1. Boyhood

William Arvi Kyro was born in Finland April 18, 1888, to Aappo (Abraham) and Maria (Oravainen) Kyro.

The Finns are a Nordic people who arrived in Finland about 100 AD. The early Finns had cultural and commercial ties with Sweden, which is located just 50 miles away, across the Gulf of Bothnia. About 1157 Eric IX, King of Sweden introduced Christianity to Finland. Some Swedes moved to Finland and began to infuse Swedish civilization. About 1528 the Reformation arrived and Finland became mainly Lutheran. In 1556 the country became a formal part of Sweden known as the Grand Duchy of Finland. But in 1809 Sweden was forced to cede the Grand Duchy of Finland to Russia. The Russian Czar appointed himself as Grand Duke. Thus the Finns became unwilling members of the Russian Empire.

At first the Finns had a large measure of independence and self-government. However, in the 1890s Czar Nicholas II established direct Russian control and attempted to Russianize Finland. The people were to learn Russian and the Finnish language was to be stamped out. The Finns were not pleased by this development and the Russian governor-general Bobrikov was assassinated in 1904. This led to a general revolt all across Finland and the Czar reestablished self-government in the form of the Finnish Diet.

Thus, at the time William Kyro was born, Finland was not an independent nation, but was a Grand Duchy -- a province -- of Russia, although the people spoke Finnish and did not consider themselves Russians. The Finns found the Czar of Russia to be an oppressive ruler, and this is one reason that some Finns chose to leave their native land. Finland became an independent nation several decades later, at the end of World War One.

The Finnish language is not related to the major languages of Europe, the Indo-European family. It belongs to the Finno-Ugric family. The other languages in that family are Estonian, Hungarian, Karelian and a language spoken by some of the Eskimos in northern Siberia.

In 1543 Bishop Mikael Agricola produced the first Finnish-language book, a volume of Finnish grammar. But for many years Finns did not have much pride in their language. Educated Finns did their reading and writing in Swedish or Latin. Then in 1835 Elias Lonnrot published “the Kalevala.” This was an epic poem of some 22,000 verses which had existed as an oral tradition for about two thousand years. It was the first important literary work published in the Finnish language and resulted in increased pride in Finnish language and culture. The Kalevala is now known as the Finnish national epic. The date of first publication, February 28, is celebrated by Finns around the world as “Kalevala Day.”

Kyro is a Finnish word that means "bushy". Probably one of William's ancestors lived in a bushy area. It is a fairly common name in Finland; there is a Kyro river, a Kyro lake, and a few small villages named Kyro. The Finnish pronunciation of the name is difficult to describe because it involves two vowels that are not used in English. It is something like “Gur-Reh.” The pronunciation in English is the same as “Cairo”, the city in Egypt.

In upper Michigan there is a small town called “Kuro”. It was originally named “Kyro” by Finnish immigrants, but the spelling was later changed.

William had one brother, Niilo, who settled and married in Canada, and five sisters in Finland: Eeva (Taipaleenmaki), Martha (Kuusela) and the unmarried sisters Anni, Suoma, and Elsa. Martha (Kuusela) became the mother of Armi Kuusela who in 1952 won the first Miss Universe title.

Wilho (the Finnish spelling of William, pronounced "Vill-ho") lived with his parents and siblings on a farm near the city of Oulu in northern Finland. His father was a prosperous farmer. As a boy, William liked to hunt in the woods. He once wished to have a gun with a curved barrel, so that he could hide behind a tree while aiming at some animal. (Many years later, such a gun was actually developed for military use.)

His father wanted the best for his son and sent William off to high school. This was a time when most people did not attend high school and college graduates were quite rare. Like most boys, William was more interested in having fun than in studying and did not do well his first year at high school. When he returned home for the summer, his father explained to him that if he did not become educated, he would have to make his living by manual labor. William was put to work on the farm along with the hired hands during the summer. Hard work quickly taught him the value of an education. William's high school grades improved greatly after this practical lesson.

After high school, William decided to continue his education in America. In later years, he liked to say that he came to America to improve his English, but had to stay because new words were added to the language as fast as he could learn them. That explanation makes a good story, but one suspects that the real reason he came was economic opportunity.

PREVIOUS CHAPTER ............. HOME............. NEXT CHAPTER