Santtu Winter – a civil engineer and an inventor

It was 1985 when Pertti and Eila Winter packed up their bags in their home town Iisalmi in Eastern Finland and headed west to the Washington State. They settled in Seattle, where Pertti had a job waiting as a pulp and paper consultant in a Finnish company called Ekono. Eila worked in accounting for another company. Nine months later Santtu was born. At the time the family lived in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle.

“Adventure was definitely a big part of it. They wanted to explore the world a little bit, Santtu, now 27, thinks about the parents’ big move.

He enrolled in the University of Washington, majoring in Civil Engineering and graduated from there in 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree. When he turned 18, Santtu got a dual citizenship. His parents moved back to Finland in 2004, this time in the capitol region. The young man stayed behind in Seattle. He fell in love with Amy Schlilaty, a lovely brunette from the affluent neighboring community of Issaquah They got married in the Summer of 2008. That same year Santtu started working for CH2M Hill, an engineering company.

Santtu and Amy Winter now make their home in Portland, Oregon.

“I’m enjoying married life. I think one of my favorite parts of it is companionship. My wife and I are the best of friends,” Santtu testifies. In fact, it was Amy’s studies that brought the couple some 200 miles south to their current home in Portland, Oregon.

“My wife Amy got a residency at a hospital here. She is going to be a dentist. We moved just five months ago. I work for an engineering consulting company dealing with waste water,” Santtu explains.

In addition to his day job, Santtu has been tinkering something with his friends in a garage for quite some time now. It all started when his parents came from Finland to visit.

“They brought a game called Mölkky (mul-kuh), with them. We were on an Oregon coast playing it. It was a lot of fun. When I was in Finland a year or two later, I picked up my own Mölkky set, brought it home and played it at the park with friends. And people would stop and ask, what are you playing,” Santtu reminisces.


Santtu created his Palikka game from an old Finnish tossing game called Mölkky.

Mölkky is a tossing game. There are 12 wooden pins that are 5-6 inches tall and they are numbered 1 through 12. You set them up in a tight, little group. Then you have a slightly larger log that you toss underhand and try to knock off as many pins as you can. The object is to get exactly 50 points by lobbing the tossing log at the tossing line – about three lumberjack steps away from the numbered pins. If a player knocks just one pin down, he or she gets the value of that pin’s number. The same goes with multiple knock-outs.

“So, me and a couple of friends decided that we should take the idea from Mölkky and try to expand on it and make it more versatile. That’s how the idea for a new game was spawned,” Santtu recalls.

“We tried to make it more like a deck of cards or like a dart board. You can play a lot of different games with the same game pieces. The only change we made with the physical set is that we added a 13th pin that is unnumbered. That opens up a lot of doors of different ways to play. You can play the Finnish game Mölkky and the Swedish game Kubb on the same set, Santtu explains.

Santtu tossing.

The new game is called Palikka, which means “block” in Finnish. It is a labor of love of three men: Santtu Winter came up with the original idea. Kevin Kotecki deals with the business aspect of things. Ryan Boyett is a carpenter, who actually builds the sets in his garage. Another Finnish-American, Marko Wallenius, is an artist, who created the Palikka mascot and the company website.

“We got into it for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a great game. The other was just the adventure of starting a business. I’ve never done anything like this before. So, there’s a lot of learning in how to develop a product and make in profitable. It’s also fun to develop something with your friends,” Santtu lists.

For anyone out there, trying to find a Christmas gift that is not made in China, why not consider a truly original gift – a Palikka set.

“We have a website You can buy it there on-line. It costs $39.50.”

Santtu and Amy playing the Palikka game.

Santtu and company have sold around 160 sets so far.

“At first I expected most of the sales to come from the Seattle area, because that’s where we started building them. But as it turns out, we have found customers from throughout the U.S. We have shipped Palikka sets to 25 different states. People hear about it from a friend, or they want to get the game for a friend or for a Christmas gift.”

Speaking of Christmas, Amy and Santtu plan to spend it up north.

“We are going up to Issaquah, where Amy’s parent’s live. That should be a lot of fun.”

Winter in Issaquah


Story, pictures: Lena Hartikainen – West Palm Beach, FL

The Hartikainen family - from the left: Nico, Seppo, Lena and Robert

It was May 1999  in  Helsinki. My husband, Seppo Hartikainen came to me and asked, “If I was to be offered a job in America, would you go with me? Spontaneously I replied: “Sure as long as it is not Florida!

Lo and behold, its now 2012 and I’m writing this, out of all places, in Florida. But back to 1999.  My husband is a Lutheran pastor and in August 1999 he was offered a  job to serve at the Finnish Lutheran Church in Seattle,WA.  We though it would be a nice one-to-three-year experience. Our sons, Nico “the drummer” was 12 and Robert a first grader. We are still on that same trip.

The Hartikainens settled in a Seattle suburb called Edmonds, purchasing a fixer-upper there.

When our good friend in Portland, Oregon heard that we are moving to Seattle, he predicted it will take us exactly five minutes to get used it. It proved out to be true. Naturally, the fact that we had both spend quite a bit of time in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, which is literally next-door, helped, as we had many friends in the Pacific North West region already.

