1932 - 2010
Gordon Finch, a singer, trombonist, and conductor, taught music for twenty years in three different Seventh-day Adventist schools in the Northwest. A versatile person, he was also a talented athlete and skilled woodworker, who would become known as a premier cabinet designer and maker after he retired from teaching.
Gordon was born in Milton, Oregon, the older of two sons born to Frank and Leafa Lang Finch. He spent most of his childhood in western Oregon, where the extended family resided in smaller towns, working as loggers. At a time when there was limited contact with the outside world, the family entertained itself with games and folk songs, including Irish jigs and dancing and music from the early 1900s. Gordon's mother, who was a first grade teacher for forty years, played piano and his father played trumpet and accordion.
He spent the last two years of high school at Columbia Academy in Battleground, Washington, where his mother was girls' dean. It was his first chance to participate in serious music study and he started trombone lessons at this time with Archie Devitt, music teacher at the school.
In 1951, Gordon enrolled as a music major at Walla Walla College, now University, having had only one year of lessons. He compensated for his late start and lack of training with tenacious practice on trombone and other required instruments as he prepared to be a band director. During his last two years, he taught music in elementary schools in nearby Milton and Pendleton, Oregon, to help pay for school expenses. He graduated with a B.Mus. Ed. five years after starting the program.
While in college Finch was known not only for his activity in music but also for his skill as a baseball pitcher with numerous no-hitters to his credit. He also enjoyed playing basketball and tennis and golfing. He employed all of these skills as he later interacted with students and colleagues.
While at WWC, he met and dated Myrlene Klein, who had been raised in a musical family and was a singer, clarinetist, and pianist. Immediately after they married, following his graduation in 1956 from WWC, he was inducted into the army and eventually stationed in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. When it was learned he had a degree in music, he was invited to audition for the 323rd Army Marching band. After he passed the audition, his orders were changed from medic to musician.
As a member of the U.S. Army Medical Command Band at FSH, Finch played French horn, was a rehearsal conductor, and taught music theory. Myrlene passed the U.S. Civil Service examinations and became senior secretary to the Chief of the 4th Army Finance and Accounting Department.
At the end of two years, the Finches returned to the Northwest, where he began his teaching career starting a music program at Seattle Junior Academy. Within two years he presented the band in its first concert. He regarded Paul Coleman, who was conducting the band program at nearby Auburn Academy, as an important mentor during this time.
Finch then taught at Laurelwood Academy near Portland, Oregon, until 1965. While there, he completed an M.Mus. at the University Oregon in 1964, studying with Robert Vagner, noted band director of that era. This experience greatly affected him as he absorbed new concepts and approaches and developed his own unique teaching personality.
While living in Seattle the Finches had their first child, Robert Lynn. Three years later, a daughter, Cheryl JoAnn, completed their family. They would be loving parents who provided their children with a stable home and many opportunities They in later years would provide their parents with a total of twelve grandchildren.
In 1965, the Finches returned to Walla Walla, where he directed the band and taught lessons at Walla Walla Valley Academy. When the choir director unexpectedly left the academy, Finch volunteered to fill in until another teacher could be hired.
To prepare himself for this new responsibility, he started voice study with Harold Lickey at nearby WWC. Under Lickey's tutelage, Finch fully realized the potential of his tenor voice and became a sought-after art song singer and soloist, featured in such works as Handel's Messiah and Randall Thompson's The Nativity According to St. Luke. He found that he enjoyed working with choral groups and when the vacated choral position was not filled, directed both the band and choral program at the school for the next nine years.
He was a popular and respected teacher known for the quality of his ensemble work. Students would later recall him as an inspiring and pivotal person in their formative teenage years, a person who introduced them to substantial band and choral works and, by example, taught them how to live. His departure from the academy in 1978 was a disappointment to many.
Near the end of his life, he dictated the following to one of his caregivers about his years as a music teacher at WWVA:
When I was given the job, I was also given many opportunities to grow professionally, e,g., conducting with H. Lloyd Leno, who is Myrlene's cousin, voice and choral training with Harold Lickey, and much, much more. This training gave me an opportunity to benefit my students at WWVA a great deal. Both Myrlene and I were excited about the move, not only for the professional opportunity, but also with the fact that we were closer to her family. She worked for thirteen years as the executive secretary to the academic vice president at WWU.
The Finches moved back to Seattle in the summer of 1978, and he worked with a brother-in-law in a high-end custom cabinet business. A creative woodworker from his childhood years, he found this career change satisfying and less stressful. Three years later, the family moved to the Portland, Oregon, area, where he and Myrlene founded Classic Cabinet Concepts, Inc. Their work earned the respect of contractors who used their expertise in creating and installing cabinetry in upscale homes and commercial applications, including the control tower at Portland International Airport.
Gordon retired from doing commercial work in 1990. That summer, the Finches spent three weeks in Europe, where they enjoyed a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic and visited numerous historic music sites and other places of interest in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. A lifelong avid reader, Gordon in his retirement years spent more time reading and pursuing what had been an ongoing interest in photography. He also spent time writing two family history books, encouraged and supported by Myrlene.
They were living in Lake Oswego, Oregon, when Gordon died in October 2010, at age seventy-eight.
Source: Myrlene Klein Finch, A Journey of Strength and Love, A short biography of the life of Gordon Finch, man of honor, steel, and velvet, 2011, with permission.