An Unflagging Finn and Family Man

98-year old Niilo (“Neil”) Keto was always a kind and generous older brother, observes his little sister, Saimi (also profiled in this exhibit). Nine decades later she still remembers the ice cream cones he would buy for her and how he chauffeured her from their home of Maynard, Massachusetts to Boston so that she could attend college there.

Neil’s parents, Herman and Alma Keto, were immigrants from Finland who met in Massachusetts after arriving in America about 1890. Neil was the sixth of eight children in a devoted family. Their hometown, Maynard, was predominantly Irish but also included a significant Finnish population.

When he turned 90, Neil made the difficult decision to uproot himself from his home and move to a retirement community. “It’s just logical when a person gets to this stage,” Neil says with acceptance.

His new living quarters was the Scandinavian Living Center in West Newton, Massachusetts, an assisted living facility modeled after the Scandinavian concept of ensuring that older people lead meaningful and dignified lives. Here Neil has been able to maintain his independence and continue his connection with family and friends. Neil initially walked a rigorous mile every day at the Center, but a bout with the flu weakened his lungs, making it difficult to continue his exercise.

His Lutheran faith has guided him all his life. At midlife he assisted in building a new Lutheran church for his community, and today he never misses worship services.

Although he has lost sight in one eye, he reads voraciously – including the daily Boston Globe and books on Finnish history, the Bicentennial, and the Revolutionary War (titles such as The Flags of Our Fathers and 1776 are conspicuous on his bookshelves). He keeps his mind alert by doing word search puzzles and other stumpers.

“My dad is usually game for a lively discussion on world politics or religion,” says son Bill, who visits frequently. Yet be forewarned: according to Bill, Neil is set in his ways and is not very likely to compromise his immutable opinions.

[Sadly, Neil died in June, 2009.]

Neil Keto