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Marvin Kananen in 1966Marvin Kananen - 2010 Commencement Alumni Speaker

Marvin Kananen was born in Laurium, thus marking his claim as a genuine Yooper. He is the son of the late John Kananen, and Nelma Kangas Kananen, who attended Suomi College in the 1930s. Two of his aunts, Winnie and Eva Kangas, also attended Suomi College.

Kananen is proud to be 100% Finnish and notes that proof of his heritage is offered by the names of three of his uncles: Aino, Reino, and Heino. ("Donald Duck with nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie had nothing on me," he adds.)

Kananen attended Suomi College from 1964 to 1966, graduating with a degree in Liberal Arts. He lived in the Scott Hotel, and then Burritt House, his first year at Suomi when the dining hall was in the basement of Old Main and the highlight of each week was the cinnamon rolls.

Kananen notes that what he remembers most fondly about attending Suomi College was discovering how good it was to be in school, how much he loved being in the U.P., and that it was okay to be Finnish.

Marvin Kananen"My time at Suomi College shaped the rest of my life, for better or worse," Kananen says. "Mostly it was good."

Two Suomi College faculty members in particular have had a lifelong influence on Kananen. Pastor (John) Simonson set him on a Christian path, and Mrs. (Alma) Van Slyke taught him to love English through her love of literature.  "Both of them are unforgettable," he says.

Kananen attended Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., where he says he discovered that not all places on earth have severe winters. He completed a bachelor's degree in education at PLU in 1968. After teaching public school for several years in Washington and the Bark River-Harris schools in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in 1975 Marvin completed a master of arts degree in English at Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.

God chose his career, Kananen notes. He says he doesn't think he would have chosen teaching otherwise. His teaching career has taken him from Michigan and Washington State, to Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

Kananen married Jean Wahlstrom in 1990 and taught English at Trinity Lutheran College, Everett, Wash., until 1998, when the couple began work with the ELCA Global Mission.

For the past 12 years, they have been missionaries at the Maasae Girls Lutheran Secondary School, Monduli, Tanzania. "Only 24 girls were in secondary school in the entire country when the Maasae Girls Lutheran Secondary School began (in 1995)," Kanenen notes. "The school has educated nearly a thousand since then."

 In Tanzania, Kananen lived three degrees south of the Equator in sub-Saharan Africa. He says it was either muddy or dusty there, and never cool.

Kananen started the largest Alcoholics Anonymous group in Tanzania, and the first Narcotics Anonymous group in East Africa. He says he started drinking in the 1960s, and from the age of 18 to 34, he says his life was ruled by his craving for alcohol.

"Since 1980 my life has been fueled by my fear of what alcohol does to me," he explains. "But I am a Christian, even in my years as a drunkard."

Kananen retired from his teaching career this January and he and his wife are in the process of returning to their home in Bellevue, Wash.

For many years Kananen created crossword puzzles, especially for Dell and Baker Book House. He and his wife belong to St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Bellevue, Wash.

He says he has learned everything that he knows, plus what he's forgotten.