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Artful restoration: Creative fundraisers planned to help renovate former Finnish hall

DeKALB – Diane Rodgers believes in love at first sight. She first saw the Majakka Finnish Temperance Hall by accident, while taking a walk in the area in 2011, and she immediately fell in love with the building.

Rodgers said that after she first saw the old building, she wanted to know how she could restore the hall to its former glory.

Rodgers is the founder of the DeKalb Finnish Social History Project, which aims to document Finnish history in DeKalb and to historically preserve and restore the Majakka Finnish Temperance Hall, now the DeKalb Area Women’s Center, at 1021 State St. in DeKalb.

Rodgers also is a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University. As part of the DeKalb Finnish Social History Project, Rodgers and her students have interviewed Finnish descendants in the area and helped them research their ancestors. She said the community “has been amazingly helpful in assisting us with understanding the complex history of the Finnish and other immigrants in DeKalb.”

Rodgers has written and received grants from Landmarks Illinois and DeKalb County Community Foundation for past restoration funding. Individual donors and groups, including Finlandia Foundation Midwest Chapter, also have contributed to restoration efforts. Rodgers is now organizing fundraisers specifically for window restoration on the front of the building.

Approximately $34,000 is needed to historically repair and restore the building’s front windows and provide them with storm windows that adhere to preservation criteria. To restore the large set of windows on the side of the building it will cost approximately $60,000. The building’s original cedar siding also needs to be scraped and painted by a company experienced in working with historic buildings.

“The building is built very well, it’s sturdy and built to last,” Rodgers said. “Although the building needs two large restoration tasks, these improvements will make a big difference and last a very long time. With some cosmetic touches and restoration, the building will be a tourist destination. People will want to host parties and weddings there. The building is full of Finnish and DeKalb history.”

Three upcoming events will be held to raise money for the building’s historical restoration: Draw DAWC, Painting Party Fundraisers and a wine and cheese event with a silent auction.

Draw DAWC will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 18, with a rain date of June 25. Artists are invited to draw or paint their vision of DAWC after historic restoration. Participants can bring their art supplies and paint or draw on the center’s lawn. The winner will receive $100 in art supplies and the art will be the image for DAWC grants and funding campaigns. All entries will be featured in a gallery show. Contest entries cost $20.

Painting Party Fundraisers will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 18, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 9, 16 and 30. Participants can choose their own date. With guidance, attendees will create their own version of Mary Cassatt’s “Lilac in a Window.” The event’s fee, $30 for individuals or $25 per person in a group of 10 or more, includes supplies, refreshments and the painting to take home. Private group classes can be scheduled for future dates.

A silent auction with wine and cheese available for purchase will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at the House Café, 263 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.

The building’s history

The Majakka Finnish Temperance Hall’s cornerstone was laid in 1917, and the building, built by Finnish workers, was completed and dedicated in 1918.

The building was used by the Majakka Temperance Society for activities such as meetings, plays, dances, band and choir performances and gymnastics. The temperance society also sponsored a lending library in the hall’s balcony and a cafeteria for workers of nearby factories in the basement.

To Rodgers, part of the importance of the building is its ties to DeKalb’s barbed wire history. The workers that made the barbed wire lived in DeKalb’s Third Ward, also known as Finn Town.

“It is one of a handful of Finnish temperance halls left in the United States,” Rodgers said. “What makes the building special is that it is still used for its original purpose. It was built in 1917 as a community center and it is currently a space that the community can use.”

The DeKalb Finnish Social History Project hopes to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2013, through a report written by the project, the DeKalb City Council granted the building local landmark status.

In addition to housing DAWC programs and events, the building also houses items from local Finnish families, including sleds and spinning wheels.

“The center has become the de facto Finnish museum for the county,” Anna Marie Coveny, director of DAWC, said. “People saw that we were taking care of the building and they started to donate artifacts.”

Previous, current renovations

The preservation of the Majakka Finnish Temperance Hall began when DAWC purchased the building in 1994. The great hall floor was restored to its original luster and old theater lights were replaced around the theater frame. In 2006, the building’s chimney was destroyed after a severe storm and was restored with new bricks identical to the building’s foundation.

To prevent flooding and water damage to the building, a gutter system was created on the building’s east side in October 2014. On the west side, a vegetated depression and rain garden were created as a green solution to storm water runoff.

“The rain garden, which is planted with native prairie plants, helps with flooding, naturally cleans the water and provides attractive plants for butterflies and birds,” Coveny said.

In March 2015, stabilization efforts continued to prevent further rain leaking through the deteriorated wooden planking of the building’s entrance threshold, which had caused water damage to the basement office and hallway. Plaster and framing work were needed to repair the basement office and a new entranceway threshold was installed.

The community also has been involved with the building’s regular maintenance needs. More than 50 NIU students and the university’s president volunteered at DAWC during this year’s NIU Cares Day. Volunteers also will help with the upkeep of the building during Kishwaukee United Way’s Day of Caring on June 16.

“Majakka means ‘lighthouse’ in Finnish,” Coveny said. “People talk about a sense of place. I believe that that’s what is important about our building. It stands as a monument, a lighthouse, to that part of DeKalb history, of the Finnish settlers, workers and their values. It’s definitely worth saving to show where we’ve been and who we are.”

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