William Mann Fincke

William Mann Fincke

Dear Manumit folk:

It would be desirable, I believe, to collect for the web site ancedotes, comments about, memories of, etc. Billy Fincke. In

addition, it would be desirable to have biographical data on
Billy (birth/death dates, marriages, education dates, etc.). There is a very thoughtful piece about Ben by Joyce Brown, and stuff about Billy would add to the Manumit record.

William Mann Fincke

Regards, mike The one that typifies him best for me has to do with my mistaken impression that hunting and fishing were part of the Manumit curriculum. It came as somewhat of a surprise to return from a hunting jaunt with my .22 to find my packed bags sitting on the front porch of Broad Meadows.  My mother had been informed of my imminent (or should that be eminent?) arrival. Her greeting was cool. For the four days at home I was a non-person; present, but invisible. Tiring of my non-existence, I packed and took the bus back to Pawling/Patterson. I had my mind made up that Billy was the one who was going to be a non-person. See how he liked being ignored.

“The bus driver, George, who envied us our schooling at Broad Meadows, dropped me off at the big lawn out front. With bags in hand, and a firm resolve to ‘punish’ Billy, I headed for the Broad Meadows building. And here came Billy on the dead run. He grabbed me (bags and all), hugged me with tears in his eyes and almost carried me ‘home’. My resolve dissolved. How could anyone stay mad at Billy Fincke?” [from David Seymour, anecdote re circa 1942, obtained by Barbara Dutton Dretzin] I found the two documents [on web site] written by Billy on educational theory very academic. On the other hand, I got a new perspective of Billy from the reading, one of a very smart dedicated educator with a mission whereas by 1957, Billy was, in my 12 year old mind, sort of a slightly excentric comic figure. It was good to have this new view of Billy and, indirectly, the underlying philosophy of the school.” [Jonathan Paul, email 2006] Return to Index

Ferdie, When I was young, Manumit was Heaven. As young as four years old, my cousin Maggy and I had the run of the place. From early morning we were out, exploring, inventing games, following the big kids, returning only to Aunt Magda’s loud “Whoo-oo Whoo-oo-oo-ooooo”, or the ringing of the “bell”….

Jenny- I loved being part of it all. I am told that when I was very little I followed Billy everywhere I was allowed to. There was a photo of me clinging to his knee while he “conducted” the assembly in song. Certainly, he tried to be there for me when I needed it. It didn”t matter that he was also there for dozens of other kids. Uncle Ben was the same way. When you were with him,it was like you were the most important person in the world. My special time with him before I was old enough to live in the dorms (something I lobbied for from kindergarten) was bedtime. Almost every night Billy would come into my room to talk, then read (never little kid books..I had to get my mother to read those). He read the novels of Alcott, Burnett, and finally Dickens. Then he would sing. I was a tyrant those nights. When he took students out to star gaze, he would often wake me up and take me with him.

I moved into the dorms when I was eight. Partly because I was so devastated by the loss of my cousins;my close companions since birth. The adults did not handle that one well. Our parents gave us no information on what happened. One day, Ben, Magda, Grae, and Kate were gone. Once I became really part of the school, thats where I wanted to be. Billy had this philosophy (Rousseau???) That people were essentially born “good”, that all they needed was to be protected from evil influence and they would grow into themselves, right and true. This led to a kind of “benign neglect”. Certainly I was left to find my own way when I did not have a clue which way to go and often went nowhere at all out of fear and confusion.But, mostly , I think that was better than many alternatives… He really was a kind and caring man, who wanted so much to make the world a better place for children. His mistakes were from a lack of understanding. He was often incapable of seeing things from another’s perspective.

Still, his gifts were many. It is so very good to hear from you all they many ways he influenced your lives for the better. He suffered much in later years. His drinking, which got the better of him, had him on a downward spiral for years, but  he came out of that and was pulling his life together. He reached out to me, to his brother, and to I don’t know how many others, with a greater understanding of himself, and renewed caring for life.

