Board of Directors

Board of Directors

Aileen Caldwell


Aileen Caldwell is a Corporate Archivist at Thrivent Financial and has been a FinnFest board member since 2017. The great-great granddaughter of Finnish immigrants, she began attending FinnFest events as a child and has always enjoyed learning about her Finnish heritage, especially from her grandmother. Joining the FinnFest board has provided her with even more opportunities to connect with her Finnish-American roots and to further understand the diaspora. Her first visit to Finland was for FinnFest 2018 in Tampere and she hopes to return again soon. 

Aileen holds a BA in History from Kenyon College and a MLIS from Kent State University. She lives in Appleton, Wisconsin and enjoys traveling, reading, and getting together with friends and family.

Tuomi Forrest


Sharon Franklin-Rahkonen, Ph.D.


Sharon Franklin-Rahkonen received her Ph.D. from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she specialized in Finnish history. Her dissertation was entitled “Jewish Identity in Finland.” During this research, she and her husband lived in Finland as Fulbright Scholars for two years. In addition to studying minority identity in Finland, especially the Jewish community, her research includes women’s suffrage and the development of Finnish education. She has made several trips to Finland to visit schools, the National Board of Education and the Ministry of Education.

Sharon serves on the Board of FinnFest USA and on the Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan) Finnish Council in America. Sharon has been named one of the Finlandia Foundation Lecturers of the Year for 2016-2018. Her topic is “Finnish Independence.”

Helena Halmari


Helena Halmari is a Professor of English at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas. She grew up in Lempäälä, Finland, studied at the University of Tampere, and taught languages at a Finnish high school until moving to California in 1989 to continue her studies. Halmari has four MA-level degrees (two from Finland and two from the USA), and her PhD in linguistics is from the University of Southern California, where she wrote her dissertation on the structure of American Finnish. Much of Halmari’s research has focused on language contact between Finnish and English. She is the author of Government and Codeswitching: Explaining American Finnish (Benjamins, 1997). She has taught linguistics at the University of California–San Diego, Rice University, the University of Florida, and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Since 2011, Halmari is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Finnish Studies and has also translated fiction from Finnish to English.

Jim Leary


Jim Leary is an emeritus professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he co-founded the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures. Born and raised in northern Wisconsin, he earned a PhD in Folklore and American Studies from Indiana University (1977), and since the 1970s his field and archival research with the Upper Midwest’s diverse peoples has contributed to numerous folklife festivals, museum exhibits, documentary sound recordings, public radio programs, films, multi-media websites, and publications—many of which have involved the traditional handwork, humor, legendry, music, and songs of Finnish Americans. A frequent presenter at FinnFests held in the Upper Midwest, Leary currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Finnish Studies.

Yvonne R. Lockwood


Yvonne R. Lockwood (née Hiipakka) grew up in Ironwood, in the western Upper Peninsula, Michigan. She has degrees in folklore, history, and Slavic languages and literatures from the University of California, Berkeley, and The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

As curator of folklife for some 25 years at Michigan State University Museum, she conducted studies of various cultural groups in the upper Midwest, including Finnish Americans. During her career, a good number of Finnish Americans participated in museum programs, including the American Folklife Festival, the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Michigan Heritage Awards and Michigan Apprenticeships Programs. She curated a number of exhibitions, including “Michigan Eats” and “Rags, Rugs, and Weavers,” and published Finnish American Rag Rugs: Art, Tradition, and Ethnic Continuity in addition to other books and many articles. In 2013 she was the Finlandia Foundation National’s Lecturer of the Year.

Since retiring, she continues her research and writing about Finnish America, and devotes much of her time to Finnish American cultural organizations dedicated to the maintenance of Finnish American culture, such as FinnFest USA.

Sally Capra Morales


Sally Capra Morales grew up in St Louis, MO. Her mother was from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Childhood summers were always spent with Finnish friends and relatives in the Wakefield, MI area. St Louis had a smaller group of Swedish and Finnish members who met on a regular basis. Something Finnish was always in her childhood. Whether it was her mom’s home cooking, Finnish music (usually hymns) or hearing phone conversations with out-of-town relatives. Only as an adult was she able to visit Finland and see for herself the birthplace of her grandparents, in Lapua.

Karl Morris


Karl Morris is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area. He discovered his Finnish roots during a visit to Finland with his uncle as a teenager, where he met most of his grandmother’s first cousins. After moving from NYC to Dallas, he became involved in the Finnish American community (TexFinns) as a member and board member. While in Dallas, he worked for Efore USA (a Finnish company) as a sales and marketing consultant.
Currently, Karl has been an active member of LAFF (Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation) since 2009 and is a board member. He has a BS in information systems and resides in Los Angeles. He has made numerous trips to Finland and makes it a priority to spend part of every summer in Finland. His passions (besides Finland) include traveling, playing baseball, taking music classes, gymnastics, hiking, genealogy and languages.

Helena Niskanen


Helena Niskanen, a native of Finland, has resided in Jersey City, New Jersey for the last 30 years.

Helena has worked as a professional in destination travel marketing for more than 20 years. She is also the founder and CEO of Polar Star Marketing. Helena ran Visit Finland operations in USA, and in that capacity has cultivated an extensive professional global network with a primary focus on Scandinavian tourism. 

Helena has served as a volunteer on several boards such as the American Scandinavian Society of New York and Finland Center Foundation. Being part of the FinnFest USA family is important for Helena because she embraces the celebration of Finnish heritage and traditions in the USA. She herself maintains very strong ties to Finland and visits family and friends often. 

In her free time she enjoys travel, ballroom dancing, skiing, gardening, baking, spectator sports, opera, theater and concerts. 

K. Marianne Wargelin


K. Marianne Wargelin grew up in three Finnish American communities: Berkeley, CA, Fairport Harbor, OH, and Hancock, MI. As a child accompanying her parents on their work trips, she visited most of the Finnish of the Finnish communities scattered across the entire continental United States. Earlier an educator in American higher education, she now consults with scholars, government officials, cultural institutions, and the general-public about Finland and Finnish America. She serves as an Honorary Consul of Finland in Minneapolis. Currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tampere in Finland, her dissertation studies the changing identity of the national Finnish American community, a subject well suited to her position as President of FinnFest USA since 2004.