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     My former neighbor Martha Purje has had a difficult life. Martha was born in 1909 in a small community south of the Arctic Circle in Finland.   Martha’s mother died when Martha was just a child and she went to live with her mother’s relatives. As Martha became older, she was made responsible for the care of her relative’s children, to earn her keep. Martha truly had a bleak childhood

     Many of you remember Bill Vaananen, who lived behind the church in Halsey Valley. He was Martha’s cousin. In the early 1920’s his parents were recent immigrants from Finland, but when they heard about their niece’s plight they scraped up enough money in 1925 to send a ticket to Martha. At 16, Martha did not know one word of English when she left her home and family in Finland never to return. In the 1930’s she met Toivo Nurmi, also of Finnish ancestry, who would later become her husband. Tragically, Toivo died in 1941 after only a few years of marriage. The death of her husband left Martha alone again.  

     The second love in Martha’s life was Oskar Purje in the 1940‘s. They moved to Halsey Valley and started a small chicken farm. During that time, this area was an important producer of eggs for New York City. When the egg production moved to industrial size units, small producers such as Oskar and Martha were squeezed out of the egg business.   They made the difficult decision of selling their egg farm and moved into an old one-room schoolhouse from the 1800.  After 30 years together, Oskar died in the early1980’ties and Martha was alone again.  Her rug weaving did bring in some money, but Martha’s situation was made impossible when yearly school tax increases topped 20%. At that time Martha’s home was confiscated for unpaid taxes. Former county legislator Howard Chrisfield managed to stall the eviction for a few years.  Martha was 83 years old in 1992 and the compassionate thing would have been to have Martha quietly live out her remaining years in the little green house.  .  It was decided somewhere in the bureaucracy that it was unacceptable to allow an old lady to continue living in a house that did not produce any tax revenue for the school district.  Howard Chrisfield had found out about the planned eviction and suggested that I would buy the house from the county and let Martha continue to live in her home. That is what happened and I took over the electric bills so she had heat.  The school taxes on the house were still not more than $267. For that money they were going to throw an 83-year-old lady out of her home. What makes it particularly disturbing is that, as Martha had no children; she had never cost the school district a cent. Martha lived in her home until 2001. Her balance became poor, and she lived out her life in a very nice nursing home in Binghamton. Martha died on Jan. 7, 2004. She is buried in Owego next to Bill Vaananen’s parents who had sponsored her immigration to this great country.