William Mann Fincke Senior
Manumit Founder, Father of Ben and Bill
Community Church, New York City.
June 7, 1927
NORMAN THOMAS, Chairman
We have come together this evening, out of many walks of life and many different backgrounds, bound together by our common affection for William Fincke, and our common determination that the courage and joy that suffused his life, may live on in some measure in our lives. The telegram I have just received seems to me to express so well something of the feelings in our hearts that I want to read it in opening this service. “Norman Thomas, Community Church, Park Avenue and 34th Street.
WE LOVE BILL FINCKE BECAUSE HE WAS SINCERE. BE WAS CHEERFUL, HE WAS COURAGEOUS. HE HAS PASSED THROUGH THE UNCERTAIN ADVENTURE OF LIFE WITH HIS HEAD HIGH. HE NEVER FORSOOK HIS IDEALS. THE GLORY THAT RADIATED FROM HIM HAS ENTERED INTO US AND MADE OUR LIVES RICHER. HE HAS HELPED TO TEACH US HOW TO LIVE AND ALSO HOW TO DIE. HIS MMORY WILL REMAIN WITH US ALWAYS FRAGRANT AND SWEET.
– J. P. Warbasse
Because we have come, bound by this common affection of ours, not knowing each other very well and not all of us knowing Bill Fincke equally well at all stages of his active career, I am going to give a very brief outline of his life.
He was born on January 1, 1878, in New York City. He was educated at the Hill School and at the Yale Sheffield School, graduating from there in 1901. He then went into the coal business in which his family was interested. In 1908, however, he decided to enter the ministry and came to the Union Theological Seminary from which he was graduated in 1911. It was at the Union Theological
Seminary that the very great gift of his friendship came to me and from that time I was in touch with him and with the events of which we shall speak. After graduation, he became pastor of the Greenwich Presbyterian Church. When America entered the War, Mr. Fincke, believing that War was not in harmony with the Christian religion, expressed his views fairly and frankly. Not finding this the belief of his congregation, he resigned. He then enlisted as a private, a stretcher-bearer, and ambulance driver in one of the first hospital corps to go officially from the United States to France. After doing his fair share, indeed more than his share, he returned to the United States and for a while became active in the Labor Temple at 14th street and Second Avenue. He was not happy in the organized church and ultimately, for conscientious reasons resigned from the ministry. His heart was increasingly on problems of labor in the past-war period and particularly on educational problems as they related themselves to the cause of social justice.
He and Helen, his wife, established on their own farm at Brookwood, near Katonah, N. Y. a very interesting school along modern lines, for children and young people, covering a considerable range of life. Experience convinced them that a school would do better if it were more closely specialized in age and purpose. He, therefore, took the initiative in turning this Brookwood School into the Brookwood Labor College. Having made Brookwood Labor College possible, they withdrew, leaving it in very competent hands.
Bill later became leader of the White Plains Community Church Soon, thereafter, however, he established at his own farm, the Manumit School for the children of workers. This school also, with the backing of educators and labor leaders, he sought to imbue with the best ideals of modern education.
It was to some of us, from more than a personal point of view, a great tragedy indeed when Bill Fincke was stricken with a chronic and fatal illness. Nothing was ever finer than the way he faced this inevitable end.
This is only an outline, and a very inadequate outline. Of Bill Fincke it can be said, as it may be said but of a very few people, “Great as might be his special accomplishments, he himself was greater and better”. We love him for himself. His loyalty never wavered. In all these events of the active years of his life, his comrade and partner in a very close and beautiful sense of the Word was his wife. What he did, she did, and we shall not forget that.
There will be a number of speakers. All of them will speak because they loved Bill Fincke, and not because of their official capacity. None of us could find the Words to adequately translate our feelings, for in our hearts there is a love and affection not easily expressed to one who has made our life richer because he was our friend.
MR. MILBURN (Hill School)
My friends, I have been asked to tell you tonight something of the life of Bill Fincke at the Hill School. I was asked to do so, I take it, because I loved him with a love that one gives almost always only to one’s own son. He lived at the Hill at the beginning of its early years of attainment, at a time when it was reaching out to the high places.
