Cover photo for Markku "Mark" Ketola's Obituary
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1944 Markku "Mark" 2024

Markku "Mark" Ketola

August 14, 1944 — May 1, 2024

Deerton, MI / Howell, MI

The Ordinary Extraordinary Life of Mark Ilmari Ketola

Markku Ilmari Ketola, 79 of Howell, MI, died in his home in Deerton, MI on May 1, 2024. This is his story, as an ordinary immigrant who lived the Sisu principles of hard work, steadfastness, determination, and perseverance, leading to his quiet extraordinary American dream life. 

He was born in Nokia, Finland August, 14th, 1944 as Markku Ilmari Leppäniemi born to Lempi Leppäniemi & Onni Mansikka-aho. He spent his early years growing up in the beautiful rural countryside of Lappäjarvi, Finland. He has 4 siblings including Timo Railamo, Arvo Pouttu, Heikki Pouttu (d), & Mirja Järviö. He Immigrated to the United States in 1952. A highlight of the big journey across the pond included the flyover of the Olympic stadium in Helsinki as the ‘52 Olympics were happening. Markku joined his aunt (Lempi’s sister) Vieno & her husband Uuno Ketola in Ishpeming, MI where he was adopted and became a US citizen. When he wasn’t singing in the children’s choir of Bethel Lutheran Church, he spent his childhood going on outdoor adventures and shenanigans in and around the copper country with his faithful dog Rebel and his best friend Buck Doll. 

After the passing of Uuno in a mining accident, Vieno moved to the suburbs of Detroit in Madison Heights, MI with Markku following after finishing up his sophomore year of High School in Ishpeming. After graduating, Markku went on to pursue a BS Electric Engineering Degree at Michigan Technological University where he graduated in 1968. During college, he enjoyed all sorts of shenanigans with his fraternity brothers and hockey team. As an SP5, he was drafted into the US Army in 1968 and joined the Company D, 554th Engineering Battalion, 20th Engineering Brigade, 8th Infantry Division. He received a Purple Heart as part of his military service in Vietnam. 

During his high school and college days, Markku was a competitive athlete. He was part of the Ishpeming Ski Club where he learned to classic ski and to ski jump, training at the famed Suicide Hill. His love of winter sports included hockey where he joined his team at Michigan Tech University in winning the D1 NCAA championships. He also competed actively across the USA in cross-country ski events and his main event, the Nordic Combined (cross-country and ski jumping), where he placed 3rd at the USA Nationals just missing a spot on the US Olympic team. In the spring and summers, he spent his time competing in track meets for running, long jump, and his main event Javelin. He was able to continue competing when he was drafted by the Army and was placed on the Army track and field and ski teams, allowing him to travel and compete all over Europe before being sent to Vietnam. Markku passed on his love of athletics to his daughters, and was an active sports father, coming to every track and field, tennis, skiing, soccer, and cross-country running event of their high school careers. He was known as, “The Team Isi”, to all kids as he brought snacks and juice boxes to practices and games. In the 1990s, Markku returned to his track and field roots and participated for several years in the Senior Olympic games for the Motor City Track Club. 

Mark met the love of their life, Hilkka Kujala in 1967 while visiting his second cousins the Kesikinens, in Amherstburg, Ontario. Excited to start their new lives together after being separated due to Mark’s tour of duty in Vietnam, the two were married June 1974 in Windsor, Ontario. June 2024 they would have celebrated their 50th anniversary. 

Mark & Hillka settled their married life in Howell, MI to raise their family. The children are Annemarie Ketola of Seattle WA, Anita Ketola of Livonia, MI, and Katriina Ketola of Del Norte, CO. Markku was a devoted husband and father, and loved sharing his passion for the outdoors with hiking in all the wild places of Michigan and going back to visit his beloved family cabin on Lake Superior. He loved to travel, something he got a taste for in the Army, and would plan fantastical weeks-long road trips, visiting every state in the USA and most of Canada with his family. 

Mark had a love of music, he played guitar and was in a band in college where they had a hit single “Little, Lonely Girl”. He was a member of the MTU radio station and later in life hosted his own show on WCAR 1090. His popular radio show, “Finn Focus”, was on-air for 30 years and was the longest running Finnish-American radio show in the US. 

Sharing Finnish-American culture was a passion for Markku. In addition to sharing Finnish music on his radio show, he was an active member and served as a Board member of multiple clubs including the Finnish Center Association, Knights and Ladies of the Kalevala, and the Finnish-American Sauna Club at Walnut Lake. He participated in making thousands of delicious pasties over the years in fundraising efforts for the Sauna Club. He was also active in sharing Nordic culture by dancing as a member of the Hoijakat Folk Dancers and the Nordic Heritage Folk Dancers. Every Friday night, the entire family went to dance practice where they danced and socialized with their Nordic friends. He and Hilkka would go to dance conferences and the family would perform with these dance troupes all over the USA and Canada. In his spare time, he was an avid writer and had his own column giving fun and exciting news about Finland in the column, “Finland Today”, which was featured in the FCA newsletter, Finnish-American reporter, and several other cultural newspapers and newsletters. He was known for ending his columns with an, “And Finally. . . “ joke.

In his professional life, Mark was a Master Electrical Engineer at Ford Motor company for 30 years. He was instrumental in fixing complex problems in production line robots and mentored many young engineers in the field. As a true engineer he enjoyed solving hard problems in high pressure environments.  

An avid animal lover, Markku was a Dr. Dolittle of sorts. He was a pet dad to dogs Rebel, Massa, Satu, Massa, Suvi, and Tassu; and two kitties, Fat Mew and Mirri. He fed and talked to all the forest critters that surrounded the neighborhood house in Howell. When he would walk the property they all followed him to hang out, even the fish in the pond. A classic scene was a row of dogs, cats, ducks, bunnies, chipmunks, etc,  all sitting in a row like spectators watching him practice Javelin in the backyard. He had a special bond with the family dog Suvi, who was his service dog and helped him out of pickles as his Parkinson’s symptoms became stronger in his everyday life. 

A Celebration of Life will be held later this summer, details will be sent out after the event plans have been finalized. A private ceremony for the family will be held in Gwinn at the family plot with military honors. 

And Finally, 
One afternoon, there were three elderly women sitting together at the nursing home in Tapiola. The first woman says, “My son is the priest at St. Johns in Negaunee, when he enters the room people say, ‘Good morning Father’.” The second woman, not to be outdone, replied, “Oh how nice for you. My son is the Bishop at the Cathedral in Marquette, when he enters the room, people say, ‘Hello your Eminence'.” Hilma, the third woman, thinks thoughtfully for a long moment, then replies, “Well, my son Heikki, is 6’11”, weighs 300 lbs and works at Quincy Mine in Hancock, when he enters a room, people say, ‘Oh my God’.”


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