Humboldt native Ellen Koski Aho reflects on her first 100 years

MARQUETTE – Ellen Koski Aho isn’t her “real” name.

“When I was born, they called me Hilma, after my mother,” she said. “When I was a few years old, my dad hollered for ‘Hilma’ and both my mom and me came running. From then on, I was called Ellen. My birth certificate says ‘Hilma Eleanor’ but I chose Ellen because it’s easier to say.”

Ellen turns 100 this month, a milestone she can’t quite get over.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said, shaking her head.

Ellen was born on March 30, 1913 on her family’s farm in Humboldt Township. Her parents, Finnish immigrants Peter and Hilma (Heitaniemi) Koski were married in Finland in 1907 and came to Michigan in 1908, living in Ishpeming before buying land in Humboldt Township in 1911 for $1.50 per acre.

Ellen was the fourth Koski child after Lydia, Lempi and John. She had three other brothers, Waino, Peter and Reino (who died as an infant). Her youngest sister, Saima, was born in 1925.

“I was born on the farm and there was no doctor present,” Ellen said, adding with a smile: “My mom wasn’t a chicken.”

Growing up, the Koski kids made their own fun.

“We didn’t have skis so we used barrel staves to make them,” she recalled. “We would go down the hill and sometimes land ‘choock’ on our noses.

“We could always find something to do.”

A happy memory is a gift from her Uncle Gerald.

“He gave us a pony,” Ellen said. “We had a cutter to use in the winter and a wagon in the summer that the pony pulled. Her name was Dolly and she was so cute.”

Summers were fun as well.

“I never learned to swim. I was afraid to,” she said. “But we sure had fun throwing water at each other.”

Ellen was an older child when the family got its first radio.

“When I was little, we didn’t even have a radio, but when we did get one, we all liked to gather around it,” she said.

Ellen completed eighth grade at the Black River School, which was built on an acre of land her father sold to the Humboldt Township School District for $10 in 1914.

“There was no high school close to us and no place for me to board, so that was the end of school for me,” she said. “But my mother found stuff for us to do.”

Like knitting.

“I was about 9 or 10 when I first learned to knit,” she said. “My mother’s knitting needles were idle so I would knit on them, but dropped a lot of stitches. So my mother told me how to do it right. But the first mitten I made was so stiff, it stood up by itself. I thought you had to knit tight.

“My brother tried to put the mitten on but it was too tight,” she said. “I liked it because he wouldn’t steal them and I always had a dry pair of mittens.”

Knitting is something she does to this day. A resident of Norlite Nursing Center for the past 10 years, Ellen estimates she has knit more than 100 pairs of socks, gifting many to staff members.

“They are so good to me here,” she said. “It has become home for me. I really like it here.”

The pair of socks she’s working on now, however, is going to a family member in Finland.

“Family’s important,” she said.

Ellen’s father, Peter, died of pulmonary tuberculosis on Jan. 22, 1921, just before she turned 8.

“Dad worked in the mines and they didn’t have the safety things they have nowadays,” she said.

Her mother, Hilma, lived to age 89, passing away in 1977 at the Sarepta Rest Home in Republic.

All of Ellen’s seven siblings have passed away.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.