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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Aalto, August and Maria

by Delores Bach as told to her by Lillian Bonner
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August Aalto was born in Tampere, Finland on February 19, 1866. As a young man he was aware of the pressure to join the Russian army. He therefore made his way to China and eventually stowed away on a ship to California, arriving there in April 1887. He found employment with the expanding railroad system.

Maria Nyyssala was born in Lappajarvi, Finland in 1870. In 1891, she came to America, settling first in Eastern Canada where her aunt had a boarding house. She moved on to California where she eventually met August Aalto. They married in 1892 and settled in the small coastal town of Noya, near Fort Bragg. There were quite a number of Finnish people who took up residence in that area. The first three children of Maria and August, Lempi, Ilmi and Helmi were born in Fort Bragg.

As the railroad pushed north, so did the Aaltos. They spent several months in the Kent, Washington area where Maria had relatives. In 1898, with the reports of gold in the Klondike, August headed north to Alaska. The family followed and set up housekeeping in Dyea. While there, Hilda, their fourth child was born. They did not stay long in Dyea, but moved to Douglas by 1900. Many other Finns had already arrived in this mining town. August worked as a blacksmith for the Treadwell Mining Company. In the next ten years, by 1910, August and Maria had four more daughters, Impi, Laina, Selma and Lillian. Maria kept very busy caring for her husband and eight children. After the Treadwell Mine ceased operation, August was employed by the Alaska-Juneau Mining Company as a machinist and blacksmith. Gold mining was a big business in this area at that time with mills operating in Juneau and Thane and also in the Bernerís Bay area at the Jualin and Kensington mines. The fishing industry was also flourishing with many salmon canneries in the area. Juneau continued to grow as the activity expanded.

The Aalto children were all in the Douglas school system. Lempi, the oldest, at age 19 married Albert Edwards in 1912. Together they had eight children. One daughter did not live past age four however. Ilmi, the only son in the family, attended the University of Washington, graduating with a degree in Engineering. He did not return to Alaska. He later married and made his home in Washington. Three of the Aalto girls went to the Normal School in Bellingham, Washington where they received Teaching Certificates. Helmi and Impi taught school in several Alaska locations, including Douglas. Helmi married Ed Bach in 1925. They remained in Douglas raising their two sons. Impi was teaching in Petersburg when she died suddenly at the age of 41. Hilda attended Wilson Business College in Seattle. She returned to work at Behrends Department Store in Juneau. In 1925, she married Harry Helmes. They spent most of their life together in California. Laina went off to California to attend nursing school. She returned as a Registered Nurse. She worked in the hospital in Sitka and also at St. Annís Hospital in Juneau. She married Waino Tapani and they made their home in Juneau. Selma did not make use of her teaching certificate. Instead she married Horace Plumb in 1925 and they made their home in the Seattle area. Their family included a son and a daughter. Many years later, during her senior years, Selma returned to the University of Washington to complete work for the degree which she had begun when she was much younger. Lillian, the youngest of the Aalto family worked for Behrends Department Store. In 1929, she and Robert Bonner were married. Robert was employed as a machinist for the A. J. mine. With the onset of the war in 1941, Robert felt he should seek a more stable employment. Many had left the mine. In January of 1942, Robert and Lillian, along with their son and daughter, moved to Seattle.

Maria Aalto passed away in 1946. August lived to the age of 92, spending his last several years living with daughter Helmi and Ed Bach in Douglas. He passed away in October, 1948. Both he and Maria are buried in the Douglas cemetery.


August and Maria Aalto, Douglas Alaska