December 21, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
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The Dash Between: Finn Dietrichs led fabulous, fascinating life

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Medina and Lorain counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on the first Monday each month in The Gazette and visit www.medina-gazette.com to find additional photographs.
To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com or (440) 865-2518.
Today, Baranick examines The Dash Between June 28, 1924, when Finn Dietrichs was born in Oslo, Norway, and Sept. 30, 2011, when the longtime Medina County Home resident died at age 87.

Finn Dietrichs got in at the head of the line to volunteer for or participate in activities at the Medina County Home, where he lived the last 20 years of his life.

The former carpenter, who died Sept. 30, 2011, at age 87, wrote items for the home’s newsletter to keep fellow residents informed about home happenings and upcoming shopping excursions and trips to Amish country.

The Dietrichs siblings — Thora and Finn — are pictured in 2005 during Thora’s visit to Ohio. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Finn also entertained residents and staff by playing polkas and old-time music, such as “Wild Irish Rose,” with the Hermanizers, a two-man band featuring Finn on drums and Herman Machles on accordion.

“They would always play at the home,” said Russ Clutter, who volunteers at the home with his wife, Melinda. “Finn loved to dance. I had to sit in on the drums for him, while he danced with my wife.”

He danced with any willing woman in the room, including those in wheelchairs.

Lynn Remington, another dance partner and retired superintendent at the home, described Finn as a wonderful dancer, smart and fearless.

“Jitterbug, you couldn’t keep up with him,” Remington said. “And polka. He loved music and books. He always had a book in his hands. If it wasn’t in his hands, it was in his back pocket.”

Clutter observed that Finn led a fascinating life “between his escape from the Nazis, homesteading in Alaska and dating movie stars.”

Finn was born June 28, 1924, in Oslo, Norway, the first of two children born to Brita Tharaldset, who worked as a reporter, and Thorolf Dietrichs, who managed an import company.

He and his younger sister, Thora, grew up in the Nordstrand area just north of Oslo, where their father raised fruit trees. They spent summers at a relative’s large home in the more rural area of Innvik, Norway.

“Dad loved spending his summers there because he could ski down the mountains behind the home and cross the street later in the day and swim in the fjord,” Finn’s daughter Brit Seifert said.

When the Germans occupied Norway in 1940, the nearly 16-year-old patriot joined the underground, gathering intelligence to aid the British on naval and air force missions.

At one point, the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) apprehended Finn and some information he had obtained about German radio and weather installations. Convinced he would be executed, Finn was determined to escape. He managed to leap out of the patrol car as it traveled along a hilly road. He dived into the bushes and hid in the woods. He subsequently swam across the Iddefjord, which forms the border between Norway and Sweden, to safety.

Finn made his way to England, where he joined what became the Norwegian Royal Air Force. He was sent to the “Little Norway” camp adjacent to the Toronto Island Airport, where RNAF pilots, navigators and aircraft mechanics were trained.

After the war, he and fellow countryman Leiv Oxaal hitchhiked across the United States from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, where they lived for eight months.

“Dad worked as a waiter, then worked nights at North American Aviation and went to summer school at UCLA,” Finn’s daughter said. “Both Leiv and Dad decided to apply for admission to B-W (Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea).”

To view more photos on Finn Dietrichs and his family, click here: http://bit.ly/sjJaBZ

In the late 1940s, Finn ran track and cross country at B-W, where he met his first wife, Norma Clark, the mother of his three eldest children: Eric, Ingrid and Leif. After they married in June 1951, they moved to Alaska. Finn had heard he could make good money as a carpenter, and Norma, as a U.S. citizen, could get a homestead in what was then a U.S. territory.

Three years later, they were living in Medina, which was Norma’s hometown. Their marriage ended in divorce.

In the early 1960s, Finn returned to B-W, where he took additional courses toward a degree in economics and met Helen McBride. Helen became Finn’s wife and mother of his two younger children: Tor and Brit.

“Both were divorced, both taking courses at B-W,” their daughter said. “They were both in a class one day, when their professor, Ollie VandeVisse, mentioned he was an ordained minister in the event ‘any students should need his services.’ He apparently gave a knowing look at my mom and dad, who were starting to like each other. Later (on Sept. 18, 1964), this same professor married them at the B-W chapel.”

Shortly before their wedding, they were in an automobile accident. Finn was on crutches at the wedding.

“My mom died Dec. 4, 1990, of a heart attack,” their daughter said. “This was exceedingly difficult for Dad. She had been in Evergreen nursing home in Medina for the four years preceding her death because she had multiple sclerosis. Dad visited her every day.”

Not long after Helen’s death, Finn moved into the Medina County Home, where he apparently marched to the beat of the proverbial “different drummer.” If he wore a red shirt and black pants, he put on one red sock and one black sock to complete the ensemble. When he learned of exciting adventures that were open to him, he jumped in.

“He was in his 80s, and he bungee jumped,” Remington said. “He feared nothing. For everything he’d been through, why not?”