Political Affiliations Spencer Co-op Society Organizations in Crumtown and South Danby


The majority of Finnish immigrants who had become naturalized United States citizens were registered as either Republicans or Democrats and generally supported their candidates at the polls.

A sizable number of later immigrants joined the Socialist Party and were active in the support of its candidates. The public dances sponsored by its members, some of which were held at the Spencer town hall were well attended as many of the area young people enjoyed the Finnish folk dances.

The Communist Party had a fairly large membership among the new Finnish residents of Spencer. Early in the 1920’s they had a meeting hall in the village of Van Etten. Plays in the Finnish language were presented there periodically, usually with local talent. There was a youth group, a women’s club and instrumental and choral music groups. Probably the most widely attended activity sponsored by this party, and one in which many non-members participated, were the dances held regularly on Saturday nights at the hall. The music for these dances was furnished by an accordionist or occasionally a small band. Finnish folk dances, waltzes and whatever foxtrots or other dances were currently in vogue, were enjoyed with gusto.

The Communist Party movement seemed to die down with the passing of the first generation party members. There is no longer a Communist hall in Van Etten. The building is now owned by the Van Etten volunteer firemen.

The Finnish families generally lived in harmony as friends and neighbors regardless of religious or political beliefs. Although there was no contact with each other in organized activities of the Communist and the church affiliated Finns, they were able to work together in community and school activities. Sly needling of each other concerning their differences in beliefs was practiced whenever current events opened up good opportunity.

However, some ill feeling was aroused when a few of the more ardent Communists denounced or ridiculed the religious beliefs of their countrymen. When youthful members of some of the families in the Lutheran congregation heedlessly attended dances at the forbidden Van Etten Hall (just for the fun of dancing), they were apt to be soundly chastised if their parents learned of the transgression, which, somehow, they usually did.

Skillful outside Communist organizers found easy converts to their doctrine among some of the immigrants. The often-difficult conditions present in the new surroundings, made the promised Communist Utopia sound very desirable to these hard-working people. A few Communist Party members became so enthusiastic over the benefits promised by the agents that they sold their farms and equipment and went to live in Russia. A very small number managed to come back, considerably poorer, others never returned.


The Spencer Co-op was started in 1928 by a group of Finnish farmers with a capital of seven hundred dollars obtained by selling five-dollar shares. The first manager was John Nummivuori.

The business was begun as a grocery and dry goods store which was housed in a remodeled dwelling on Railroad Avenue. They also had a sizable egg business, serving many of the area poultry farmer. A feed mill was added and later a large cinderblock hardware store was erected. Fuel and an extensive variety of home, farm and building supplies were offered the customers of the Co-op.

In 1953, on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Co-op, the yearly business amounted to $2,800,000. This was a notable accomplishment for a business with such a modest beginning.

Though the first wooden structure still stands, the grocery business has been discontinued. The building has been extensively remodeled and used as living quarters.


The farmers of Crumtown and South Danby organized in 1919 to hire someone to haul their cans of milk to the milk plant in the village. Peter Paajanen and Frank Allen were the first so employed, followed over the years by Charles Kokkonen, Alfred Burlew and Alex (Urho) Pyhtila. The hauling was done with horses and wagon or sleigh, then later by truck when the roads were passable.

The farmers also organized to buy a threshing machine to thrash their oats, wheat, and buckwheat. A machine to chop and send the field corn into the silo was also purchased. The men traded labor at each other’s farms to help get the grain threshed. They also assisted each other to hand cut the standing corn and lent their horses and wagons to take the corn to the silo filler.

The women however, worked alone or with the help of children, to feed this army of hungry men, sometimes for days at a time if the machines malfunctioned.

The days before the harvest crew arrived a large supply of bread (mostly whole wheat), Finnish coffee bread, cake and cookies was baked in the ovens of the wood-burning ranges in the hot days of late summer. “Store-bought” cookies and Finnish zwieback “Korppuja” were kept in reserve in case the homemade pastries ran short during the frequent coffee breaks. Coffee served with home-baked goodies was offered when the men first arrived in the morning and again at 10:00 A.M. A big dinner was served at noon, coffee again at 3:00 P.M. and supper before the men left for home.

In most homes the water had to be carried into the house. It had to be heated on the stove for washing the dishes. In addition to this, routine chores had to be done as usual.

When the farmers held their business meetings for the harvesting company or the milk hauling, the language spoken was Finnish. Alfred Burlew was the only member of this company who spoke no Finnish. He was usually one of the main topics of discussion. Alfred was the owner and operator of the tractor that powered the harvesting equipment and some years, the milk hauler.

One of the children of the farmers involved, many years later, told Alfred’s widow Ethel, of her embarrassment concerning the language spoken at the meetings, and how awkward it must have been for Alfred. “You needn’t have felt sorry for Alfred because you’d be surprised how much Finnish he understood and knew what was being discussed”, Ethel replied with a knowing smile.

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