Bill Fincke was a religious boy and he backed to the full the religious life of the school. He was an energetic boy and he was unselfishness personified. He helped to create and foster in that school a spirit working for honor, cleanliness, fineness in feeling and self- sacrifice, which has given rise to the spirit of the school, which is its glory today.
I will just briefly review his accomplishments at the Hill so that you may get a picture of the boy and a touch of the blithesome spirit he carried with him. He played for four years in the football team, was captain twice, played baseball three years, three years onthe track team, was on the picked crew, a member of, and associated with the choir; and he was the best debater of the school, president of his class, and president of the Y. M. C. A. He gave his great and outspoken support to all of the religious life of that school.
I ask myself, as I review this record, – How did he do it? He was not a boy of unusual or exceptional physical prowess nor of unusual or rare and exceptional mental attainments. Neither in body nor in mind wash a giant but, my friends, he had the heart of a giant of the giants. His energy was absolutely tireless. His devotion to a cause was unlimited. He was never content with anything but the very best and the finest and the highest and he gave to that school, and he gave to each and everyone of us, a fabulous amount of his heart and of his whole life. And he was a great fighter. When he saw a cause that was just, he gave it his unwavering support and it seems to me that about this time he became a pacifist. He thought that war was wrong and opposed war in every way he could although it cost him his pastorate, his life’s work, and in some cases intimacies with those who were too narrow minded to see the high character behind his purpose. It took courage to be his kind of pacifist.
I have just come from the Hill School and his memory is as fresh there today as it was on the day he graduated. They still tell stories of his sweetness of spirit and of his great unselfishness and I think I will tell you one story, although it may seem to some not particularly appropriate for such a service.
He was representing his school on the track meet between the Hill and another school. He ran the race knowing that his victory would give victory to the school. He ran the race and he won it and there was no complaint or criticism as to his winning. The cheers were started. Without one moment’s hesitation he went to the judges and said that he tripped and his foot went around the side rather than over the top of the hurdle. He was disqualified and the Hill lost its victory, but that night there was given at the School such a celebration as I never saw afterwards at any time. And it was a celebration in honor of a boy who chose his own honor rather than a victory for himself and for the school for which he had done so much.
This may not seem an important incident to those of you who are in the throes of life and the witnesses of acts of fineness and nobility on every hand. But it is important to me because I think it was indicative of the character of Bill Fincke and shows one of the reasons why we all loved him so.
The years will pass and other men, other boys will write their names upon the records of the Hill. But for ever [sic.] and ever the memory of the name of Billy Fincke will stand out in that place unfaded [sic.] and unforgotten. It will be what I might call, – the image of the glory of the spirit of the Hill.
Mr. FEEDER (Yale)
Through the happy circumstance of the fact that our names began with the same letter, it was my good fortune to meet Bill Fincke at Yale University the very first day. I found him then, as I found him all through our college course, a man of innate modesty, kindness, sincere convictions, — everything that goes to make a fine man. It wasn’t long before I discovered how sincere his religious convictions were and what struck me as being the finest of all is that they were never thrust upon anyone. Bill never criticized. He offered sympathy but more by example than by any other way did he show us really how we should live. Of all the honors that came to him while he was in college, not one of them did he seek. They came to him. There was never any suggestion of campaigning nor pushing himself forward in any way. He was the most prominent of our class of 140 but the whole University of three thousand knew Fincke. He was class vice-president in his freshman year, he played on the football team, on the track team and was captain of the team in his last year. He was vice-president of the varsity and the football associations in his senior year.
At the end of each senior year it is customary for members of a class to have a questionnaire on various characteristics of the members of the class. It means little to the outside world but Bill was voted the most admired member of the class, most prominent, best athlete, and he ran a very close second to the most popular and most versatile. It shows the character of a man as he is judged by his associates.
