Hytermä is known most of all for Romu-Heikki and his wife Lilli who lived on the islands (Lilli was originally called Little Julia). Heikki Häyrynen – rural police chief, chief accountant of the military, Romu-Heikki – and his wife Lilli Häyrynen are an inseparable part of the history of Kerimäki. Häyrynen, born in Mikkeli in 1874, carried out his life's work as rural police chief from 1916 to 1940 in Kangasala, Sysmä, and finally Kerimäki. He was a complex personality, known not only for his hot and stubborn temper but also his passion for collecting old objects. His nature-lover's spirit was unleashed on the Hytermä islands (Iso-Hytermä and Pieni-Hytermä and "Lavvii", 53 hectares in all), that the Häyrynens acquired in 1925–1929. They established a nature reserve there in 1932, the first in Mikkeli.
The islands witnessed the start of some hard work for the Häyrynens, as the forest had evidently been poorly managed in the past. They were so impressed by the islands' natural beauty that Heikki, in particular, began idolising them. No sacrifice was too great for his Hytermä. When describing his paradise, Romu-Heikki talked about the "Hytermä ideology" and compared Hytermä's rise from degradation to new splendour with the legend of the Phoenix. He gently trimmed and thinned the tree stands, rather losing a finger from his hand than unnecessarily felling any tree that might make Hytermä more beautiful.
A Collector's Dream of a Museum
Romu-Heikki's enthusiasm for museums and collecting miscellaneous objects surpassed even his great love of nature. This is why he earned the nickname Romu-Heikki – romu is the Finnish word for scrap. When the Häyrynens lived in Kangasala, their home was like a museum. Photos of that era show vast numbers of paintings, sculptures, silver and tin objects, gobelins, period furniture, crystal chandeliers, weapons, and much more. In Kerimäki, Häyrynen's first plan was to establish a forest and home district museum in an old grain warehouse, but when that project came to nothing, he focused all his energy on setting up an ethnological collection in the Hytermä nature reserve.
Some old objects had already been placed on Hytermä before, but the so-called Hytermä collection began to take shape in earnest in 1937. Four old storehouses, for example, were transported to Hytermä along ice roads in winter, to house folklore objects categorised by quality. Categories included hunting, fishing, the household and spirit distilling. A former firewood shed was converted into a "forest museum", lined with shingles. In it, Häyrynen collected "forest specialities" he had found: crooked branches, gnarls, knotted trees, polypores, etc.
An Abundance of Ideas, from a Windmill to a Monument Built of Millstones
First to be built were a small cottage, an outbuilding, a sauna and boathouse with jetty. Romu-Heikki was never short of ideas, and had a draw-well, swings, tar-burning pit, balcony-access storehouse and villa built on the island. The sauna was also enlarged, and a windmill brought in from a nearby island. Staircases, embankments and seats were built of stone.
Häyrynen collected around one hundred millstones for Hytermä. These and stones collected when clearing the island were built into staircases, embankments and seats all over the islands. At the time when Hytermä was built, unemployment was rife and Häyrynen wanted to help the locals by providing work. The most famous structure, the "Labour Memorial", was completed in 1937. Heikki Häyrynen's wish to express his great appreciation of the work of ancestors resulted in this massive monument, that with cross and granite orbs stands more than seven metres tall. The wide staircase leading from the monument to the shore forms the memorial's pedestal. The Häyrynen couple wanted to have their final resting place near their life's work. A cemetery, complete with sturdy stone wall and elaborate iron gate, was therefore consecrated on Laviasaari in 1934.
Life's Work Destroyed by Fire
The Häyrynens had planned to spend their old age in Hytermä and had renovated the villa for the purpose. This came to nothing after a shocking incident: on 27 April 1942, the villa and its irreplaceable mementoes were destroyed by fire, lit by a spark that had jumped to the roof.
When old age took its toll, the Häyrynens donated the nature reserve and all buildings to the State in 1942, retaining only the right to use the place and maintain the collections. As early as the following summer, a procession of boats transported the master of Hytermä to be buried in the ground he so loved. A decade later, the lady of the house was buried beside her husband, under a mound of stones. Hytermä had taken its own.