Waino William Bakka, age 96, longtime Rock Resident, passed away on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at Bishop Noa Home in Escanaba. Waino was born on June 5, 1924 in Escanaba, MI to William and Fannie (Erickson) Bakka, the oldest sibling to Lauri, Helmi, and Viola. He grew up on the family farm west of Rock, MI in a Finnish community of farmers and loggers. There wasn’t electricity in his home as a child, so it was a life with kerosene lamps, hauling in wood for the stove, buckets of water, milking by hand, canning food, using an ax and buck saw, and an outhouse. Many families there did not yet own a car or tractor, so a horse was used to plow or pull wagons and sleighs. Neighbors, many who didn’t speak English, would walk down country roads to visit neighbors and most Finnish families built a sauna. Some of Waino’s childhood memories included walking to the 1 room country school, hunting, trapping, berry picking, farm chores, and picnics. Neighbors were often helping each other. At Christmas, a tree with real candles were lit – and watched closely with water buckets nearby. Waino’s mother played the mandolin to entertain the family. Many plays, dances, and activities were enjoyed at the Finn Hall in west Rock. As a teen, he attended Rock Public School – buses would pick up the rural children by then. Waino enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1943, serving as a radio operator, 19th Troop Carrier Squadron over the Pacific in WWII, until he was discharged in 1946. Waino then worked in Detroit for General Motors hand forming experimental auto bodies, while also attending Wolverine Trade School under the GI Bill.
In Detroit, he met Elma Lahti, a fun and feisty gal who waitressed at the Finnish restaurant owned by her parents, Reino and Ellen Lahti. Elma knew he was “The One” when he walked in. She liked the “twinkle in his eye.” Waino became very close to Elma’s family – hardworking yet very sociable with friends, dinners, parties, and fun. Waino and Elma were married on July 2, 1948. A year later, they moved to the family farm in west Rock where they raised 3 children and lived with his father and sister, Viola. To supplement their farm income, Waino purchased a truck in 1951 and hauled Christmas trees, boughs, and timber. He continued to haul timber until he sold his truck in 1995. Waino and Elma also began making evergreen garlands in 1966 and gave up farming. In 1968, Waino received the Regional Agriculture Development of the Year award in Marquette County. He was active in community activities, served as Ewing Township Treasurer, and in later years, Maple Ridge Township Supervisor. He was involved in PTA, Rock Co-op Company, a 4-H leader, Student Loan Program, U.P. Mutual Insurance Board, the Rock Lions Club, and Rock American Legion Post 559. Waino always looked forward to the annual Rock Lions Labor Day Festival, where he ran the beer stand for many years and seeing friends from near and far. He also was the town “Santa” for many years. Some favorite memories of Waino’s children include Sunday drives, or putting smiles back on his children’s faces singing “Good Morning to You” if the kids squabbled at the breakfast table, and so many other sweet memories. Waino enjoyed reading and liked to record “facts and figures” into a pocket notebook – always tucked in his shirt pocket. He also made daily entries into a journal recording weather, work, community, and family happenings for over 50 years. Over the years, the family enjoyed traveling to many states, and Waino and Elma visited Belize while son, Bill, was there in the Peace Corps. They also visited family in Finland in 1992. He and Elma enjoyed spending time at the Rock Senior Center in later years and had great affection for friends, family, and the community. Waino and Elma were married for 51 years until her passing in 1999. In 2014, he moved to Fairview Apartments in Gladstone where he made friends. In 2017, Waino moved to Bishop Noa Home where he lived comfortably and appreciated the wonderful staff there.
Through the years, Waino enjoyed sharing colorful stories and memories of interesting Yoopers and lumberjack oldtimers – they lived on in his recollections. He loved people and treated every person with kindness and respect. A caring and humble man, his family and friends remember him for his gentle humor and good nature.
Waino will be deeply missed and is survived by son, William Bakka of Gladstone, MI; daughter, Elaine (Rick) Brown of Rock, MI; son-in-law, Dana (Colleen) Varney of L’Anse, MI; sister, Viola Heikkinen of Cheboygan, MI; sister-in-law, Arlene Lahti; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins.
In addition to his parents, wife, mother and father-in-law, Waino was preceded in death by beloved daughter, Ellen Bakka Varney; 3 infant grandsons; sister, Helmi Lepisto; infant brother, Lauri; nephews, John Usitalo and Howard Heikkinen; and other family members and friends whom he missed dearly.
A memorial service will be held in the summer of 2021 to celebrate Waino’s life. Memorials in Waino’s name may be made to the Rock American Legion Post 559, the Rock Lions Club, or your favorite charity. Waino’s family would like to acknowledge the excellent, compassionate care given to him by everyone at Bishop Noa Home. The family wants to express their sincere and heartfelt “Thanks” to them, and also for the wonderful care given by Dr. Maria Nagano, and appreciation to Chris, Keith, and Christina Anderson.
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