I have a letter written by a classmate of his, who was very close to him at that time and I shall read it here:-
June 6, 1927
It is a terrible disappointment to me that I cannot be present at dear old Bill’s Memorial Service tomorrow night to speak to his friends gathered there about Bill’s college Life.
It seems as though it were only yesterday that we met for the first time on the Freshmen football field. He came up from Hill school as a man who had already accomplished big things. He had already established himself as a leader, and was immediately appointed to the position of quarterback and was on the first team at once, at dear old Bill’s Memorial Service tomorrow night to speak to his and I know how all of us who had come from little schools and knowing no one looked up to him. He was immediately accepted by all as a leader. It seemed from the first we were drawn towards each other and our wonderful friendship started then. He was made Captain of his Freshmen team and was easily the best man on the team. Our friendship was increased by our both being taken into the same secret society.
In the Spring Bill broadened his athletic career on the track in the high and low hurdles. The next two years he played on the Varsity football and the track teams. He was quarterback on Gordon Brown’s famous team which beat Princeton twenty-nine to five and Harvard twenty-eight to nothing. He was Captain of the track team his last year. In all of his athletics he was the hardest kind of a worker and an inspiring leader.
But athletics was only one side of his college life in which he excelled. He joined the Y. M. C. A. immediately and was a hard and ardent worker in it throughout his college course. His absolute goodness and thorough belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ were a tremendous power towards making all who came in contact with him better and stronger men. During his last year he was head of our Fraternity, and I am sure that all of us who had the privilege of being closely connected with him are better men today.
He was known and loved by the whole Class, much more so than any other man, and not only the Class, but the whole University. We all knew that Bill was absolutely fearless and that once he felt that a thing was right and should be done, he put his shoulder to that task and never flinched no matter what the opposition, and we all loved him dearly for it.
I persona1ly feel, in closing that one of my greatest and dearest friends has passed on, and I think the following lines more closely typify the man he was:
Then, in such hour of need Of your fainting spirited race Ye, like Angels, appear Radiant with ardor divine! Languor is not in your heart, Weakness is not, in your word, Weariness not on your brow. Ye alight in our van! At your voice Panic, despair, flee away. Ye move through the ranks, recall the stragglers, refresh the outworn. Praise, reinspire [sic.] the brave!
Ardor, courage, return. Eyes rekindling, and prayers Follow your step as you go. Ye fill up the gap in our files. Strengthen the wavering line. Stablish,[sic.] continue our march, On to the bound of the waste, On to the City of God.
As always your friend,
(Augustus S. Blagden)
MR. CHAFEE (Labor Temple and Greenwich Church)
Bill Fincke, as most of us call him was one of the most vigorous and winsome personalities it was ever my privilege to know. I met him in the fall of 1915 when he asked me to come to Greenwich Church as his assistant. I remember his enthusiasm for his church. He described to me the work which I was to do but told me to go about it in my own way and only to do one thing – get the work done. He said that if it were better for the work, for him to take orders from me, than for me to take orders from him, then orders were to come from me.
In his work in the church his first thought was always for the poor and for those who were in any way in trouble. To them he gave without stint of himself and of his possessions. He had a rare gift for mingling with young people. He would enter into their work and their spirit at once. I have never known anyone who had so much power over young men and young women as he did.
The time came when he got into difficulties with the trustees of Greenwich Church. He believed that war was contrary to the teachings of Jesus, that he could not preach war. He opposed war and lost his pulpit.
He came to the Labor Temple during the flu epidemic. He worked tirelessly during this period and made enthusiastic friends among the young people at the Temple. I want to read a few words from a letter from one of the Presbyterian Board, Dr. Shriver, who had to leave town this week:
“I recall the trying time we were having at the Labor Temple and I remember particularly how he endeared himself to the Italian group of young men and women. He was a man of high devotion and rare character.”
I think in my own dealings with young people at Greenwich Church and at the Labor Temple, my best recommendation was the fact that I was Mr. Fincke’s friend. Bill Fincke, in the trying jays of the war and in the reaction which followed it, rendered a very real service in keeping open the free speech channels at the Labor Temple Forum. Although he was there only a few months, his memory is still fresh among the members of that institution.
