In Memoriam : Veikko Soinila

Veikko Soinila Veikko Vic Soinila - age: 94
(April 11, 1915 to August 27, 2009 )
Resident of Redwood Valley, California

Veikko “Vic” Soinila

An ultimate contender in the game of life, Veikko “Vic” Soinila passed away on August 27, 2009 at age 94 at his Redwood Valley home where he lived for the past 40 years - a mere quarter of a mile from the place of his birth at the historical Redwood Valley Finnish Colony. Vic was often a man of few words unless the subject happened to be sports, politics, the latest hunting trip or perhaps, a pretty lady. In many ways, he was a very private man but his public persona as the well-known and well-loved owner/operator of “Vic’s Place” in Redwood Valley was one of an affable, people-loving person whose warmth and generosity were legendary. Vic was born on April 11, 1915 to John and Josephine (Huld) Soinila, immigrants from Finland. A group of Finnish families settled the colony after leaving the failed copper mining industry in Butte Montana in search of suitable land to farm. That search led them to California where in 1912, they purchased 1,453 acres in Redwood Valley. One of 21 children born at the Colony, Veikko was in fact, the last surviving member of the original Finns who either settled there or were later born there. He had one sister, Signe Soinila Gilkison and one Brother, Olavi Soinila, both of whom preceded him in death and were very dear to him.

From the very beginning, Vic personified the pioneer spirit of the hard-working, resourceful and community-minded Finns who like so many immigrant families, endured hardships, failed enterprises and weathered tough economic times. Despite those challenges, members of the Finnish Colony had a capacity for embracing and enjoying life and they took an active interest the growth and development of the valley. Vic similarly embraced life and his community. He possessed a rare will and a spirit that helped him weather personal challenges and face adversity in life with stoicism, quiet acceptance and the strength to persevere. This inner strength is what Finns refer to as “sisu”.

After graduating from Ukiah High School, Veikko worked for the Poultry Producers for several years delivering chicken feed throughout Mendocino and Sonoma Counties as far South as Petaluma. His capacity for hard work and for handling responsibility eventually earned him a management position with that company. During those years and throughout his childhood, he loved and excelled at competitive sports of all kinds. As a wiry freshman in high school weighing in a at barley 100 pounds soaking wet, he was determined to play on the football team. A reluctant coach agreed to let him play. In addition to sports, he was imbued with a love of the outdoors and hunting. One of his favorite hunting grounds was the “Hardly Able Gun Club” on the Ford Ranch in Redwood Valley as it was fondly known. This was a completely self-contained mountain retreat – the ultimate escape close to home. Stories from those days still abound. It was almost impossible to blast Vic out of Redwood Valley except for a seasonal trip to San Francisco for a baseball or football game, a quick trip to Reno to gamble, or an occasional hunting excursion out of the area. Redwood Valley was simply where he loved to be.

In 1944, Vic married Alice Valette of Ukiah. The Soinilas and Valettes were acquaintances since the early 1900’s when the two immigrant families landed in Mendocino County. Vic wooed Alice not with candy or flowers. Instead, he appeared at her door to ask for a date armed with a package of venison. The ploy apparently worked and for several years after their marriage, Vic and Alice lived in the Valette family home on Smith Street in Ukiah, a home that has been lovingly restored and remains an historical Ukiah landmark home. In 1949, Vic realized a dream of owning his own bar when he built and began operating, “Vic’s Place” in Redwood Valley. Then in 1960, the family moved to the valley to be nearer to the business and enjoy country life. By then, Vic’s Place had become a popular local tavern and almost 60 years later, it remains a much frequented watering hole that has retained an historical and eclectic saloon-style charm. The bar is currently being operated by Vic’s daughter-in-law, Carol Soinila, who has maintained the bars’ reputation as being a popular social hub in the center of downtown Redwood Valley. A few “old timers” might recall the famous Friday or Saturday night saunas hosted by Vic. The sauna is an important Finnish tradition and Vic was more than happy to share the custom and the experience with friends, family and the sometimes un-initiated, a sort of trial by fire and water. The sauna was a place to get squeaky clean, drink beer, laugh heartily, share your stories and troubles, tell a lot of tall tales and maybe even sweat out a few truths. A good Finn is never without a sauna and the custom, being a part of his heritage, remained a part of his life.

