In Memoriam: Pentti (Ben) Järvenpää 1925 – 2020



Pentti was born on November 20, 1925 in the city of Viipuri (Vyborg) in Finland and passed away peacefully after many serious health issues in Toronto, Canada on
October 12, 2020. His parents were Anna and Vilho Järvenpää, his younger brother
was Vilho junior and Maire was his younger sister.
Pentti had a happy childhood while growing up in Viipuri. During the 1930ies there was a world-wide depression and unemployment soared to around 40% all over the world.
Pentti’s grandparents owned a large farm located in the Vahviala parish in Karelia. This farm had been owned by the Järvenpää family since 1700.
Pentti’s father worked in a large transportation company, being a part owner as well as a truck driver. As a teenager, Pentti also helped out in his father’s company by delivering orders to customers on his bicycle.
Pentti’s mother was interested in arts, singing and poetry. His brother succeeded in sports and even played on the Finnish national soccer team. Pentti’s sister was a housewife.
The first evacuation took place for Pentti and his family in Viipuri after the Soviet Union had attacked Finland in 1939. The Järvenpääs travelled to Häme, parish of Luopioinen and lived there in a school building. After the Winter War had ended, they moved back to Viipuri in 1942. The war started again in 1941 and continued until 1944.
Pentti’s family evacuated the last and final time in 1944 when the Soviets restarted the war in June and the Karelians had to leave their homes for good in 1944. Pentti’s mother, brother and sister escaped from Viipuri to a small community near Lahti for a short time before moving to Helsinki.

Military Service

Pentti joined the Finnish army in 1943 at the age of 17. First, he received the basic army training and later he was vigorously trained in machine gun special operations in Lappeenranta before he started his service in Viipuri. After the war Pentti was missing for ten months, while he was serving in the Finnish border security troops. His family had no idea where he was. Pentti’s sergeant asked for volunteers to take military mail to Helsinki. After Pentti was chosen, as a volunteer for this important task, the sergeant asked him to select a weapon which was a pistol. Armed with the appropriate weapon Pentti took four bags of sealed mail to Helsinki.
During this visit he decided to search for his family and went to the address office located on Alexander Street. There Pentti found his mother (his father was also serving in the Finnish army) at Kajaaninkatu 2, Suite 3. His mother, Anna, could not believe her eyes when she saw Pentti, her be-loved son, at her door-step after searching for him for ten long months.
Pentti served in the Finnish army clearing mines which was a very dangerous job, in the Gulf of Finland for nine months. In December 1945, Pentti was honorably discharged and he returned home from the army.

Jobs in Finland and Studies

Life was very difficult after the war. Pentti had no education and no job training. He worked in various jobs in Helsinki the Phillips Radio factory, at the City of Helsinki and he also worked as a taxi driver after securing his driving license in 1947. Pentti had many interesting customers, well-known athletes, famous artists, and politicians including the American Ambassador to United Nations, Mr. Adlai Stevenson. Pentti was a competent driver and had valid driving licenses in four different countries i.e. Finland, Great Britain, United States of America and Canada during his life time.
In 1952 actress Ruth Snellman and her actor husband Jussi Snellman were Pentti’s customers who were going to visit Ruth’s father, the world renowned Finnish national composer, Jean Sibelius, in Ainola. Pentti drove the couple there and also met the composer. Sibelius was furious after listening to Australian radio where his 6th symphony was played. The performance was so poor that Sibelius could not accept such an inadequate performance. The composer greeted Pentti during his brief stay in Ainola. Pentti is one of the few Canadian Finns who has ever met with this incredibly talented Finnish musical icon and composer. During this visit to Ainola Pentti had an opportunity to have an enlightening discussion with Mrs. Aino Sibelius. Mrs. Sibelius spoke about her family life and her husband who was extremely upset about his symphony which was performed incorrectly on the radio program.
Three years after the war Pentti joined an international youth organization. The purpose of this organization was to prevent war and work for peace. This international involvement gave him opportunities to attend youth conferences in Stockholm, Paris and London 1950 - 1952. This youth activity probably helped Pentti to be accepted to continue his education at university level in England. Through its membership Pentti moved to London, England, to study at the Newbold College for 1½ years in 1952–1954.
During that time Pentti witnessed the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second on
black and white television.