On a lighter note… did you know that Billy could mimic most bird calls? He’d whistle to them through his front teeth. He could really get them going. Looking forward to seeing many of you at the reunion; Jenny
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John Kramer-Wasn’t Billy the Yellow Breasted Nuthatch? Thanks for bringing back that memory of nights at second base pointing at stars light years away – no,no, not that one, the other one over there; see where I’m pointing. I remember Sirius, and the seven sisters, the big dipper and, of course, Orion’s belt, with his sword hanging down; was never too sure about the rest of him though. jk
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Fincke, William Mann, “The Effect of Asking Questions to Develop Purposes for Reading on the Attainment of Higher Levels of Comprehension in a Population of Third Grade Readers.” Education
Doctoral Dissertation, Temple University, 1968. 140 pages

Dear Folk —
A few notes regarding Billy Fincke after Manumit was closed in 1957(As best as I know.)
1. After Manumit was not given its license for 1958 in the Fall of 1957, Billy continued to have a few children under different regulations — I’m not sure what they were or for how long, if at all, beyond the 1957-58 year.

2. Billy, ever the learner, studied for a Ph.D ( “The Effect of Asking Questions to Develop Purposes for Reading on the Attainment of Higher Levels of Comprehension in a Population of Third Grade Readers,” Education Doctoral Dissertation, Temple University, 1968. 140 pages. Completed in 1967.) I recall that he told me once about writing vocabulary controlled stuff about science for older children who were learning to read — the idea being that the usual beginning reading material was clearly not intellectually challenging enough for older children.

3. After the Manumit Pa. property was sold in 1963 (I don’t know if he recouped any money after school debts were settled), Billy moved to Conn. where, I believe, he taught remedial reading at several public schools.  I last met him in the Fall of 1967 to go together to a memorial for A. J. Muste who had presided at the funeral for Rev. WMF, Sr. in 1927. Billy seemed in very good shape.

4. Billy was found dead on January 4, 1968.
Regards, mike

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Barbara Dutton Dretzin
Yes, I remember that little Crosley–  it was moonless night…Punky Courson and few other muscled kids moved the car–one of the guys put it in neutral and all pushed the Crosley to the barn.  I didn’t see Billy’s reaction but Crosley and Billy were united later that morning. No harm done, but a great deal of excitement at breakdfast time. Klaus B.

[NOTE: hand-written and read by Herb Adelman at gathering of Manumit folk at the Cowgirl” on Hudson Street, NYC on May 18, 2012]

Bill Fincke A contemplation by Steve Stevenson (Manumit: 1939-1944) with minor aditons by Pete Silveston (Manumit: 1937-1945)

“Steve wanted to be here but is ill. Not my view – I am only messenger.” [Herb Adelman]

A personal tragedy is when a person does not attain the achievement; the greatness that seemed possible, when the vision that inspired the individual could not be realized.

To get a sense of Billy’s tragedy (Billy is what we, colleagues and students, called him), we need to look at his vision and how much of it he accomplished. Although it can be hard to grasp a vision unless it is written down, actions often suggest the vision, even if only imprecisely. What were those actions?

Here are some of them: a large investment of his personal fortune in the Pawling property, structuring a student class based on emotional maturity rather than on calendar age, devising a weekly class program through a discussion between teacher and pupils, the concept of community instead of just scholastic duties and responsibilities for each pupil, an emphasis on group creativity through class plays bulletin board displays building projects (I and eight year olds building a bridge to a tiny island in the brook running through the school property). All of these actions in a school environment were unusual, if not unique, in the l930’s and point to a belief in personal development rather than scores in achievement tests as the rationale for what a school should be about.

Billy’s vision, as I sensed it, was that teaching should focus on what it means to be “human,” to be a free, creative, humane individual. Personally, I have tried to live out this vision in my life. Manumit, literally freeing of the hands, signified for Billy freeing of the mind. This is what education is all about.

A school requires people so the choice of such people is another aspect of vision. Billy brought together some remarkable people: Leon and Edith Allen, gentle, Quaker pacifists; Polly Levinson, never without a smile; Allan Ohta, super athlete; Rob and Meg Barstow, another pacifist couple, and the amiable doctor, Fritz Breithaupt.

Unfortunately, Billy lived out the vision after the means to realize it had collapsed. The nature of a vision is that it has it’s moment when time and nature are kind. It is fresh with precious energy. The time passes and the energy is lost and for one reason or the other cannot be replenished. The vision is lost.

A devastating fire, then the Common Wealth of Pennsylvania placing demands on the free spirit of the vision changed its realization into a struggle for survival. Billy, who saw the vision as his purpose in life, recognized probably the crumbling of that vision, but couldn’t or wouldn’t compromise it. Failure of the vision was Billy’s personal tragedy. Despite this, those of us meeting today bear testimony to the success of his vision in our lives and to the value of his life and struggle.