TOIVOLA TOWNSHIP (AP) -- Alvin Saralampi probably knows more about Toivola Township than anyone on the planet.
He can chronicle the lives of the early Finnish pioneers who settled along Sand Creek with dreams of logging the area 52 miles northwest of Duluth. He was alive in the late 1920s when the mill burned down, nearly crushing the spirit of the community. He remembers when Terese Nault bought a neighbor's three-story home and trucked it to her quiet, tree-lined property more than a mile away.
"It's a very special place, and the history is very important," said Saralampi, Toivola's township historian. "It's quiet here; it's peaceful."
Saralampi, 75, was a key organizer of Toivola's 100-year celebration that ended Aug. 10 with a street dance and fireworks. Residents erected a stage in front of Town Hall for the dancing and arranged historical pictures and memorabilia submitted for display.
But it would be wrong to call it Toivola's centennial celebration.
The actual 100-year anniversary of the formation of Toivola Township is nine years away. But Toivola residents are celebrating the anniversary early because several township elders might not be around for the centennial.
"It's actually been over 100 years since the settlers arrived," said Nault, a Township Board member who helped organize the event.
Residents will honor about 10 Toivola residents in their 90s, their last living links to the township's pioneer history.
Toivola has slowly lost population since the 1940s, when the township edged up to 427 people. Since then, the elementary school has closed, local businesses shut down and left shelled-out buildings with for-sale signs and boarded-up windows. There is little logging left in Toivola, which has become a haven for hunters seeking deer, black bear and grouse. Hunters have gobbled up acre after acre of land, often for less than $1,000, and erected hunting shacks that sit vacant most of the time.
Toivola now has about 200 residents, most of whom are retired or work on the Iron Range or in Duluth. It's the kind of town where streets are named after pioneer settlers -- like Maki, Arkola and Lahti -- and residents tout Toivola's cemetery as one of the township's best amenities.
Herb and Greta Lindgren will never leave.
"I love Toivola," said Herb Lindgren, 73, who stopped by the community center with his wife to drop off photos for a display on the township's history. "I hope the celebration will be a way to get all the old-timers back together, for the fellowship."
The community center is in the old elementary school, which closed in 1977 due to declining enrollment. A plaque hangs on the wall from 1940 when Toivola High School won second place in St. Louis County's one-act drama contest.
Life in Toivola has not always been easy for Lindgren's family.
His father started a dairy farm after the mill burned down, and Lindgren took over when his father retired. Lindgren's mother died when he was an infant. Farming demanded hard work nearly from the time he could walk.
The Lindgrens' three children grew up on the farm with much the same life. They eventually moved away to larger towns and cities. Lindgren sold the farm in 1991. He and Greta now live next door to the cemetery.
"Financially, the farm was not the most rewarding, but family-wise, it was," he said, standing next to a photo of his mother in a long dress on a huge boom over the river, guiding logs downstream toward the mill. "My children have a strong sense of roots and fellowship. That's very important; that's what this celebration is all about."
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