Tuovi Baker, 83, passed away on Sunday, May 19, 2019 at a local care center.
Tuovi Marketta Nieminen was born in Finland on Dec 10, 1935 on her parents' farm known as Jarvenpaa. She was the third of five children born to Nikolai and Sylvi Nieminen. Our family's story began with Tuovi's grandfather, Aleksius Hiljanen, who, along with his parents and future wife, were baptized by American Baptist missionaries. Baptists were uncommon in Finland since the state religion was Lutheran. Being Baptist, Tuovi was severely persecuted as a little girl by her classmates, by her teachers at school, and by children from the neighboring farms. She ran "for her life" every day from school home, a distance of 5 miles, to escape abusive kids. She would even hide in the school bathroom until the last minute before running to class.
When Tuovi was 18 years old, she moved from Jarvenpaa to Vaasa to work in a beauty salon and attended beautician school in the evenings. Tuovi also worked in a men's clothing factory when the salon was slow. She met Valde Armas Niemiaho one evening while on a walk, and married him on Valentine's Day Feb 14, 1959. On the farm at Jarvenpaa, Tuovi lived a sheltered life. She described herself as a "green apple" which meant that she was naive, which also explained why she fell for Valde's charm. Markku Ensio Niemiaho was born June 9, 1960 and Virpi Irmeli Niemiaho was born Sept 24, 1961. Valde and Tuovi were divorced on Feb 2, 1964, five years after their marriage. Following the divorce, Tuovi applied for a Visa to immigrate to America but nothing happened.
As a young, single, divorced parent, Tuovi worked in a beauty salon and struggled to make ends meet. Sister Heidemberk, a Swedish woman and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, worked in the salon with Tuovi. In spite of Tuovi's objections, Sister Heidemberk sent the missionaries to Tuovi's apartment in Feb of 1964, which was shortly after her divorce. She had heard awful lies about the church and was terrified of these "devil worshipers".
Tuovi was frustrated when she saw the missionaries on her doorstep, but she didn't have the heart to turn them away because they were soaked. Wisely, on their first appointment, the missionaries only taught doctrine from the Bible. Tuovi believed everything the missionaries taught, and invited them to return. Little by little, the missionaries introduced the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was baptized on June 6, 1964, just four months after beginning her investigation of the restored gospel. Tuovi came under tremendous pressure from her family which was strongly opposed to her conversion. Her father, Nikolai Nieminen, was a poor farmer. He was also a lay Baptist minister like his father-in-law, Alexsius Hiljanen. Nikolai was so angry with his daughter that he dug a pit and burned the Book of Mormon in it. He even plotted with other Baptists against members of Tuovi's new-found faith!
Tuovi's patriarchal blessing stated that the gospel message came to her at a time when the Lord desired to support her in her distress and to give her the comfort that He loves her. Her patriarchal blessing said, of her parents and family, "through providence she was born into a family which according to their understanding, lived according to the gospel. Still, they cannot understand her actions". In the end, Tuovi and her family agreed to be friends and not to talk about her new found faith. Tuovi's conversion and baptism created a wound or rift in the family that never healed.
In hindsight, two generations of lay Baptist ministers in the Nieminen and Hiljanen family had created an excitement for religion. The religious persecution the family endured for being Baptist "prepared the soil" for Tuvoi to eventually accept the message delivered by the missionaries. One of the two missionaries who taught Tuovi was Melbourne W. Stocks of Pocatello, Idaho. Mel graduated from Pocatello High School in 1961, and then served a 2 1/2 year mission to Finland. He returned home to Pocatello, Idaho discouraged because he had only had one baptism in 2 1/2 years of missionary service in Finland. His only convert was a single divorced woman, Tuovi Marketta Nieminen, who had two young children, Markku Ensio and Virpi Irmeli Niemiaho.
A bitter custody battle ensued over the children following the divorce. So deep were the scars from those court proceedings that, even 50 years later, Tuovi could not speak of it without breaking down in tears. Finally, after a difficult and extremely painful two-year court battle, Tuvoi received sole legal custody of her two children, Markku and Virpi. Now, Tuovi had not only a new-found faith, but also had sole custody of her two children. Miraculously, the long forgotten Visa appeared in the mail! Wanting to provide a better life for her two young children, Tuovi made the decision to immigrate to America, even though she couldn't speak English and had very few employable skills. Her family fiercely opposed her decision. In Finland there was an old saying, "You may be running away from a wolf but you might find a bear instead". Tuovi faced many challenges in America, and the old Finnish saying about finding bears was fulfilled many times.
