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Kaisa K. Saari, a Naselle resident, 78, died March 24, 2017, in Portland, Oregon. She was born in Kuopio, Finland, on May 29, 1938, to Tauno and Rauha (Miettinen) Kankkunen. The oldest of five children, she spent her early life in Finland, growing up in Kuopio, and later, Jyväskylä. After graduating high school, Kaisa fed her interest in language by traveling to the United States, where she intended to learn English and return to Finland as an English teacher. Instead, she met Wilho Saari, whom she married in June 1957, a few months after their first introduction.
Wilho and Kaisa settled first in Seattle, where Wilho was finishing his student teaching. Shortly after, they moved to North River, Wash., where Wilho taught for two years, and where they welcomed their first child, son Riki, in 1959. The following year, the family moved back to Seattle, so Kaisa could attend Seattle Pacific University. During her four years of study, Kaisa received her Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish, and had her second child, daughter Karen, in 1962. She immediately went on to obtain her Master’s Degree in Spanish from the University of Washington.
In 1965, the Saaris accepted teaching positions at a mission school in Liberia, West Africa, where they lived until 1969. Upon finishing their African adventure, the young family moved to Wilho’s hometown of Naselle, Wash., which they made their permanent residence. Until her retirement from Naselle High School in 1995, Kaisa was a well-loved, fun-spirited foreign language teacher of Spanish, German and Finnish.
Kaisa was a consistent presence in the Naselle community. She and Wilho could always be spotted in the crowd at school sporting events and performances. They seemed to serve as unofficial community grandparents, with residents of all ages referring to them as “Mummi” and “Ukki” — the Finnish terms for “grandma” and “grandpa” used by the couple’s six grandchildren. She loved music, and lent her voice to several community choirs. She was also a devoted member of the Naselle Assembly of God Church, where she could always be found sitting in her same spot: in the front, off to the side. Her faith was her greatest passion and solace, and fueled every decision she made.
Though her earlier years were filled with travel and adventure, Kaisa’s later life was, as she said, “gentle.” She enjoyed racing Wilho in daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles; she usually won. She spent many hours a day knitting — she never used a pattern and hardly even needed to look down, but always produced works of art that were gifted to family members and community members, alike. She invested deeply and quietly in the lives of the people she loved. When retirement spurred a new musical career for Wilho, she traveled alongside him as his “roadie.” She personally and prayerfully rooted her grandchildren on in each venture. She welcomed visitors warmly, treated all graciously and is remembered, especially for the sincerely kind smile that always accompanied any greeting.
Kaisa was preceded in death by her brother, Kauko Kankkunen and sister, Kerttu Gustavson. She is survived by Wilho Sarri, her beloved husband of 59 years, two children and spouses, Riki and (Jill) Saari, Karen and (Greg) Nelson; six grandchildren, Kyle, Kirsten and Kenny Saari, Kelsi, Karli and Kayti Nelson; her sister and brother, Kirsti Mustonen and Kari Kankkunen of Finland, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Services will be held Saturday, April 8, at 1 p.m. at Naselle Assembly of God. Arrangements are being provided by Penttila’s Chapel By the Sea and her guest book is available at www.penttilaschapel.com.
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