Accordning to the The Roanoke Times Inga Donner Solonevich was the mountain! We are so lucky to have met her but very sad that she died just before we got to visit her again this summer. We had the opportunity to once more drive up the mountain dirt road to her lovely Solola on Sheep Mountain in The Smokey Mountains in Virginia. The place she had created with her husband and children in the 1950s and where she still lived when she died in March this year. Her husband George Solonevich died in 2003.
Inga and her family had to flee three dictators around the Second World War, first Stalin, then Hitler and finally also Peron. George was born in Russia and hated the Soviet government, escaped on foot to Finland when he was 18. Inga Donner was born in Tampere, Finland, in 1915, she came from a Swedish speaking family (where 5.5% of the population has Swedish as our mother tongue). Inga met George Solonevich in art school in Helsinki, which he attended briefly after escaping from Russia. The Finnish government declined to let him stay, however (“Stalin had longa arms” Inga once explained to me), and George ended up in Germany – the most anti-communist country in Europe, according to George. Inga followed him there. They were married in 1939 and Mischka, their first child, was born during an air raid in Berlin in 1939.
By the end of the war they were refugees again, fleeing with millions of others out of Eastern Europe in “The Treck”. Inga tells the story of their flight with words and pictures in “The Long Trek to Solola” and “Lågan i mörkret” in Swedish.” The family journeyed for months in a horse-drawn cart piled high with their belongings. Inga says she still has nightmares about the dead and dying they met along the way and could not stop to save.
After the war, the Soloneviches immigrated to Argentina – where they remained for four years while trying to get visas to America. “Four years of paperwork,” Inga says. In 1953 they finally arrived in New York Harbor on a coffee freighter. Their decision to settle in the Roanoke Valley was based on careful research. They liked the good schools, nearby colleges, forests, lakes, cool mountain summers and pure air.
“It had all that we wanted,” Inga says, to The Roanoke Times. The family bought land near Bent Mountain in 1955 which was so remote they had to walk the last mile on a mountain path. But according to Inga, “It was love at first sight.” They called their paradise “Solola”. Inga translates it from Finnish as “the place of the alone ones.” She has lived there ever since.
Inga and George were going to open an art school but found it was not for them and survived instead on the proceeds from George’s work as an illustrator and income from their rental properties on the mountain. They also raised pigs and goats.
“She is the mountain,” Sybil Barrett says to the The Roanoke Times. “I don’t think that anybody who knows her could picture her not there.”
But now Ingas is no where to be seen at Solola but I certenly felt her precence while walking around the mountinside, talking to “her” bumbelbee and listening to the rippling sound of the waterfall which creates Ingas pond with water from the maintains. The sound of thunder in the distance and frogs, birds and crickets. It was not hard to understand why Inga loved that mountin so much and now she IS that mountain.
I am happy that I can stay with Inga and her story a little longer – Hannah and I will put together a history teaching material for high school (with support from Svenska kulturfonden) about Inga and the familie’s flight from Finland, trough Europe and their new life in the Virginia mountains.
A film in Swedish which I made after I visited Inga 2009.