Bill Fincke was a faithful friend to me. I loved him for himself far more than for his achievements, big as they were. I loved him for his keen sense of humor. He once asked me to speak before an audience and asked what I would speak about. I said about “The Church and Labor”. He turned to me and said, “Aside from the fact that the people you will speak to don’t have religion and don’t believe in 1abor I think you have a splendid subject.”
His loyalty and devotion to truth led him into hard places. Such lives as his remain in immortality and constitute a reason why I believe in immortality.
MISS FLANAGAN (Member of Greenwich Church)
I was one of the group of young people at Greenwich Church when Mr. Fincke was there and I think I speak for the whole group when I say, Mr. Fincke was the dynamic spirit there. It was during that period that we began to feel that social life was identified with the Kingdom of God.
Mr. Fincke was so completely genuine in everything he did and there was a quality in what he did which made all the difference. It was the kind of thing that made boys say he was a “peach ofa fellow”. I do think Mr. Fincke had a kind of a genius for felling at the heart of the problems of common people and that in a way was the reason for the assurance we had in him. There was no one like Mr. Fincke to those of us who came in contact with him. Through such souls alone God in His wisdom shows His light for us to ride upon.
JOHN NEVIN SAYRE (Brookwood School and Civil Liberties Union)
William Mann Fincke lived true to his name; especially that middle name “Man”. I do not know of anyone who impressed people, even if they knew him only a little as more of a man than Bill Fincke. Andthe longer one knew him the more he realized that here was a man. I knew him best in connection with the enterprises of which Mr. Thomas has spoken – Brookwood School and the Civil Liberties Union.
Take for instance the Civil Liberties Union. Bill was on its committee from the days shortly after the war until the time of his death and he was always ready to do the very most that he could to keep open the channels for free thought, free speech, free discussion in this country. I remember so well the day when the telephone call came to me out at Brookwood School, asking if I would go out to Pittsburgh or Duquesne and speak at a Civil Liberties meeting there where it was expected that people who spoke there would be jailed. I was not able to go because of another important engagement. I turned to Bill and said, “will you go?” He said, “Sure, I’ll go but I wish you could arrange it that they arrest me before I make a speech for I have no speech to make.” He went out there and got up a meeting on Sunday morning and said about half of one sentence when he was pulled in and spent the night in jail.
It was at Brookwood School that I was closest to Bill. By the unanimous consent of everybody there he was made head of the school.
They called him “Dad Fincke”. And I think back of the remarkable way in which he bore burdens. Pictures crowd in of him struggling with accounts, trying to raise more money besides all his own and Helens which he put in. Washing,dishes and going to Mt. Kisco to get supplies. The way he gave himself in faculty meetings and the long discussions in school meetings, in talks and conferences with the boys. I remember one time he gave up smoking in order to help a certain fellow who needed at that time to give it up. I doubt if there had ever been any other headmaster who bore so many burdens, so many kinds of burdens, who put himself so thoroughly into every- thing that was being done, as Bill Fincke. But the memory that stands out most of all is the memory of his wonderful smile in a wonderful face. It wasn’t easy always in the face of all the experiments of that first year, when there were so many chances for things to go wrong and so many provocations. It wasn’t easy to keep smiling. But Bill met almost everything smiling and always with the courage, the fortitude and the gentleness and the sweetness of a spirit that made it possible for the school to carryon. So I think of his manhood, strong not only in courage, but in gentleness, in sweetness, in simplicity, in humanity and in love.
It is impossible for me to believe that a person like that does not live on; that his clothes, the house in which he lived or the bed on which he slept will last longer than Bill Fincke. I do not believe that a personality that was sso much like the personality of Jesus should not have the power of come-backness,[sic.] a resurrection quality. In this last week Bill Fincke has been coming back to me. Though his body is gone, he has been more real to me than for many days. I venture to say that many of us feel the same way. And it was that personality of the man which must live, not be dissolved into some vagueness or infinitude. The individual power is as clear to us as it ever was, perhaps clearer. So my thought of Bill Fincke is this: A great person with whom I am still in touch, whom God has drawn across the barricades of Heaven.
