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Recounting life’s experience is the goal of the biography or autobiography. In addition to the story of one’s life, the biography can also teach the reader how a person fit into the social fabric of the day. A number of biographies have been written by and/or about people from the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan’s Columbus by Steve Lehto is the story of Douglass Houghton and his life of exploration. Houghton died tragically at the young age of 36 while traveling by boat on Lake Superior. As Michigan’s State Geologist Houghton’s explorations and surveys documented the minerals that have been such an important part of the State’s industrial past.
Carl Pellonpaa and Jerry Harju tell the story of the popular host of “Finland Calling” in Suomi Kutsuu. Pellonpaa was born during the Depression in Ishpeming. He was a successful athlete and served in the military in Korea. He worked underground as a miner and then landed a job in television. That career has spanned over 50 years, and as Pellonpaa states about his life “I’m not through with it yet.”
Ojibwa Narratives recorded by Homer H. Kidder and edited by Arthur P. Bourgeois is a collection of the fascinating tales told by Ojibwa storytellers Charles and Charlotte Kawbawgam and Jacques LePique. The book tells about early Ojibwa history, culture, rituals and other important religious and social events experienced by these three important local Native Americans.
Les Niemi served as a Lutheran pastor for 40 years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in addition to growing up in Chatham. Memories, the Life and Two-Pronged Ministry of Les Niemi recounts his life and service to churches throughout the U.P. Short vignettes illuminate his life and faith as well as tell about his contemporaries, society and faith. An entertaining look at Niemi’s life and ministries.
My Father, Doctor Van by Charles Van Riper is the story of beloved physician Paul Van Riper. His son writes a lively, humorous, compassionate and earthy account of the extraordinary country doctor who came to the UP to treat and heal its residents. Van Riper came to the U.P. in 1901 at the behest of the Oliver Iron Mining Co. He lived in Champion and provided medical care to local residents for almost 70 years.
Isaac Polvi came to the U.P. from Finland at the turn of the 19th century. Joseph Damrell, Isaac’s grandson edited his handwritten memoirs into an autobiography that details life in rural Finland in the late 1800s and in Ewen, Mich., in the first half of the 20th century. The title of this work is Isaac Polvi, Autobiography of a Finnish Immigrant. The memories of Polvi are vivid and thought provoking.
Ben Mukkala’s writings have delighting readers with his sense of humor and astute observations. His autobiography The Gift of Wings is no exception. Mukkala details his life in the sky in this fast paced book. Mukkala tells about his career in the US Air Force, the places he traveled, the planes he flew and the people he met.
Bishop Frederic Baraga is receiving renewed interest due to the canonization process. The Diary of Bishop Frederic Baraga was edited and annotated by Regis M. Walling and the Rev. N. Daniel Rupp. The diary documents his travels and service throughout the U.P. The daily life and struggles of a priest on the frontier is fascinating reading.
Shepherd of the Wilderness by Bernard J. Lambert is the product of 18 years of research into the life of Bishop Baraga. Using texts and records from Europe and the U.S., Lambert has pieced together a definitive biography of Baraga. He makes a strong case for beatification of Baraga and gives the reader a thorough look at why Baraga deserves sainthood.
Wilfred Nevue was a descendant of immigrants from Quebec, Canada. He grew up on a backwoods farm near Champion. His story is one of working on the farm, hunting and fishing, and attending school as a boy. His interest in the customs and culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are captured in this readable book. A Boy’s Paradise is his autobiography.
Small Town D.A. by Robert Traver is the story of a district attorney serving in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This candid account of “the keeper of the public conscience and father confessor” is humorous, poignant and challenging. The book tells the tales of those who run afoul of the law and their treatment by the court.
Ernie Ronn is a third generation miner who worked for Cleveland Cliffs and out of appreciation and concern for his fellow workers became a labor union representative. His autobiography 52 Steps Underground presents a realistic picture of labor on the Marquette Range and chronicles important regional history. For anyone interested in how laborers shaped the mining industry and what being underground was really like, this is a must read.
The Peter White Public Library has an extensive collection of biographies that relate to Upper Peninsula history. These are but a few of the many volumes that will help readers to understand the variety of people who shaped the UP of today.