Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

I remember Harold

 

November 22, 2018



This was the second time in my life that I had the police call me about a friend close to me,this time being Harold Haapoja, dying unexpectedly, and they were seeking relatives to contact. I was stunned for a bit. I told the caller to give me a moment to collect my thoughts. I searched for phone numbers or tried to think of a way to contact the relatives. In each case I was told to not say anything to anyone until the family knew the news.

When the law enforcement person got off the phone I remember staring at the wall for quite a while just letting it sink in. I could not cry but just let the sadness settle in. Harold came to me, alive as can be, and spoke to me in my thoughts. He as a creative spirit smiled and said to me it would be OK.

I knew of Harold in passing most of my later life. Over 20 years ago, we started to collaborate in plays and perform in numerous events in the community. In the process we helped each other explore being children of Finnish American families. With glee I worked with Harold on projects and acted across from him on stage numerous times. We visited on stage, he and I, and it came across very real to the audience because we felt it in our very soul. During performances with just a wink and smile between us we would communicate the relationship between the audience and us was right on.

Harold was to play a man in “When we come to cut the grass” who had gotten a girl pregnant but left her and went to the West Coast for decades with no communication. The girl had a son, raising him, but remained yearning for the lost love to return. She died young and her son died young. Harold’s character comes back to the area just as the son is being buried. He is a hard-hearted man who shows no remorse but reluctantly declares he will pay for the funeral.

Harold started to work on the part but came to me with concerns. Harold told me the character was a low life and a mean bugger and he didn’t know if he could play such a character. I chuckled and said I knew he could pull it off because he could project that character from people he had met. You’ll see, I told him. It is only an illusion up there on stage and you will have the audience in your hand. Harold hugged me behind the stage after his character’s first appearance and remarked, “You were right.”

The half dozen original plays I have written of course had their world premieres here in our area. Actors like Harold breathed life into these characters I had created for the stage. Each actor shapes his own parts — “What do you think if we do it this way?” Harold would fine tune his part and help other actors fine tune theirs. He was a great leveling force in any group he worked with.

Harold’s first acting role was a preacher in “The Meeting Place” who during the 1918 Fire’s inferno calls to God to burn the huddling group because they are sinners and deserve to be lost. He worried about remembering his lines but carried it out superbly. He was amazed at how it felt and how comfortable it felt on stage. Harold went on to portray characters in major roles for the County Seat Theater and we all who knew him loved his performances.

Harold became intrigued with the Finnish instrument, the Kantele, and mastered playing it. His voice and playing were remarkable. He formed and led the Kanteleen Soittajat for many years performing throughout the region and events such as Finnfest and Juhannus. He would come to provide the music for a play or event I was working on when I gave him time to work it into the schedule.

Harold was active in the Beaver Lutheran Church and on its council. He talked of the Haapoja family having its roots on a farm to the southeast of the church towards Arthyde in the pioneer period. His relatives are buried in the Beaver Cemetery and the Salo Cemetery between Lawler and Tamarack. Harold and I spent many an hour telling stories of the immigrants that came to settle in our area. Oh, how we laughed and giggled!

He sang in church choirs, Autumn Voices, and the Jarvenpaa Singers with distinction and left his imprint there. His rendition of the Finnish national anthem Maame in such settings as the play “The Naked Woods” and the program for the Automba Pavilion dedication grabbed my very soul and made me so proud to be of Finnish American descent.

Of note, this is the year of the 100th Anniversary of the 1918 Fire and Harold was an integral part of a group that presented fire stories and histories in the Kettle River “Time to Remember”, the Moose Lake Area Historical Society events, the Cloquet Schools, and the Floodwood School. Harold and I talked of how much we were honored to share these fire presentations with all these groups and how it enriched our own lives as children of this area.

Harold told me that his evolution into an actor and a performer came at this time of his retirement. He said there was no time for this with the demands of running a farm seven days a week and working for a living. This creative period in his life and his search for the roots in his family was only made possible by the freedom of retirement.

I will miss sharing creative projects with him. I will miss long phone calls, “speaking of many things, of cabbages and kings.” I will miss sharing our two lives and the creative projects we worked on. I will miss you, Harold — you have touched many lives.

 

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