Marriage and Children

After returning home to Finland Pentti was participating in a youth camp near Jyväskylä where he met the love of his life and the mother of his children, Ulpu Vartija. Pentti and Ulpu married in 1960. They had three daughters, Sari Kristiina Levinski, born in Helsinki on July 3, 1961, Mervi Anneli Baker also born in Helsinki on August 19, 1962 and their youngest daughter, Michelle Annette Pitre who was born in Canada on December 15, 1978. Pentti has nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Ulpu was a well-educated intensive-care nurse. She worked for about 15 years at the Toronto General Hospital until she became ill with fatal acute leukemia. Unfortunately, Ulpu passed away at the young age of 51 in 1991.

Immigration to Canada and Studies in USA

The Järvenpääs immigrated to Canada in 1963. Pentti studied gerontology at the
Kingsway College in Oshawa 1963 - 1964. He was able to transfer his student
credits from England to Atlantic University (name later changed to Andrew’s University) in USA, where he completed his B.A. in 1964 – 1966. Pentti majored in Christian philosophy, and minored in science, astronomy, zoology and literature.
Pentti returned to Canada with his family in 1966 and started his work at the Ministry of Community and Social services in Oshawa. He was promoted to a supervisory position and had ten direct reports. His employer sponsored Pentti with a full salary to continue his master’s degree studies at the University of Toronto during 1970 – 1972. There he majored in sociology and minored in psychiatry and social psychology. Pentti’s master’s thesis was called ‘Economic and Social-cultural Integration of Finnish Immigrants in Metropolitan Toronto’ published in April 1972. This study was well received and utilized by North American universities reference library services. A copy of Pentti’s thesis is also available at the Published Heritage team of National Library of Canada in Ottawa. Due to the merging of The National Library of Canada and The National Archives of Canada in 2004 the organization is now called Library and Archives Canada.
According to Pentti’s manager he was the best employee the Ministry had ever had, and therefore, the employer wanted Pentti to secure the most appropriate education for his extremely important and challenging work in the field of social work.

Employment with the Ministry of Community and Social Services

Pentti was employed for 25 years with the Durham Family and Children Services at the Ministry of Community and Social Services in Oshawa. His main office was located in Oshawa in the Durham region. He frequently attended courts in Toronto and the York region. Pentti held the following positions: Social worker, supervisor, instructor and law enforcement officer.
As a social service worker Pentti’s work was very demanding and complicated. It
included the following: The coordination of other community agencies, police and law enforcement, public health, legal services, schools, parole officers, and in some cases; neighbors, witnesses, and lawyers.
There were frequent appearances in child welfare and family courts, juvenile courts, criminal courts and occasional Supreme courts.
There was involvement in murder investigations, several suicide investigations and reporting, conducting small group counseling and reporting to the courts. There the focus was on learning to know perpetrators, recommending sentences or plans for the treatments.
During Pentti’s challenging and demanding professional career he was involved in
numerous social activities as a law enforcement officer. Pentti worked together with police, especially with the CAP (Crimes Against People) and Youth Bureau. He frequently attended hearings at child welfare, juvenile, family, criminal courts, the Supreme Court and criminal compensation board. For these cases extensive preparation was usually required.
During these busy years of Pentti’s working life he spent one year with the psychiatric team in Toronto. The team specialized to work with seriously disturbed individuals and dysfunctional families in a modern multi-cultural society.
He was also involved in education and training of many students from Waterloo
University and community colleges. Pentti was a Practicum Supervisor.
Educational goals were practical, team building, better investigations, assessment, planning and record-keeping. Close co-operation with other community agencies was also part of a busy life. Pentti organized case meetings. In these meetings police, parole officers, public health representatives, schools and other relevant persons attended. It all took a lot of time. Fortunately, Pentti had a good secretary who set up meetings, agendas, followed up with executions and record keeping for the Ministry on his behalf.