In his years as a local businessman, Vic was an avid supporter of community activities and events, the Redwood Valley Fire Department, 4-H projects and numerous Little League teams. He was a sentimental man with particularly soft spot in his heart for children and animals. Vic loved good-hearted, colorful characters and appreciated people of all kinds, from all walks of life and they naturally gravitated to him and to the bar. Vic was always ready to lend a helping hand (and oftentimes, cash) to anyone with a need or a hard luck story. These qualities earned him the unofficial title “the Mayor of Redwood Valley” in addition to another well-earned nickname, the “Bank of Redwood Valley”. With regard to the latter however, his terms and rates were far superior to any bank as he rarely expected debts to be repaid (and most weren’t). That was just the kind of man he was and his generous nature endeared him to people, young and old.

Veikko shared his passion for sports and hunting and his love for the outdoors with his own children and grandchildren. He held a special reverence for nature and wildlife, a reverence from his Finnish heritage that has been passed through the generations. Over the years, he derived tremendous pleasure sharing in the hunting exploits and sports activities of his sons and grandsons. Baseball was his favorite sport and as everyone knows, he was a die-hard fan of the San Francisco Giants. In many ways, baseball was a metaphor for his life and he loved all aspects of the game. As it is with sports in general and with life, there are personal triumphs and tragedies, victories and defeats, joys and frustrations. Being a champion of the underdog, Vic would tell you it is important to never give up, to stay in the game and to be a team player while always striving to be your personal best. That’s how he lived his life and he did it without bravado but with a personal commitment and resolve, humility and optimism. Vic was a passionate player in a very well-lived and well-played game of life. It goes without saying that his wife, Alice – the center of the family until her death in 1987, was a huge part of that. Both Vic and Alice will be missed by a devoted legion of fans, family and friends included.

So here’s to you Vic, “Dad”, Uncle, Brother, Grandpa and Great-Grandpa! You were a contender, a mentor, a friend and a role model, a quiet hero to your family and a beloved member of your community. You did a lot of wonderful things over the years and you helped a lot of people, some of them mere acquaintances or complete strangers. By the example that you set, you have inspired. We raise our glasses to your memory and your legacy. It is no wonder that we have been so reluctant to let you go.

Vic was preceded in death by his wonderful wife Alice Soinila and his two sons, Don Tracy and John Soinila. He is survived by his daughter Julie Soinila, Granddaughter Vivi Tracy, Grandsons Charly Tracy, Jason Tracy, Zachary Soinila, Jared Soinila, Tate Soinila and Joel Soinila, in addition to Nieces, Nephews and several Great Grandchildren. Thanks to Veikko’s fighting spirit and the loving care and support he received when his health was in decline, he was able to remain in his home where he enjoyed the company of his family, friends and his beloved pets, watching the ballgames on T.V. and meeting and holding in his arms, several Great Grandchildren as they entered the fabric of his life.

A celebration to honor the life of Veikko Soinila will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at Frey Family Vineyards and Winery, 14000 Tomki Road in Redwood Valley. Banners will mark the entranceway. Please bring a favorite potluck dish and a story or photos of your memories of Vic if you have any you would like to share. The family wishes to acknowledge Phoenix Home Care and Hospice of Willits for their patient, professional and caring support. The devotion of family, friends and caregivers sustained his spirit along with the love and constant companionship of his last and faithful dog, Katy. Contributions in Vic’s memory can be made to the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire Department - P.O. Box 385 Redwood Valley, CA 95470; or to Phoenix Hospice - 100 San Hedrin Circle, Willits, CA 95490.