Tauno B. Kilpela was born in South Range on September 23, 1920 at home to Finnish immigrants Henry and Margaret Kilpela. The youngest of seven siblings, Tauno led a Tom Sawyer-like boyhood roaming in the woods, hunting with his slingshot and devising various pranks and mischief with his friends. His carefree childhood was somewhat shadowed, however, by the drowning death of an older brother when Tauno was six, and later when his father was laid off from the Baltic Mine in 1931 and the family experienced hard times.
Tauno graduated from Jeffers High School in 1938, and with the financial assistance from his siblings entered Michigan Tech to study mechanical engineering. After two years of study however, Tauno withdrew from college and moved to Detroit, where he found employment in a machine shop where he regularly worked seven days a week. In 1943 he volunteered for service in the 877th Airborne Engineering Aviation Battalion, thinking he might gain some practical engineering experience. This turned out to be a glider outfit designed to land behind enemy lines to construct airfields. Three days before D-Day the battalion commander alerted them for a mission, which was fortunately called off. Glider units suffered the heaviest casualties during the invasion.
Tauno’s unit arrived at Omaha beach a month later and constructed the first airfield in France to base B-26 bombers and Black Widow night fighters at Maupertus. Prior to the actual construction Tauno was engaged for several days in the nerve-wracking work of clearing a minefield. Once when describing the awful strain, Tauno curiously remarked that the German mines had “beautifully machined parts” - something that only a fellow machinist could appreciate.
When the war ended in Europe, Tauno found himself aboard a troop ship headed for the invasion of Japan. When they received news that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Tauno, who had read an article about nuclear fission, impressed his shipmates with his seemingly “extensive knowledge” and told them that they would all be going home soon. The war ended within a few days, and after spending several months in the Philippine Islands Tauno returned to civilian life in 1946.
After an absence of six years, Tauno returned to Michigan Tech, and despite having forgot his calculus, received a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1948. During this period he also met his future wife, Toini Wiitala, on a double date. After graduation he returned to Detroit, where Toini was living at the time, and found a job with a mechanical contractor. Tauno, who never dithered around, proposed to Toini at a New Year’s Eve party and they were married the following day, Jan 1, 1949. Thus began an extraordinary 67-year marriage of two headstrong, intelligent, powerful and generous personalities that were affectionately and appropriately known as T&T.
In 1950, having gotten his girl and gotten his fill of city life, Tauno and his bride moved back to Lake Superior and the Copper Country. They bought an old farm outside of Atlantic Mine, where as a sideline they began to raise chickens, a venture that lasted for several years but never made much profit. After scratching out a living on various short-term jobs, he landed a job with the Calumet & Hecla mining company, where he worked for 16 years in various engineering positions, and finally as Manager of Industrial Engineering. Following the liquidation of C&H he worked 11 years as Senior Research Engineer at Michigan Tech’s Institute of Wood Research.
Having a lifelong interest in the Keweenaw mining industry, he became involved with the Copper Range Historical Society when it was organized in 1988. After learning how to use a computer in his 70’s, Tauno published several books chronicling the operations of the seven major copper loads of the Keweenaw mining district. He also prepared and published a large wall map that shows the locations of the mines, stamp mills and smelters on the Keweenaw Peninsula, and also provides a thumbnail history of the different mining sites.
Tauno lived on his farm until he was 94 and seemed to revel in his fight against “Old Man Winter”. With his Ford tractor and massive snogo powered by a separate rear-mounted engine, all of his own design, he plowed his long driveway until he was 92, when he finally allowed his son Don to take over that responsibility. Always one to plow too close to the edge, Tauno regularly got his tractor stuck during the winter, but always was able get it out by shoveling or towing. He never complained about weather and approached all problems in a methodical and orderly way.
But the most important thing in Tauno’s life was his Creator. He was member of the Range Apostolic Lutheran church and attended worship services without fail. He read his Bible regularly and was particularly interested in the biblical account of creation. During the last few years, when his strength was fading and he was a resident at the Houghton County Medical Care Facility, he frequently and boldly declared, “I am looking forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ.” He has attained that now.
Tauno was preceded in death by his wife Toini and is survived by a daughter Karla (Will) Pollard of Australia, a son Don (Marja) Kilpela of Atlantic Mine, five grandsons; Daniel (Gwen), Mikael (Jeni), Samuel (Amanda), David (Deanna), and Jonathan (Alina); and five beautiful great-granddaughters.
The family would like to thank the staff at the Houghton County Medical Care Facility for the excellent and loving care given to Tauno.
Funeral services will be held at 11:00 on Monday, March 13, 2017 in the Range Apostolic Lutheran Church, Second Street in South Range, with Pastor Chuck Bylkas to officiate. Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service.
Spring burial will be in the Mountain View Cemetery in South Range.
Memorials may be made to the Range Apostolic Lutheran Church in Tauno’s memory.