Christine Jessop’s murder

The brutal murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop in October 1984 deeply affected Pentti’s life. He was involved in the investigation from the beginning. Pentti’s good connections with the community helped police to start the investigation. He gave CAP squad officers some good information. Unfortunately, the assigned officer blundered the leads. They arrested an innocent neighbor who was charged and convicted for the murder. About three years later he was charged for the second time and again convicted on inadequate evidence. Pentti did his own investigation and disagreed with the police. Pentti was convinced about the neighbor’s innocence and about three years after the murder, he wrote a letter to the police inspector who was supervising the investigation, charges and court process. In Pentti’s meeting with him, he stubbornly stated that they had the right man convicted. The Globe and Mail published an article about this meeting.
This case became active again about ten years after the murder. The police contacted Pentti in the early 1990s, when he lived in Suomi-Koti. Pentti then worked with two lawyers who were involved in solving this murder case. The Ministry of Justice of the Province of Ontario decided to have this troublesome case completely re-examined and reassessed.
Retired Judge Kaufman conducted a complete scrutiny of accumulated material.
His conclusion was that there was no evidence against the neighbor. He was totally innocently convicted. The Judge recommended financial compensation.
Pentti participated in many challenging projects at the Ministry. He had three offices located in Oshawa, Ajax and Brock townships where he could work on his many difficult cases. One of the projects was related to sexual harassment and sexual violence at home. Pentti and his team of five colleagues worked closely with police in many complicated investigations. Pentti’s extraordinary work resulted in the exoneration of a convicted killer, Guy Paul Morin, after he had written to the lead investigator. Pentti had extremely challenging and rewarding work experiences at the Ministry and retired officially in March 1987.
Three days after Pentti’s passing on October 15, 2020 the Toronto Police made an
announcement that Christine Jessop’s killer Calvin Hoover had been identified through genetic genealogy. The killer had committed suicide in 2015. Pentti often spoke about this disturbing case with the writer. He did not disclose the name of the suspect. Therefore, we will never know if Pentti was correct about the identity of Christine Jessop’s killer.

Suomi-Koti in Toronto and Pentti’s involvement there

In 1982 Pentti’s friends called and asked him to join the Suomi-Koti founding meeting on January 16th, to determine if there was a need for a seniors’ center for Finnish-speaking people in Toronto. Pentti prepared two extensive studies on the subject matter. Names of the studies are:
“Proposal for capital and operational support of construction, development and operation of Multiservice Centre for Elderly Finns in Metro Toronto” page 110, 1984.
“A statistical Survey of Demographic Distribution and living arrangements of elderly Finns in Metropolitan Toronto and adjacent regional Municipalities of Peel, York and Durham”. Page 35, 1984.

