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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Jingo Viitala Vachon
Photo by Al Kamuda

Photo of Jingo Viitala Vachon playing guitar

Photo of Jingo Viitala Vachon looking through a book

Jingo Viitala Vachon
1988 awardee, Toivola (Houghton County), storyteller and musician

Jingo Viitala Vachon (b. 1918) was born and raised in the big timber area of Toivola, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She has devoted much of her adult life to telling the tall tales, legends, anecdotes, and jokes she heard growing up in this densely populated Finnish-American region referred to as the "sauna belt." Her stories also are portrayals of her personal experiences and life in the Upper Peninsula of her youth.

Jingo is a skilled raconteur. While already recognized locally, she began telling her stories in letters to correspondents, one of whom convinced her to submit her stories to newspapers. She began writing in Finnish and English for publications in Finland and the United States and quickly developed a broad following, especially of Finnish Americans, who appreciated her self-deprecatory humor, which is so much a part of Finnish American culture. Subsequently, Jingo published her stories in Tall Timber Tales, Sagas from Sisula, and Finnish Fibbles (L'Anse Sentinel, L'Anse, Michigan). She has regaled local audiences and entertained family and friends with her stories and songs.

Although best known as a storyteller, Jingo is also a talented musician. She plays the guitar and sings a very large repertoire of Finnish-American songs in Finnish. She is one of the few remaining second-generation Finnish Americans who knows many songs of the immigrant generation, which she wrote down long ago in a notebook. Her knowledge of this music and song has been a tremendous resource for scholars researching various aspects of the evolution of Finnish-American music. Jingo has also translated American musical standards into Finnish. In addition, Jingo is an accomplished painter. Her paintings have been exhibited in museums, and one of her works is owned by the Migration Institute in Turku, Finland. She also did all the cartoons that illustrate her books on Finnish-American life in Michigan.

In her younger years, Jingo was an avid hunter, fisher, and trapper and knows her natural environment well. "I tended a coyote trap line that stretched from the back yard nearly to Ontonagon," she once remarked. (1) Compared to tending this 30-some-mile trap line, Jingo, today, lives quietly just a few miles from her birthplace.

Raconteur, musician, singer, keeper of Finnish-American cultural heritage, Jingo was featured in Michael Loukinen's film Tradition Bearers (1983), which documents the life stories of four Finnish-American cultural treasures.

(1) Vachon, Jingo Viitala. Personal communication with Yvonne Lockwood. 2000.

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