Birthday Bash honors six for contributions to Bessemer community


Published Monday, September 18, 2006 4:24:28 PM Central Time   

Ironwood Daily Globe




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Globe Staff Writer


BESSEMER--When Vera Jo Jansson completed the requirements for her licensed practical nursing degree in 1972 at the age of 50, some people thought she was too old to start a career.


However, she spent the next five years working full-time at nursing homes in West Bend and Hayward, Wis., 12 more years at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iron Mountain and another 10 years part-time in nursing homes in Fenton and Argentine.


To Jansson, beginning a second career at a time many folks are thinking of retiring was a new beginning. And she did it all starting just one year after receiving her general education diploma from Gogebic Community College. She had been a long-distance operator for Michigan Bell, and later a PBX operator and receptionist at Allied Products Corp.


Jansson, 84, was one of six honored citizens attending the Bessemer Area Historical Society's annual event Saturday. Others included Tyyne Salonen, 89; Phyllis and Louis Marconeri, Dante Pricco, 92, and Ed Zeliska, 80.


Each of the honored guests were selected by the BAHS because of their contributions and connections to Bessemer.


For example, in 1946 Pricco began working in the bakery his father had started in 1916, just 10 years after he came to the United States from Italy. Dante and his brothers, Aldo and Martin, baked biscotte, torcette and other bread products which was distributed as far away as Minnesota's Mesabi Range.


Aldo left early on to open up a bakery in California, which is still being managed by the family today.


While it is the second year the Bessemer Area Historical Society has held its honored guest portion of the event, it is the third "birthday bash" held by the organization. Bessemer is 122 years old, platted in 1884 by the Milwaukee Lakeshore Railroad, which was in search of additional areas to open up to iron ore mining.


Bessemer Area Historical Society president Eddie Sandene would like to see more narratives on file at the museum, which is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day every year, and for special occasions, like next month's Pumpkin Festival. He invites long-time residents of any age to contribute their stories in narrative form to be placed in the museum files.


"We're going to have an area where we display family histories," Sardene said. "We're just getting going on the project -- it's an ongoing process. We'd like to hear from people about what their grandparents did here, about growing up in Bessemer. It's about people and their stories."


Stories like Salonen's, who first began her life-long interest in farm home economics when she exhibited her cow at the 1929 Gogebic County Fair at the age of 14. After that she entered exhibits which displayed her talents in knitting, sewing and baking, and later encouraged each of her five children to join 4-H, eventually becoming a Harding Location leader.


Her flair for cooking eventually landed her a career as the head of the Bessemer Township hot lunch program, where she oversaw the purchasing and set up for the kitchens in Ramsay, Anvil, Harding and Puritan schools. Her rate of pay in 1950, she recalls, was 50 cents an hour for six hours each day.


She still had time for the family's sewing, knitting and crocheting, and for milking the five cows when her husband Reino was working shifts at the mine.


Besides work, the value of education is important to this year's honorees, such as Zeliska, who sat proudly beneath the A.D. Johnston High School diploma he received this year after reading about Michigan legislation providing recognition to World War II veterans who had to leave school like he did to serve in the nation's armed services.


Raised in Bessemer Township, Zelisk attended the Puritan School and was inducted on his 18th birthday -- Oct. 21, 1943. Upon his return, he found seasonal work in Detroit and returned to Bessemer for a short time to work for an the Ironwood Trailer Company. He then moved back to Detroit to work for Chrysler, and in 1955 went to Minneapolis to work as a receiving and inventory supply clerk for the kitchen and bakery at Prudential Insurance.


Saturday's event was highlighted by cakes baked by members, and the music of Bessemer's own Bill Elliot, who has played the keyboards for most of the historical society's events, and was once in the city's drum and bugle corps.


The BAHS building, once the White Birch Bar, has been open to the public for two years as the organization's headquarters. Displays featuring Bessemer's mining and timber past, as well as domestic exhibits with fashion styles, similar to those were sold at the Ochir General store in Bessemer, owned by Phylis Marconeri's parents until 1951.


Phylis and Louis Marconeri moved back to Bessemer from Boise Idaho, after he completed his service with the Army Air Corps, which began in 1942. With her experience in retail working at her parent's store, she almost immediately got work at a local department store. Louis found work at the Container Co. of America, and then worked at Becker Trailer Sales and later Hegstrom's Tractor Co. He finished his career as superintendent at Rojo Trailer Sales in Kimball.


The parents of a son who lives on the west coast, friends say "they are still sweethearts" after 64 years of marriage.


Sandene encourages people to join the historical society, and contribute members to recall their own stories about people, lifestyes and events surrounding Bessemer's diverse past. He has started writing narratives recounting events such as his days working at the Penokee Mine, and growing up Finnish in the almost exclusively Finnish area near the Black River.


For more information or to join write BAHS, P.O. Box 148, Bessemer, MI 49911, call 667-0743, e-mail or visit their website at