About 40 years ago Pentti attended a Social Policy Conference at Sheraton Hotel in Toronto. Hundreds of people from the Province of Ontario were in attendance and shared experiences on some urgent, important issues. Then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was present. In his presentation the prime minister emphasized the importance of ethnic participation and leadership in the service and care of their seniors.
The ethnic organizations know what their elderly needs and wants are. This sounded correct in Pentti’s personal interests and thinking. Mr. Trudeau further stated that there was no government financing available for ethnic facilities, programs or services.
The Finnish-Canadian Seniors Centre was founded on January 16, 1982. The Finnish
community was well represented with about 20 persons at the meeting. Dr. Veli Ylänkö was chosen to the position of Chairman. They had no plan, and no clear idea about what they could do, no resources and no location. However, the Suomi-Koti Board was well-motivated.
Pentti thought one of the first things should be, to become recognized. Pentti then established contacts with East York Council, received an opportunity to give a presentation and the reception there was positive. The Council members were very supportive including the Mayor, David Johnson.
The inadequate Suomi-Koti plans were in limbo for more than two years to the end of 1984.
Pentti’s work experience and good personal, and governmental relations were very helpful. From his contacts with government agencies Pentti learned that without
a clear plan they could not gain necessary recognition and support. He made a personal commitment to study, and learn how to make an acceptable plan. Beside Pentti’s difficult, time-consuming work he spent about two years establishing good relations with other organizations. Pentti visited many places, attended many meetings and activities at Baycrest, Joseph E. and Minnie Wagman Centre, Baycrest Foundation, Villa Columbo Foundation and many others were helpful and beneficial. Some centers like Uxbridge Seniors’ Drop-in and Oshawa’s Seniors Centre supported by General Motors and the City of Oshawa with 3,000 members were different due to their municipal funding.
As opinions in the Finnish community about Suomi-Koti varied, Pentti completed Finnish seniors’ population count, based on the 1982 national population statistics. This was time consuming. Pentti felt that it was needed. Beside his hectic work schedule Pentti called, met and interviewed about 70 Finnish seniors. The Suomi-Koti idea was well received. All interviewed seniors joined and became Suomi-Koti members.
The membership rose to 600. These seniors were the first-generation tenants.
“Finnish-Canadian Seniors Centre” was registered as a “Non-Profit Organization” under The Corporation Act in November 1982, and was registered as a “Charitable Organization” in Ottawa in November, 1983.
When Pentti’s plan was well-accepted by the New Horizon committee which
was a part of the Ministry of Health at the Ontario Government, their proposals were always considered. During the years 1984 – 1986 the Suomi-Koti proposals were accepted. They were all carefully made and well-supported by Ontario’s Liberal Government ministers and two Federal Government politicians. The New Horizon committee gave Suomi-Koti a liaison official, Mr. Ken Moffat, who presented the proposals to the committee. Pentti prepared four proposals to the New Horizon committee and all of them were accepted. In this way Suomi-Koti was able to raise about $500,000. Pentti presented the Suomi-Koti plan to the East York Council. It was well received. The East York mayor and counsellors always supported Suomi-Koti plans. The New Horizon $500,000 funding was used to build the kitchen, stage in the multi-purpose room, library, meeting rooms, work space and machinery for 12 veterans who worked tirelessly and contributed their carpentry skills. These veterans were all Suomi-Koti residents and active over the 2-1/2 years period and their voluntary work was valued at $200,000. This construction volunteer work was a highly needed addition to all the subcontractors and the main construction company, Harbridge & Cross owned by Tapani Nousiainen, who worked closely with Seppo Kanerva, from Sedun & Kanerva Architects. All the funds raised for Suomi-Koti between 1982 to 1987 and in-kind contributions totalled over $1,200.000.
The first residents of Suomi-Koti moved into the building at 795 Eglinton Avenue East in late 1986. The undersigned was hired to be the fundraising coordinator to raise funds for the downstairs basement level 2. We had a fundraising committee of which a key member was Mrs. Sirpa Kaukinen who had worked as a fundraiser at the Toronto General Hospital Auxiliary for ten years. She had the best fundraising knowledge and experience in the Toronto’s Finnish community and she was a fundraising pioneer in Canada. Pentti had all the government connections and also the ability to determine the right grant opportunities beneficial to Suomi-Koti. Pentti’s contribution to the Suomi-Koti fundraising campaign related to government and public sector was first rate and resulted in Suomi-Koti receiving the best possible financial government support.
The Suomi-Koti fundraising campaign sent out hundreds of letters to foundations, social groups, banks and businesses. John Woods with his his wife Pirkko organized special events. John, as a chartered accountant at the City of Toronto, was a driving force in making this fundraising campaign successful.
