May (Saari Johnson) Adair was a wonderful wife, mother, genealogist and friend. I first met her through her brother, Wilho and his wife, Kaisa Saari. May was teaching piano lessons at their home as she did for years.
Music seemed to flow from May’s fingers. She played not only the piano but also the organ and the Finnish kantele. With Kaisa singing in Finnish, May and Wilho performed all over the country — as well as at our Finnish-American Folk Festival in Naselle.
May treated visitors royally with coffee time of cardamom bread, cookies, apple and berry pies. She had the gift of hospitality.
During our Finnish-American Folk Festivals [FAFF] May and Bob hosted guest performers from Finland. She fed them well, playing the piano, the organ, singing and speaking Finnish and translating for them. These young musicians then kept in touch with May even as their fame grew.
May first studied genealogy with a group including Marilee Wirkkala and Bobby Yancey. They identified names on old graves in the Naselle cemetery. Then May focused on her own family and then the whole community. She showed visitors where they fit in on a chart on her wall at home.
In 1991, May and I flew to FinnFest USA in Lake Worth, Fla. I enjoyed her stories, told in her husky voice. She chuckled as she spoke, focusing on the humor of life.
Lake Worth is a winter destination for Finns. We met people from all over the world and May helped them track down their roots. My friend Marja took us shopping at a mall with a huge J.C. Penney’s store. May sewed many of her clothes and curtains and furnishings. An abundance of dresses and material filled the aisles. I tried on an outfit and came out to show May. She was nowhere to be found. Finally Marja spotted her, many aisles away. May was buried in mounds of brightly colored material. She knew how to capitalize on the opportunity of great material. We walked back to our rooms, carrying our treasures, staggering under their weight and laughing so hard we could barely talk!
One of May’s greatest gifts to the community was her genealogy display at our Finn-Fest. She filled a large classroom with charts, maps, and reference materials. People from near and far come to search out their roots. May delighted in matching up relatives who might have been separated by a restless young man or woman leaving home searching for adventure and opportunity. Others left Finland because of a quarrel; or a decision to escape conscription into the Czar’s deadly war. The move from Finland to America sometimes left a wife and children at home while they started another family in America. May braced the descendants and introduced them to their long lost kin.
May took time to hear family stories. She was matter-of-fact, looking for links. She introduced cousins and even whole families, a blessing indeed!
In all, May wove together a genealogical history of Naselle and far beyond, giving us a broad perspective of our place in the world. She was broad-minded, hardworking, and trusting, and she shared her vision and faith. How we will miss her!
SUSAN (formerly Pakenen) HOLWAY