NORMAN THOMAS (Chairman)
The first Brookwood experiment grew into a second experiment.
It became the first and only resident labor college in the United States. That great work has been carried anunder the inspiring leadership of A. J. Muste who will speak of Bill Fincke as one who prepared the way and made Brookwood possible.
A. J. MUSTE (Brookwood Labor College)
In one sense of the word, no institution is ever founded by one man or one woman. The energy, the thought, the concentration of many go into anything in this world that endures. In another sense of the term, every institution is founded on some one person and in so far as anyone person may be called founder of Brookwood Labor College, Bill Fincke was that person. It was Bill along with Helen who saw the vision of education with some movement, a finding of an organism for his idea, of making the spirit flesh. And it was Bill who saw that in our cay the movement that could make the id ea of such education real, was the Labor Movement. It was Bill again with Helen (it is difficult too think of them separately or to speak of them separately) who got Toscan and Josephine Bennett to interest themselves in the experiment of a resident labor college. It was in Bill’s place, in his home, that on the last day of March and the first day of April 1921, there met a group of labor people and educators who actually launched the experiment. It was Bill and those whom he had drawn in, who interested such labor people as James Maurer, Rose Schneiderman, Abe Lefkowitz, Charles Kutz and others. It was Bill who knew Walton Hamilton and Arthur Gleason (who is still so clear to all of us whoknew him) and got their help. When the decision arrived to launch the experiment, the burden of making the ideal real was put uponBill and Helen and the Bennetts. Bill worked upon it through the spring and summer of that year and worked with perfectly tremendous energy. Then within a couple of weeks of the time when the school was ready to open, because of circumstances over which he and the others who were connected with the experiment, had no control, he severed his active connections with it. What that meant to him, to divorce himself from his own child, a part of his own life, I suppose none of us will ever understand. It never made any difference in Bill’s faithfulness to Brookwood or his faith in it. There was nobody more concerned than he if things went wrong or there was trouble, and nobody believed more expansively when things went well in the years that followed.
I will not go on to talk of Manumit School but it was my privilege to be with him in launching that experiment also.
As has been said, Bill was the kind of person who put his life into those who knew him and into the very places where he resided. And so it will not seem at all strange to you that when a week ago a telegram came to Brookwod saying that Bill had gone, there happened to me what happened to a good many of you at one time or another, – the actual world in which I was then living seemed to drop away and all that day as I went around in Brookwood I was back in that summer of 1921 and I saw some of the things that Nevin Sayre had been telling about. When I went to the barn, Bill Fincke was there feeding cows; when in the garage, Bill was there driving his car; when in the little wood nearby, Bill was there with one of my children on his knee. When I neared the house I saw him interviewing labor students, who came to Brookwood that first year, and who felt that here was not somebody handing down charity but someone who wanted to work with them and was like themselves.[sic.] When I went to the house, I saw him in the faculty meeting fighting for an idea and driving; along to rea1ization. When I went to the office there I saw Bill taking care of the books. You seeBill did pretty much of everything. I saw Bill handing the new check to the treasurer and saying “So long”, on the following day and walking away from Brookwood as if absolutely nothing had happened. And doing it all with tremendous energy, with a marvelous appreciation for the thoughts and the suggestions of others; with a very nice ability to estimate his own faculties which made him a modest but never a humble man.
So, one friend has gone whose going away is very disturbing and desolating.
We have heard a good many things about what Bill Fincke did.
The finest, rarest, and hardest thing he did was to play so large a role with Helen in establishing Brookwood Labor College and then on his own judgment to leave that college to develop itself. He had given largely to it of his own financial means, he had given his very home. I have known courageous men, men who could go to jail, who could go into battle, into all sorts of perils. But here was a man who did a rarer thing. He had the ability, at a certain moment, to efface himself for the thing he loved without the slightest bit of bitterness. The inspiration of that deed is the greatest inspiration from Bill that has come into my life and Helen has played in that inspiration a large part.
