of well-wishers at the Finnish American Memorial Foundation Museum, now the Esko Historical Museum. Minnesota Governor Elmer L. Anderson went along as well. According to the book Esko’s Corner, “enthusiastic residents jammed the town center to catch a glimpse of the president, who later sent the shirt he was wearing as a memento for the museum…. Students were excused for an afternoon to witness the arrival of President Urho Kekkonen…. [who] visited the 1872 Pioneer Memorial on the grounds of the Esko Historical Society museum.” While visiting the region Kekkonen and his party also toured the Iron Range, briefly visited Cloquet, Floodwood, and gave a speech in Duluth at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The two-day stop in Northeastern Minnesota was part of a larger trip to the U.S. that included a meeting with president John F. Kennedy during an official White House visit and lunch in honor of Kekkonen.

Finnish President Urho Kekkonen, left foreground, was immersed in a sea of Finnish-Americans on his visit to Esko in 1961. He had arrived October 24 at the Duluth Airport and was greeted by a ceremony that included the Esko High School Band directed by Richard Sarkela. (Esko Historical Society photo)

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