Venninen – a Finnish Hero

by Matti Raappana, degree student in Media

There’s a thing in Finland called sisu. It basically means that you never give up, whatever happens – you do everything to survive. Here in Finland there was a guy, whose life – in my opinion – describes the best way, what sisu means.  Johan Venninen, a true Finnish guru.

Johan Ebenhard Venninen (1.2.1909 – 13.4.2008) was a Finnish inventor. He lived in Vihti, not so far away from Helsinki. When Venninen was only nine years old, he had an accident, which turned out fatal: it made him blind almost the rest of his life. Years later his sight came partially back, but unfortunately only for a moment, because later he had another accident that made him completely blind.

Even Johan was blind, he did wanted to be self-reliant and to find ways to survive alone. He didn’t want anyone to help him. He wanted to do everything by himself. So he became an inventor. He really did. A lot of inventions. He was very handy with metalworks, for example he built a garage and sauna for himself, he repaired even rooftops and did some renovation work. He also mined a cave using explosives (WHAT!!!).

Venninen had a hill next to his house. He wanted to build a garden on the top of the hill, because he noticed that plants grow better there. Because the hill was almost 20 meters high, he made himself a crane-system, which helped him to get soil and water easier to the garden – and amazingly he did all this without any help.

I know this sounds almost like a joke. But wait. This is getting even better. And this all is true!

Venninen loved boating and fishing, but as you can imagine, for a blind person it’s not that easy. That’s why he invented an own compass-system from an old radio. His idea was that this gadget  gives a sound when it was pointed north. And somehow with that device (I can’t understand how) Venninen was able to use his boat and find always a way back home.

Venninen ate mostly raw food. His favourites were smoothies which contained only water and different kind of leafs and plants (dandelions, nettles etc.) which he found in his yard and forest. First he always took a small bite from everything, and then by the taste he knew immediately if it was poisonous or not. He didn’t have any kind of poisonings ever. He really knew what he was doing. He was nearly never sick either. (Maybe also we all just need to try his way.) It’s still mystery for me how he knew so well plants and raw food.

Venninen was living like this over 40 years. All the time inventing something new which helped him in everyday life. He was truly a survivor.

He didn’t have a wife or kids. Most of his life he was just by himself, but indeed happy. For him it was really important to help other people and for example he cured other people of bad back pains with massage.

Johan Venninen got Mensa-award in 2007 when he was 98 years old. One year later he died. His last will was that someone would finish the cave-project which he had already started.

For me the life of Johan Venninen is just something really amazing and inspiring. I know that many Finnish people are pretty relentless (sisu again), but this particular one is still truly much more next-level-stuff. It’s absolutely astonishing how an old, blind man can do this kind of actions.  And for us it is one of the best examples showing that we can do anything we want if we just try hard.

Venninen has said in an interview, that he’s not more special than any other people and anyone else can do exactly the same things, if just wants to. His life indeed inspires me not give up very easily. I hope that it affects you same way.

You can get more info about JV  and amazement feelings as well  by watching some clips in Yle Elävä Arkisto ( — only in Finnish: “Johan on Venninen” ja “Vesille Vennisen mieli” . With English subtitles, try