DAVID JACOBSON (White Plains Community Church)
No word of mine can add to what has already been said nor do I take it that any word said this evening can add to the stature of Bill Fincke. There he is! Neither do I think are we here this evening to mourn our loss. What we regret is that a life such as his, lived so busily, so intently, should not fulfill itself in duration as well as in intensity and quality. I have often wondered whether the real test of the way of living may not be the road of the end of things Whether Bill thought of it or not, surely he seemed to have lived that way. He has lived a wonderful life. He was always conscious that it would not last forever and he put into it the very finest things that were within his reach.
Those of us in White Plains who were fortunate in having associated with Bill and Helen Fincke had a contact with real leadership. Yet it was not in the form of leadership of the usual forming of committees, doing things for meetings, etc. but rather in coming in contact with a real personality. There was something about him that showed us that there is a way of living. He was full of courage, full of daring, yes, and recklessness, but a fine and sensitized recklessness.
Their leaving White Plains disappointed all of us. Some of us even had the feeling that perhaps they thought we were not good enough sports to go to the full length. Well, we were not Bill Finckes [sic.] but we tried to meet them and surely appreciated them. In a personal sense, though the distance in tradition between Bill Fincke and me is immeasurable, yet meeting with him made me feel one with him. To know him, that sweet courageous, fearless man makes one feel that he can never meet a move lovable friend than Bill Fincke.
Bill and Helen Fincke turned over their farm at Manumit for the use of the Pioneer Youth Camp during three successive summers and Fannia Cohn of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union was very closely connected with this work which was established primarily for the children of the workers.
FANNIA COHN (I. L. G. W. U.)
It is easy to fool adults as to one’s feelings and intentions; it is almost impossible to deceive children. A child instinctively feels a person, at once appreciates one who is sincere and loves him. Perhaps better than anything else, this describes the personality of William Fincke – children loved him as he loved them; children flocked about him as soon as they met him; they called him “Daddy”. The hundreds of children who came to Pioneer Youth Camp loved Bill Fincke and felt at home with him. As long as he was on his farm where Pioneer Youth Camp was, the children did not long for their parents.
It was to be expected that Bill Fincke would love children one who loves humanity loves children. But the children were not alone in their feeling for him. Men and women, too, flocked about him finding in him a friend and comrade. It was his flow of human kindness, his vitality, his cheerfulness that attracted to him all who came to know him.
But his personality is not entirely expressed in this love of human kind. He was, too, the American free lance, the best expression of the free searching spirit, always so welcome to everyone. He knew no bounds; he was not controlled by parties, by rules or regulations. Always eager to find an outlet for his fine emotions, he translated them into ideas and endeavored to experiment with them. This was exemplified in his connection with the establishment of Brookwood and Manumit Schools.
Wethe members of the Pioneer Youth Camp Committee, are especially grateful to Mr. Fincke for having made it possible for us to establish our first camp in the most beautiful surroundings by offering us a part of his grounds. He and Helen Fincke, his wife and comrade, who supported him in all his endeavors, were among the first members of our camp committee. Pioneer Youth will never forget their active assistance.
I find it difficult to express in any words our regret over this great loss. It is especially painful to think now when human skill is finding it possible to subdue the elements – to cross the Atlantic in
a comparatively short few hours, that medical science is unable to save a precious life, still in the midst of activity. His disease was known, but there was no cure for it.
Some men, I believe, can be immortal – such ones as possess fine intellectual and spiritual meaning, inspiring idealism. William Fincke was one of these. The life of such a man does not end with his death. The work he started for human progress goes on. It is perhaps the greatest tribute to William Fincke that the institutions he helped to found, the movements he supported are being carried on though he has left them. There is additional tribute, we feel, in that those who knew William Fincke will continue to hold his memory dear, and will be inspired to further effort by his fine and humane spirit.