We loved every minute of the seven and a half years that we lived there, except the traffic. My worst traffic experience was on Monday after Thanksgiving in 2006, when I got stuck on the freeway for nine hours in an ice and snowstorm!

The first years were a bit of a struggle financially for us, as it took longer than we expected to get work permit for me. So I spent the first two years renovating an old house built in the 1950’s . For a city girl from Helsinki, who has never even held a hammer in her hand, I have to say I did pretty good job. I learned how to paint, sand hardwood floors, build drywalls, lay tiles and you name it.

Lena renovated the Hartikainen family home by herself.

I loved every corner of that old house. It was a house with an unfinished basement, which we totally finished adding some 1, 000 square feet of  living space. Eventually we even added a sauna. The house was located in the suburbs of Seattle in a little town called Edmonds. It has a terminal where the ferries take you to the Olympic Peninsula.

The Washington state ferries dock in Edmonds.

It was a quaint little town with a lot of charm. We had the Pacific ocean/Puget Sound within walking distance from our home. We couldn’t have asked for more. The public schools were great and our kids blended in in no time. For the 12-year-old Nico, it took a bit longer as he was missing his friend. However, the language of music is the same everywhere. Since he was a talented drummer, the other kids and his music teacher adored him. Nico was enrolled in the pre-IB program and eventually graduated with the IB-diploma from Edmonds-Woodway High School.

The Edmonds marina

It took less for Robert to adapt as he was such an easy going little kid. On the first day however, he was a bit nervous and asked me what he should say if someone says something. “Just use what ever language skills you have and it’ll be ok,” I advised him. So we walk into the room together. As he walks in, he says: “hastala vista baby, I’ll be back!” That was all he knew in “English”. “This boy will do just fine,” the teacher smiled. And so he did.


While living in Washington, Lena had to re-invent herself.

While doing the renovation, I studied for a new career. Professional Life Coaching was not well known yet in the year 2000. My original intention had been to continue my studies in Social Psychology, but as an out-of-state student, the tuition was totally out of my reach, so I found coaching.


The Hartikainens

In Finland, I had worked for Pan Am, Delta and China Airlines in various positions – sales, customer service and management for some 10 + years.  But the travel industry jobs were scarce in the late summer of 2001 when I received my green card. Especially after 9/11 they became almost extinct. I still managed to get a job with a tour operator. My job was to organize tours to Scandinavia, Finland, Russia and the Baltic states.

My unfinished degree from Finland was bothering me. So, in 2005 I enrolled in the University of  Phoenix, and graduated with B.S. in Management two years later.

While a student, I found a job as a Call Center Manager for AAA Washington. I greatly enjoyed the job for its fast pace and great teamwork.

I also ran my first marathon in November of 2005.

At the end of 2006, my husband told me there was an opportunity for him in Florida. So in February of 2007 we found ourselves in the Sunshine State. This time just our younger son Robert came with us.

After living in the Pacific Northwest for seven years, Lena Hartikainen found herself in balmier Florida.

Nico was already 20 and had just signed a record contract with Photo Finish Records. He and his band Danger Radio were ready to tour the world. We accepted the fact that one must follow one’s dream.


While the rest of the family moved to Florida, the eldest son, Nico Hartikainen pursued his dreams in Hollywood.

Now we are in Florida.

My husband Seppo works at the St. Andrews Lutheran Churchas the Senior Pastor. Robert was enrolled in a small private Lake Worth Christian School in the last quarter of his last year in middle school. Again he acclimated to new surroundings without any qualms.


The Hartikainens at church

In 2007 recession hit Florida, which again made it challenging for me to land a job. I used my coaching skills to help others find jobs and develop their careers by launching FindYourJuice-coaching.  But I missed the energy of a larger company. While wondering how to get integrated into the local business world, I co-founded the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Florida with three other businesspeople. I soon discovered the Finnish companies needed more help than what the chamber could offer. So, with another entrepreneur, I co-founded  Optimus Consulting Group Inc. in February of 2011. The first year has been full of excitement and hard work, which is starting to pay off. I look forward to each working day!


Lena Hartikainen went into business by herself in Florida, founding a consulting company.

Meanwhile Robert has graduated from high school and is finishing his first year in Palm Beach State College. Nico has lived in L.A. for the last five years, producing music, both independently and working as a sound engineer for Atlantic Records.


Nico Hartikainen is making a career in Hollywood as a sound engineer and a song writer.

Now that we live in Florida, a steadier stream of visitors come from Finland – most likely due to the more favorable climate and the pool in the backyard.

We did not want to acquire another renovation job in Florida, but purchased a house that had been recently upgraded. Our little Oreo-dog has been with us since 2003 and is loved by visitors and family alike.

The Hartikainen family pool attracts visitors from Finland.

Naturally, due to the role my husband has with the church and I with the FACC we have strong connections to the local Finnish community. So much so, that we don’t feel the need to visit Finland that often – perhaps every two or three years. The boys seem to long for Finland even less, as they are busy with their own lives.

Lena Hartikainen on the beach with her mom, Sisko Antturi

I can’t say I miss anything specific from Finland anymore, as the world is so global and even “näkkileipä” and rye bread can be found at a local supermarket. Naturally we miss family and friends.

The Hartikainen family has happily settled in the United States.