The morning she left for America, both of her small children were very sick. Perhaps they had spent too much time in the sauna the evening before their departure. Tuovi felt the elements were conspiring against her to keep her from leaving. Not only was it storming, but also her children were sick. The family took a cab to the railroad station, then rode the train to Helsinki. Markku remembered throwing up in the raidroad station and seeing the conductor glare at him. Tuovi called the missionaries, who finally arrived after an extended delay. The family received a Priesthood blessing, and then caught the last bus to the airport. Their flight made an unscheduled landing in Iceland due to bad weather and problems with the plane. Once in New York City, Tuovi and her young children went through Ellis Island and finally arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah on August 25, 1966.
In those days, you had to have a sponsoring family to immigrate to America. Tuovi's sponsoring family was Ralph and Nina Morris of Salt Lake City, Utah. They helped her small family find an apartment on C Street in the Avenues in downtown SLC. Tuovi walked one hour every morning to North Temple to work in a beauty salon and then walked home one hour every night because she didn't have a car. Life was not easy for Tuovi as a new immigrant in a new country, where she didn't speak the language. At first she couldn't understand why her checks kept bouncing. Eventually, she learned that her boss had been dishonest with her. Ralph and Nina helped her to resolve this check bouncing dilemma. Later that same boss made inappropriate advances, so Tuovi decided to find employment elsewhere, a men's clothing factory.
Fourteen months after coming to America, Tuovi remarried in October of 1967 to Steve Ahmed Rahawi, a Muslim convert to the church. Because she was an immigrant with few employable skills and two young children, it was hard to fault Tuovi for remarrying a once-Muslim man who simply wouldn't go away. He would not take "no" for an answer so she married him. They had two children together, Sonja Elizabeth Rahawi born February 17, 1970 and Dan Josef Rahawi born March 23, 1974. Tuovi died giving birth to Dan Josef. She described seeing her body on the operating room table during an emergency c-section. Tuovi reported that she returned to her body for the sake of her children. This left her kidneys permanently damaged. As a result, she suffered with high blood pressure for the rest of her life.
Tuovi's Iraqi-born, once-Muslim husband treated her poorly which caused their rocky marriage to end in divorce seven years later in 1976. To make ends meet, Tuovi worked nights as a janitor at Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, California. Later, she worked as a housekeeper. These were difficult jobs that took their toll on her petite body.
Following the divorce, Tuovi met Kenneth Earl Baker on a blind date. Ken was smitten with Tuovi's beauty, and took the missionary lessons shortly after their first date. He was baptized in March of 1977. Ken and Tuovi married later that same year in August, and were sealed in the Oakland Temple one year later. Sadly enough, Tuovi's third marriage also ended in divorce in Oct of 1984, seven years later. Of her three marriages, Tuovi once commented, "I've only made three mistakes in my life". Perhaps in regard to marriage, she was a bit of a "green apple". Tuovi remained single for the balance of her life for the next 35 years.
In October of 1978, Tuovi moved to Pocatello, Idaho and was cared for by her son, Markku Ensio Niemiaho, who was better known in Pocatello as Dr Mark Ensio Baker, an oral surgeon. Tuovi's decision to immigrate to America had certainly blessed her son's life. Tuovi's desire to provide a better life for her two young children, Markku and Virpi, had become a reality.
Imagine a lady, too afraid to drive across town to ShopKo in Pocatello for fear of getting lost, yet courageous enough to immigrate to America with two small children. Tuovi Marketta Baker was described as: classy, shy, gentle, kind, sweet, content, innocent, nurturing, spiritual, courageous, selfless, devoted, caring, stubborn, misunderstood, and stunningly beautiful (especially in her youth). She was also an immaculate housekeeper, an angel, inspirational, a modern-day pioneer, a loving grandmother, and a loving mother. Because of her love, faith, and courage, Tuovi will continue to inspire her family for generations.
Tuovi is finally pain free and she has finally found her fountain of youth. We love you mom.
Services will be held on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 2 pm at the LDS Tyhee Stake Building, 12146 Tyhee Rd. (Tyhee and Moonglow) with a viewing for one hour prior to the services.
Burial will follow at Mountain View Cemetery, 1520 S. 5th Ave. Pocatello, ID.
The audio recording of the funeral service can be listened to by clicking HERE
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