A man who survived being taken prisoner by the Germans as a teenage Finnish merchant marine during the Second World War and later went on to help build the Superstack in Sudbury died Oct. 30 at the age of 90.
“From his youth as a sailor in Finland, his travels across Canada raising smokestacks, and his work constructing homes and buildings in Sudbury, Aarne brought energy, determination, and sisu (the Finnish concept of determination or resilience) to every project,” said Aarne Kovala's obituary.
“Aarne loved spending time at his camp on Lake Panache surrounded by friends and family. He will be remembered for his cheerful personality and easy laugh.”
Sudbury.com interviewed Kovala about his life a couple of times over the years, most recently in 2017, when he spoke about his role in building the Superstack in the wake of news that it will be dismantled.
Safety in the 1970s wasn't what it is today. To get to the top of the stack while it was under construction, workers would hop on the cement buckets being hoisted to the top of the structure, and hang on for dear life.
As far as Kovala knows, nobody was killed in the stack's construction.
There's an amazing photo of Kovala – sitting at the top of the Superstack – without any fall restraint safety gear.
“You couldn't have any safety belts because you were moving steady,” he said. “Of course, everybody is maybe afraid of heights, but after awhile you get used to it.”
The Superstack was about half-completed on Aug. 20, 1970, when a tornado blew through the Sudbury area. Kovala was at the top of the stack when the tornado hit.
“I was working, yeah,” he said. “It got a little bit dark. The wind's coming. People were hanging onto the posts, you know because the wind's so strong.”
Kovala disputes the urban legend that the incomplete Superstack swayed from side to side in the tornado – he said he didn't feel anything.
Watch Kovala share memories about his time building the Superstack in a video produced in 2017 by Sudbury.com.
His daughter, Liisa Kovala, also wrote a book about her father's experiences in the Second World War called “Surviving Stutthof: My father's memories behind the Death Gate.”
It was originally self-published under another title in 2015, but was picked up by local publishing company Latitude 46 last year. You can purchase the book here through the publishing company's website.
Kovala was a teenage Finnish merchant marine in 1944 when his ship was captured by the Germans while docked in German-occupied Gdansk, Poland.
He and about 90 other merchant marines were transported to the nearby Stutthof concentration camp, a notorious facility where it's estimated more than 85,000 people died.
The story of his survival is told in the book penned by his daughter.
Kovala immigrated to Canada in 1951, where he settled in Sudbury, married, and had four children.
He told Sudbury.com in a 2015 interview that he was pleased to have worked with his daughter on the book.
“It's kind of exciting,” he said. “It's so nice to let kids know what happened to me when I was young.”
Kovala is survived by his wife Anja, children Tom (Carita Lanner), Mark (Kelly Reilly) and Anna Liisa (Michael Jensen), along with nine grandchildren. He's predeceased by his son John (Judith Kovala), who died in 2004.
The funeral visitation takes place from 6-8 p.m. Nov. 2 and 12-1 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Jackson and Barnard Funeral Home on Larch Street. The service follows the visitation at 1 p.m. Nov. 3 at the R.J. Barnard Chapel.
This story originally appeared on Sudbury.com, a sister website of Northern Ontario Business.