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Sociology students, professor team for research to help building become local historic landmark

March 4, 2013
The former Finnish Majakka Hall is located at 1021 State St. in DeKalb.

The former Finnish Majakka Hall is located at 1021 State St. in DeKalb.

A research report compiled and presented by an NIU sociology professor and her student research team to the Landmark Commission of DeKalb and the DeKalb City Council has prompted the granting of historic landmark status to the former Finnish Majakka Hall.

The current occupant of the building at 1021 State St. is the non-profit organization, the DeKalb Area Women’s Center.

Diane Rodgers, an associate professor of sociology, and her research team – the group includes graduate students Jessica Petersen, Jill Sanderson and Lucy Sosa, with assistance from undergraduates Ellen Murphy and Katie Piotrowska – have been working on a project about the influence of Finnish-American culture in DeKalb from the late 1800s to the 1960s.

In the process of their research, they were asked by Anna Marie Coveny, director of DeKalb Area Women’s Center, to assist the non-profit organization in its pursuit of landmark status. Landmark status requires that a building meet strict criteria that would deem it significant.

Typically buildings granted landmark status are designed by a well-known architect, possess a particular architectural style or are connected to a famous figure in the community.

Diane Rodgers

Diane Rodgers

Majakka Hall, although architecturally appealing, falls into the category of “vernacular architecture” and was built to serve as a Finnish Temperance Hall.

The report detailed the cultural significance of this Hall and the contribution of the Finnish population of DeKalb at the local and national levels. The neighborhood surrounding the Hall was known as “Finn Town,” at one time a largely self-sustaining ethnic enclave, with two Finnish halls, a church, cooperatives and privately owned stores.

Using archival data, interviews, secondary sources and guided tours of the neighborhood and building, Rodgers and her student research team used sociological insights about to the Finns in DeKalb to show how the Finnish Hall met the criteria for landmark status.

“We were fortunate to be able to build on two other NIU researchers’ previous work: Joan Metzger, archivist at the Regional History Center, who had written a paper on the Finns of DeKalb, and professor Jeffery Chown’s documentary, ‘DeKalb Stories,’ ” Rodgers said.

“Finnish community members have generously given their time and were instrumental in providing necessary detail for the report,” she added.

To learn more about this collaboration, Rodgers and her team will discuss their work at 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at the DeKalb Area Women’s Center.