Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Van Buskirk families relive history 'On the Rocks'

ERWIN TOWNSHIP - Descendants of the original Van Buskirk school children gathered on a chilly, but sunny Sunday to recreate an old photo and share some laughs.

The original photo was taken on Feb. 17, 1915, by Matti Siirila and is titled "On the Rocks."

Ivan Hellen, who helped make the re-creation happen and is one of the descendants, said the bluff sits "off the side of the wagon road built by Matti Siirila."

Notes from an Oct. 1907 Erwin Township Board meeting said, "Matti Siirila paid $113.20 to build a one-fourth mile road on the eastern side of his property."

According to Hellen, this road still exists, "complete with ditches and side rock."

Hellen said the original photo featured the children of several large families of the Van Buskirk School. The bluff sits less than one eighth mile north of the original school site, across from the Siirila farm.

Hellen recognized the bluff site in the original photo while searching through photos for the Erwin Centennial in 2007.

As Hellen notes, the area "was part of their playground as children growing up ... on the original Siirila homestead."

In the original photo from 1915, there were not any trees pictured, but now, trees line the top of the bluff and surrounding area, making the bluff barely visible from Siirila Road.

Hellen and his brothers gradually cleared brush from the bluff site in preparation for the century remake.

Sunday's group photo featured "four generations of descendants and neighbors of the original homesteads in the original photo," he said.

The individuals taking part drove to the bluffs and then followed a packed trail into the woods, where they were arranged among the rocks.

For a little bit of fun after posing for the photo, Hellen, his brothers and other descendants participated in what Hellen called the "50th Anniversary of 'Slide Down the Bluff.'"

Hellen said he and his brothers enjoyed this during their childhood. "One of (the) enjoyable winter activities was sliding down the steep bluffs. That was 50 years ago."

As each person slid down the almost vertical rock, an avalanche-like trail of snow followed behind them.

"The greatest part of this is the landing on the bottom of the bluff as the snow buries you chest deep," Hellen said.

Afterwards, the families drove back to the Erwin Township Hall to share a potluck lunch, visit and enjoy the museum.

Family representation

Thirty-one descendants were featured in the re-creation photo.

Representing three generations of the Matt Siirila Sr. family were great-grandsons Bill, Ivan, John, David and Jo Hellen; great-great-grandchildren Stacy (Hellen) and Quinn Kokley, Billie Jo Hellen, Jason Hellen, Kathy Hellen and David L. Hellen; and great-great-great-grandchildren Dustin and Jordan Kokley, Grady Hellen and Reese and Caden Atkinson.

Also representing the same family were grandson Matt Rahko Jr., great-grandson Mike Rahko and great-great-grandson Matt Rahko III, all of Erwin Township.

Representing the Jacob and Lisa Niemi family were great-granddaughters Betty (Bianchi) Corgden and Lynne (Bianchi) Wiercinski.

The Andrew and Anna (Rajaho) Aho family was represented by grandson Richard Aho.

The Gust and Ana Siirila family was represented by Joyce (Siirila) and Don Reid.

Representing the Gust and Amelia (Tikkanen) Niemi family were granddaughter Grace (Juutilainen) and Bill McDonald; great-grandchildren David McDonald and Lori (Lanctoe) McDonald; great-great-granddaughter Tara Phillips; and great-great-great-grandchildren Tanner and Elsa Leuzzo.

For more information, call Ivan Hellen at 906-932-0944.