The Suomi-Koti official opening took place in October 1987. Mrs. Tellervo Koivisto, the wife of the President of the Republic of Finland, officially opened Toronto’s Finnish Seniors’ Centre, Suomi-Koti.
Pentti had two meetings with the Golden Age Club. They were unable to continue keeping up with their building. Pentti prepared an application to the Scarborough office of the Ministry of Community and Social Services of the Province of Ontario. The result of this meeting made it possible for Suomi-Koti to gain 14 rental subsidy units which were in existence close to 18 years. In order for Pentti to ensure these subsidies, he had to present his case to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Pentti’s argument was that Suomi-Koti was a private organization with access for its members only, and for these reasons Suomi-Koti was able to receive the above-mentioned rent subsidies. Six Golden Age Club residents moved to Suomi-Koti and therefore the Club donated their building’s sale profits to Suomi-Koti. This important donation was valued at $215,000 in 1987. There is a meeting room dedicated to the Golden Age Club on the B1 level at Suomi-Koti for their significant donation to the organization.
One of the fundraising events was the library opening with the Ontario government minister of Culture and Citizenship, the honorable Gerry Phillips in attendance, in the spring of 1988. The minister, who was also a part of Lions International movement, gave a $125,000 donation to Suomi-Koti.
The Toronto-Suomi Lioness Club collected and organized thousands of Finnish language books and had shelves built for the B1 level of the library. The plaque signifying the hard work of the Lions members hangs in the library.
Various other Finnish organizations made significant donations to Suomi-Koti including
Toronto-Suomi Lions Club $10,000, Finnish Toronto Veterans Club $4,000. Toronto Karelians Club $2,000, and the purchase of a high-quality German piano by Finnish Organization of Canada in the amount of $7,000.
As a coordinator of this fundraising campaign the undersigned was able to connect with many prominent Finns in the community. Dr. Bengt Gestrin, the Honorary Consul General of Finland and an assistant to the chairman of the board of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, gave us a substantial donation from the Bank.
Sonja Revell-Stewart with her husband, Michael Stewart gave another large donation to Suomi-Koti. Sonja’s both parents, including her father Viljo Revell, who designed Toronto’s new city hall, had passed away young and therefore his daughter and son-in-law wanted to honor her both parents. All other fundraising committee members had limited experience and knowledge in this very demanding and difficult field.
Pentti was also able to apply funding for two new positions, annual social service worker and coordinator. The first position was through the Metro Toronto Social Planning Council and was in existence until 2004. The second position is through Elderly Person’s Act Centre under the Ministry of Community and Social Services. It is still receiving funding annually at Suomi-Koti. The position is now called seniors active living coordinator.
All government, corporate, individual donors and volunteers have been recognized in the Suomi-Koti entry hall walls in special plaques. The Suomi-Koti fundraising campaign between 1982 to 1988 was most successful and brought all together about 1.2 million dollars including many of the government grants that Pentti was able to secure. This Suomi-Koti fundraising campaign was an absolute miracle in the Toronto’s Finnish community.
The last bill for construction materials for Suomi-Koti library and meeting rooms was paid off in September 1988. When the construction of B1 and B2 levels were completed, there were no debts or financial strains. This was a remarkable achievement accomplished by a successful fundraising campaign and numerous voluntary supporters. The completion of Suomi-Koti helped the organization immediately to secure financial support for programs and services from Metro Toronto and the Province of Ontario.
Pentti took a large pay cut in his income when he became Suomi-Koti’s first administrator. He had taken an early retirement from the Ministry in order to work at Suomi-Koti and ensure that this massive project could be completed. Pentti’s salary was only a fraction of what he was earning at the Ministry. Because of his age Pentti was able to compensate his salary with his retirement income. He worked close to seven years as the Suomi-Koti administrator. Toronto’s Finnish community can count their blessings in that Pentti made his choice to assist Finnish seniors due to his knowledge, skills and experience in applying for various government funding, superb relationship building skills to connect with right government people. Pentti’s wisdom to
apply for the rent subsidies in 1987 allowed 14 Finnish low-income residents to live financially at Suomi-Koti for over a 25-year period, because they only needed to pay one half of the market value of their rents.
According to Pentti’s research 75% of all Finnish Canadian immigrants had obtained a high school diploma. In addition to the Finnish immigrants lack of language skills many of them did not have well paying pensions to support themselves. Pentti was the shining star of the Suomi-Koti project. His tenacity, never give up attitude, dedication and hard work made it possible that Suomi-Koti is still vital and a corner stone in the Toronto’s Finnish community today.