CHARLES KUTZ (Pennsylvania – Labor)
Bill Fincke contributed much to me. It was with a great joy, that I couldn’t quite appreciate at the time when I met him in 1919, that I got to know this man. I met Helen Fincke at the same time and learned to love them both. The thing that appealed to me and others of my class, who were very much concerned with industrial problems was their wholehearted interest in the problems affecting workers. It seemed very much the exception, at least in my experience, to meet those who by circumstances were not necessarily obliged to stop in their way and interest themselves in the big problems of the common people and it was indeed a great joy to realize the help that was freely given without any selfish thought of gain. Surely it was the joy of participating in the work that needed to be done that prompted both of them.
I can say this evening what I feel toward Bill Fincke. Perhaps his inspiration largely came from Helen. It seems to me that to feel that Bill Fincke has gone from us, has ceased to remain the influence that he was. It seems to me that of all the personal traits that have been enumerated here this evening, tolerance, kindliness, deep understanding of the problems of others, all these have only been intensified through the institutions which he was so largely responsible in creating – Brookwood and Manumit. Although my contact with Bill Fincke was limited, still I feel that the influence he exerted upon the students of Brookwood who daily came in touch with his life as an example, has undoubtedly been stimulating in the direction of these find personal qualities of Bill Fincke’s; and the world must be better off, must be much larger in itself, in the good things that Bill Fincke represented. And as long as these institutions continue to influence labor so long will we be indebted to the man who made them possible. We should be glad of the fact that Bill Fincke has lived and should take joy in the fact that his influence has not died but will grow as time goes on. I feel that words and deeds are not ample to express the deep personal loss we feel. I believe that we all recognize the great social good, the great collective good that he has contributed. And as he has lived that life is a fitting example for all of us to follow.
ROSE SCHNEIDERMAN (Member of Associated Directors of Manumit)
It was during the beginning of the Farmer-Labor Party that it was my privilege to meet William and Helen Fincke. I remember that time, for life seemed so much larger immediately after one was with them. One felt that things would somehow right themselves if we had human beings like Helen and Bill. Later on came the idea of Brookwood, and there again at the first meeting when Brookwood was being discussed, again we all felt – my colleagues who were with me – the magnitude of the man and the magnitude of the woman, the divine spark that was there. And as we went away we felt sure that the launching of Brookwood could be entrusted to Bill and Helen Fincke. Later we learned that Bill and Helen severed connections with Brookwood. I remember expressing a feeling of deep regret not for Helen and Bill who were leaving Brookwood, but for the young men and women coming to Brookwood because they would not be under their influence, they would not know them as closely as they would ‘when living in the same community. Then when Manumit was discussed, we felt that it was all right when Bill and Helen were there. We were right there to back them.
I know the joy that the children had in the two years that it was given to them to live under the same roof with Helen and Bill. I shall never forget how he entered into their games, their problems and how he washed dishes with them. Dad Fincke was the great example. They were all going to Yale because Dad had gone to Yale. They would al docertain things because Dad did them. Once I was there in the winter time and someone was heard prowling around the place. Dad went for the intruder.
When he found him, he said, “What can I do for you?” That was Dad’s greeting for the burglar.
I am so glad for the children who were there those two years and whose privilege it was to know Dad and Mummy. I know that their lives will be so much larger and more glorious. Unknowlingly [sic.]they will carry with them the spirit and the faith that Bill had in what was right and what was just and what was good.
For the Associates, I can only say, – There are no words to express our feelings about Bill and his passing away. All through this winter, although he was ill, he attended the boar’ meetings and we often had strenuous times. His clear-headedness, patience and understanding were a great help to all of us. We feel that because of him Brookwood must live. It must become the great school that Bill wanted it to become.
I am glad that we had Bill with us. The world is larger better and more beautiful for Bill having been here.
It will be impossible to read all the letters and telegrams that have been received. I should like, however, to read a letter received from one of the parents of the children who came to Manumit:
I cannot be at the Service in memorial to Wm. Fincke but I want to at least send an expression of my sincere regard.
Such men as Bill Fincke are rare and we can ill afford to lose them. But when they go fighting as he fought this his death, we think of nothing more than the indomitable will of man. Daddy and Mummy Fincke, as my youngsters call them, are made of such a fibre [sic] as stiffens up the sinews and puts new heart into those who live among the minorities.
