The Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center has announced the 2017 recipients of the Upper Peninsula Folklife Award. Three individuals who have done much to preserve and promote the folk traditions of the region will be honored. The awardees are television personality and cultural Finnish-American icon Carl Pellonpaa and folk dance instructors/advocates Bill and Marge Sklar. The awards will be presented at the Beaumier Center’s benefit, “A Middle Eastern Dinner,” on May 30. For more information and to register for the event, go to connect.nmu.edu/2017uphd.
A native of Ishpeming, Pellonpaa has been promoting Finnish culture in the United States since 1962, with the debut of the “Finland Calling, Suomi kutsuu” television program. It became the longest-running Finnish language and culture program in the United States. The show was conceived when Tom Quayle suggested to the general manager of WLUC TV6 that a Finnish TV show would financially benefit both TV6 and Midwest travel agencies. Pellonpaa, whose parents were from Finland, was chosen as the host.
Through the show, Pellonpaa hosted 34 tours to Finland and Scandinavia. He also hosted the “Finland Calling Dances,” which gave viewers a chance to meet each other, but also helped to keep the tradition of Finnish dance and culture alive in the U.P. The last dances were held in March 2015, the same month the TV program aired its final episode. Pellonpaa was awarded the Order of the White Rose of Finland by President Mauno Koivisto in 1988, and in 2012, he received the Institute of Migration’s John Morton Award.
The Sklars have supported, promoted and presented traditional dance in the Marquette region for many years. They have organized folk-dance groups, taught classes in every kind of traditional dance imaginable, and are well-known square and contra-dance callers. In recent years, they have established The Dance Zone, a venue that makes it easier for people to gather for a variety of dances and have specialized in teaching younger students traditional dances from the immigrant groups who settled in the Upper Peninsula.
Marge has also recently studied the use of dance to help people with Parkinson’s, further demonstrating the Sklars’ commitment to the community. Marge currently serves on the Beaumier Center’s programming committee and has often volunteered her time to assist with ethnic dance events for the Beaumier Center.