Highlights of additional special events and high-profile visitors to Suomi-Koti, Toronto during the time Pentti Järvenpää worked there as the first administrator from 1986 to 1994.

The Speaker of the Finnish Parliament, Matti Ahde visited Suomi-Koti in 1988 and the same year the Finnish parliamentary committee also visited the Centre. The Japanese Government delegation toured Suomi-Koti to learn how the Centre took care of their elderly Finnish seniors.
The Finnish Canada Cup team including hockey players Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen, Reijo Ruotsalainen and Teppo Numminen with their General Manager Kalervo Kummola paid a visit to Suomi-Koti in 1987, and donated a hockey stick signed by every team member.
Suomi-Koti arranged a 125th Birthday Anniversary for Jean Sibelius on December 8,
1990. Other cultural events included performances by violinist Andrea Hansen and her sister, violinist Florence Hansen, harmonica player Hannu Lambert from Sudbury, and theatre groups from Iisalmi and Kuopio and many other Finnish and local groups and individual performers.

Cultural involvement

Since his arrival in Canada in 1963 Pentti was involved and participated in
numerous cultural activities in the Toronto’s Finnish community. These included:
ten years as a member on the board of the Finnish-Canadian Cultural Federation,
planning and participation in cultural programs and festivals. An active member for years with the Finnish Male Singers, he participated in many concerts in Canada and U.S.A. He founded and chaired Karelians in Toronto Club by arranging cultural events.
He was chairman and secretary of Finnish War Veterans Toronto Club. This included activity planning for Finnish and Canadian festivals and celebrations.
Several years with Suomi-Koti were very busy with cultural activities, program planning, advertising, writing articles and communications. He founded and was the first editor of “Iltatuulen Viesti” Suomi-Koti’s internal newsletter.

Decorations and medals

Marshal Mannerheim’s Lion of Finland
Finnish War veterans Gold Cross of merit
Finnish War veterans Home Front medal
Finnish Marine Miner Clearing medal
Queen Elisabeth II Coronation medal
The Queen Elizabeth 25th anniversary of the accession of the throne medal in 1977

Pentti’s Comments about his life

In my own personal life my commitment, participation, involvement in policy and
service planning was instrumental in getting the Suomi-Koti founded. The accomplishment to establish Toronto’s Suomi-Koti was the most satisfying and
rewarding experience in my life. The opportunity to see all this to its fruition and to help hundreds of Finnish seniors to celebrate their Finnish cultural values. This was Toronto’s Finnish community’s contribution to the Canadian mosaic.

This article was approved by Pentti (Ben) Järvenpää. I worked with him for many years to ensure that the facts were correct about his studies and his demanding and challenging career as a social worker. We wanted to give a true picture of Pentti’s dedication and interest to make sure the Finnish seniors would have a place in Suomi-Koti, where they could speak Finnish and celebrate their culture, history and love for their native land, Finland.

Toronto, May 16, 2021
Pirkko Shalden
The first fundraising coordinator for Suomi-Koti, Finnish Seniors’ Centre in Toronto, 1986 – 1988 and who worked with Pentti at Suomi-Koti during that time.

This article will be published in Canada’s national Finnish newspaper, Kanadan Sanomat/, Finnish American Reporter, Hancock, Michigan, USA and Finland Bridge, Finland Society, Helsinki, Finland?

Copies of Pentti Järvenpää’s life story will be given to his three daughters
Kristina Levinski, Mervi Baker and Michelle Pitre
Toronto Finnish Canadian Seniors’ Centre - Suomi-Koti Toronto Archives,
Toronto, Canada
Lakehead University Archives, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Multicultural History Society of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
Finnish American Reporter Archives, Hancock, Michigan, USA
The Migration Institute of Finland, Turku, Finland

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