Faithfully, Bill Bridge ” (William H. Bridge, Hunter College, New York City).
And I should like to read to you, also a letter that came from the man whose courtesy made it possible for us to hold this meeting here.
This letter comes from John Haynes Holmes, Minister of this Community Church:-
“I think of William Fincke as one who 1ived humbly, happily truly, triumphantly, the religious life which he preferred, and which as a minister, he served.
“He met the supreme test early in the crisis of the Great War.
Amid all the confusion of that dreadful time, he kept a clear mind and a single eye; amid all the terrors that swept about him, he preserved an undaunted heart. Unflinchingly he bore his testimony against the sins of the nations, and without a word of complaint or bitterness, he paid the price of challenging alone the passions of the multitude.
Serenely, heroically, he laid down his professional life upon the unsullied altar of his ideals. It was then that I first heard of him, and came to know him. The high nobility of his example, the quiet simplicity of his sacrifice, brought to me as it did to others com- fort and reassurance. “The Truth,” says Edwin Arlington Robinson, in one of his poems,
“The Truth neither shakes nor wavers, But the world shakes, and we shriek.”
So we do, most of us! But not so William Fincke! He, like Truth itself, neither shook nor wavered when the world went crashing terribly about him. He died, as he lived, one of the few in this land, ‘who needeth not to be ashamed.’
“The test of the War came to Fincke not only early but unsolicited.
He had nothing to say about it. Another test, however, came of his own choosing. What a million others have avoided, he went deliberately to meet. I refer, of course, to the spiritual test of property. “Bill” Fincke had a generous share of this world’s goods. If not wealthy, he had much more than he could use in ways of simple living.
And he did what I sometimes think to be the hardest thing in life – put by what he could gladly, even innocently spend on himself and his family for the multitudinous things of life that can be [c sic.][b]ought for a price and sought the wisest ways of using his money for the happiness and betterment of his fellows. Today there stand two great institutions as monuments of his selfless bravery, -‘ Katonah and Manumit. There they are – these schools for labor – the living witness of one who gave what he had for the Kingdom. Unlike the rich young man in the parable, William Fincke turned not away but followed resolutely the Master whom he had sought.
“These tests, so magnificently met, were not, after all, so exceptional as they seem. They were just a part, even though a conspicuous part, of the basic substance of a life. When William Fincke put by the enticements of social and business life to accept the modest duties of a parish minister – when he turned away from his own class and kind to join hands with the downtrodden and oppressed – when he walked with Death these lest few months and made of him a friend – he was the same simple, courageous, stalwart man. He practiced the noblest virtues more early, more lightly, than any man that I have ever known. There was not a trace in him of pose, or effort, or heroic gesture. Like the virtuoso pianist, he did the most difficult things so easily that one was almost unconscious of the sublimity of his achievement. And he would have had it so, for he sought not fame, or praise, or credit, but just the humble satisfaction of King Arthur’s knights – to ‘Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King, Else, wherefore born?’
In life and in death alike, William Fincke was a “Christian Gentleman”, in the truest and noblest sense of that great phrase. God give to him the rest that he so richly earned!
– JOHN HAYNES HOLMES”
The way that we can best show our love for a great soul that has gone before us is to carryon with the same loyalty the work he has left behind. Bill Fincke was as loyal to the church as when he left the church. His mind might change as to the way he should travel but he was always valiant for truth. Therefore, I can find no words to do him honor more appropriate than the words of a man, John Bunyon, whose religious philosophy Billy Fincke in his later years emphatically did not share:
“After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-Truth was sent for by a summons …….. When he understood it he called for his friends and told them of it. Then, said he, ‘I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my reward.’
When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which as he went he said: ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ And as he went down deeper, he said: ‘Grave, where is thy victory?’ So he passed over and all the trumpets sound for him on the other side.”
The trumpets sound for us in our heart when we think of Bill Fincke. In the sound of those trumpets let us go forth.