Ruffling Finch’s Feathers

Finch copy

In a Gazoo column I wrote one time, the text turned toward the Frandsen Apartments. That saga leads to David Finch, a fixture in the legacy of Reno High School when it was Reno’s only public secondary school (through 1961.) Finch was an English teacher, and later the principal of enormous tenure at RHS, and many callers reminded me that he lived – using the term loosely – at the Frandsen Apartments, alone, for many decades. Very few residents of Reno in the mid-1900s were not touched by his influence – either themselves, or their children or parents. I’ll let my friend and frequent correspondent Lenore Jordan, who lives [lived] in Santa Rosa, Calif., write the next segment of the column (Lenore left Reno in 1947.)   Lenore speaks of her childhood in a small mining camp called Rochester in the Humboldt Range east of Lovelock. Her father was a millwright for the silver mine, her mother the postmistress, teacher, seamstress and president of the school board. The family journeyed to Reno when Lenore was to be born in 1919 (sorry, Lenore! I needed that year for the story…). She writes: ”When I was about 5 years old a new teacher came to Rochester. He was fairly tall, carried himself straight as could be, had beautiful hair with a perfect wave in it and was, of all things, a Stanford graduate! He was looking for a place to live in and my folks owned a little cabin, which was vacant at the time, with its own outhouse. This new fellow was Mister Finch! ”I wanted to go to school but I was too young, however Mr. Finch would now and then let me sit in the schoolroom and look at books. By the time I was old enough to enroll he was off to some place else – maybe Reno – I don’t know. ”Fast forward to about 1934 when I was going to Reno High School and guess who turned out to be my English teacher! He was truly a good teacher and seemed fond of kids, and I learned a great deal from him. He had dinner with us from time to time but never showed me any favoritism at school. ”By the way, Miss Singleton was my home room teacher! Great memories all.” What a great letter, one of many Lenore has sent me. (Two notes beg to be scribed: Mentioning David Finch and outhouse in the same paragraph defies responsible journalism, and Beulah Singleton was still around in the late 1950s as well. In an old column I misidentified her as the co-author of our Nevada history book with Effie Mona Mack. Mack’s co-author was Byrd Sawyer, former Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer’s mother. Singleton later did a revision.

Lenore’s description of Finch hit the nail on the head two decades later: tall, impeccable hair with a wave, ramrod-straight carriage, aloof, austere. He ran Reno High with an iron hand, teaching by the mid-1950s only one class a year – Human Relations – an honors, by-invitation-only course that was the only safe harbor on the then-new Booth Street campus where one could utter a horrid word like “intercour…” well, you know, without being bounced off the baseball or debate team, in the stringent world of David Finch. He was an automaton that would stride home each night to the Frandsen Apartments – to reappear, wraithlike, the next morning. We did South Pacific as a senior class play (1959), and as one might imagine, Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics became by necessity “…There is nothing like a girl!” in the Finch libretto. No dames in our gym, no sirree. (That’s during the final dress rehearsal, of course – at the Big Show, there was nothing like a dame…) People I knew as teachers, administrators and coaches then, who in the last 40 years have become adult friends, agree that he retired without fanfare. He since passed away on the San Francisco Peninsula, in almost-embarrassing obscurity. Only in recent years have a few of us begun to realize that maybe he did one hell of a job as a principal, in his own Victorian way – the proof was in the pudding: Reno High enjoyed national recognition in many areas. Lenore’s letter infused a miniscule spark of affection in me for the man – the respect was always there – and who knows, if a new high school ever needs a name (it would have to be a high school), then “David Finch High” doesn’t have a bad ring to it after all. We’ve named schools after a few a lot less deserving. And the team-name mascot’s a snap: the Finch Finchies. That suggestion ought to get the ol’ phone a-ringing. …

• • •

[Footnote: this column brought a lot of response from all corners of the nation, from Reno High alums who came to respect the iconoclastic David Finch in the years following our graduation into later life].



2 thoughts on “Ruffling Finch’s Feathers

Comments are closed.