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Old 12-12-2018
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Default John Finn Eulogy by Ed Finn

Ed Finn sent this to Randy and Randy asked me to post it here for all to see.

John Finn 1943-2018

John, the youngest of three, was seven years old when I was born in 1950. He would often say in jest that he had a good thing going until I came along. There is truth in jest. He suddenly became a middle child and he lost his thunder. I must have driven him crazy when we were kids because I was his nemesis and his shadow. I wanted to be just like him because he was my hero. My sister Aggie, is twelve years older than me and she was our surrogate mother when mom was at work. My oldest brother, Jim, is fourteen years older than me and he was a high school guy by that time and running with his friends more than he was at home with us little kids.

Because John had no spouse or significant other and no children, my nephews and nieces and I have had to step in to sort out the details of his estate. I went to his property and motorhome in October and saw many items of his that I haven’t seen in years. I haven’t rummaged through his possessions since I was eleven. In that process, a flood of memories come back to me. I remember once my mother took John and me along to the bank. The clerk at the bank gave us each a scale model 1954 Chevy panel delivery truck/coin bank. John got the blue one and I got the red one and since his was blue….I wanted the blue one too. I think an argument and tug-o-war ensued and we both wound up on the losing end.

John was always obsessed with rolling stock. Our family was interviewed on a local radio/television station commercial cut-in on the Hopalong Cassidy Show in 1951. We were the “Wonderbread Family of the Week”. I have a playback recording of it. The announcer asked John what he liked and he spoke right up and said “I like hot rods best”. Because John liked cars so much, naturally, so did I. Whatever car John thought was cool I thought it was cool too. I learned all my car lingo from him.

Saturday mornings were special when we were kids. No school. No church. Pillow fight…..on! I loved it even though John beat the **** out of me every time. After we got the feathers flying and made a mess out of the bedroom with some moderately destructive behavior it was time for cartoons, The Lone Ranger, Andy Devine, and, of course, Hopalong Cassidy then maybe a trip to Sears with dad.

Music played a big role in our home. Dad sang in the church choir, mom played the radio, and the three older kids took piano lessons. Each had their project song with Jim playing Clare De Lune and Aggie playing Heart and Soul (which she taught me to play one fingered) and John played From a Wigwam. By observing him play I caught on to the fine art of using more than one finger and more than one hand to play the piano. John had to endure the lessons with a mean nun while I just copied him.

In 1955, Jim joined the Air Force and that left three kids at home. I remember a family trip we made to Florida in 1956 where John, at thirteen, met an impressive young lady his age at the hotel pool/beach where we stayed in Miami Beach. She lived in an apartment with her family on one of the upper floors of the hotel and she invited us up. When we went in her apartment, her mother was cooking and the aroma of some very pungent “stinky feet” cheese permeated the air and I shouted out “ooooooh! What stinks in here?” John was mortified. The girl was not amused. Mama shooed us out of her home. John lost the girl and I think I played alone the rest of the trip.

1957 was a year of big changes. Aggie was married and moved out of the house leaving just John and me at home. We moved to a bigger and nicer home right next door to one of John’s best buddies. This was a traumatic time for John as his best buddy was very ill with cystic fibrosis and would soon pass away at age thirteen. John was there to visit his bedridden buddy every day until he could no longer have visitors. He died at home. The whole neighborhood was solemn and sad. John, later in life, would comment on how much his friend’s death had impacted him.

In his teen years, John built plastic model cars…many of them. He went above and beyond the kit instructions by custom sculpting, grafting parts from other kits, swapping engines, painting, taking threads from mom’s sewing kit to use as ignition wires which he glued onto the distributor and sparkplugs of the engines all with deft skill and meticulous detail by using magnifying glasses, tweezers, exacto knives and other improvised tools. He did all this despite the beginning appearances of the hand tremors that would plague him later in life. I built many model cars too but they never turned out as good as John’s. He had more patience than I did. I always wanted to rush the project and get it finished and would screw something up.

In the fall of 1957, I remember John and I went along with dad to test drive a new Chevrolet. The salesman took us to his house in this little rural town in Illinois and showed us a new 1958 Impala he had hidden in his garage as the new models had not yet debuted. John and I both immediately dismissed the Impala as ugly and we lobbied, convincingly, for the much better looking 1957 Bel Air. Then the big issue was color. John wanted copper, I wanted turquoise, dad wanted silver, mom didn’t participate and the car ended up being yellow. I’m not quite sure how that happened but maybe limited availability late in the model year.

I remember during in the summer of 1958 riding along with John and dad on Sundays out to a huge wide open parking lot at a warehouse. Dad let John drive the Chevy and practice turning and backing etc. in that parking lot. John got to drive the car into the garage at the end of the day and back it out the next day. In less than one year he would be old enough to get his driver license. He would have to wait to drive on the open road. It was no secret that John was itching to drive and dad accommodated him as best he could.

But John had an incredible urge to drive. A need to roll. If it rolled he liked it. If it rolled fast he really liked it and if he could drive it…he loved it. That urge to drive caused him some troubles when he crossed a line and became a joy riding unlicensed teen driver of other people’s cars. He was apparently a repeat offender (I was sheltered from the goings on) and suddenly had a new job washing police cars on Saturdays. I thought the job was cool and didn’t realize it was a penalty imposed by the juvenile court. I think the penalty of being around the police cars amplified his urge. One night things went over the top when John decided to “borrow” my cousin’s fairly new ambulance and pick up a couple of friends and take it for a spin. When they crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa…lights, siren and all, a federal offense had just been committed. He was pulled over by the police and the **** hit the fan. I’m sure in his naiveté John had no idea what he was in for. The authorities took a very dim view of a nervy teenager stealing a vehicle and transporting it across a state line even though it’s only about a mile or two from where we lived and where the ambulance was taken. By this time, John was nearly old enough to drive legally.

I learned later that the court wanted to send John to a federal youth detention facility in Ohio but my parents pleaded, successfully, to have him sent to Boys Town near Omaha Nebraska where my dad had a connection and a history. So the next thing I know, we’re taking a trip to Omaha and John is moving. I was still out of the loop and didn’t have a firm grasp on what was happening so I thought this was a cool opportunity for John. No one talked about anything much. It became clearer to me after we had dropped John off and said our good byes. We went to my aunt’s home afterward and my dad broke down and cried at her kitchen table. I had never seen that tough, wiry little Irishman cry before and it shocked me. Apparently the situation wasn’t so cool and graver than I realized. I just think my parents were hurting and found it difficult to explain to a nine year old…so they didn’t.

John graduated high school at Boys Town in 1961. He seemed to like it there after he adjusted. I think he had a sense of belonging and camaraderie. He ran on the track team, worked on the dairy farm, took auto shop, sang baritone in the choir and even went on a multiple city bus tour with the choir. John was artsy and could draw and he always enjoyed it. He could have been a commercial artist and, in fact, worked as one for a brief period after he graduated high school. Because I had to copy him, I like to draw as well but I could never measure up to his standard of artistry. He bought his first car, a 1931 Ford Model A coupe, with some of the money he made drawing Ed Roth style “Wierdo Shirts” with magic markers and dayglow paint for drag racing fans at the local dragstrip on Sundays the summer of 1961. During this time John also toyed with the idea of being a radio announcer or disc jockey.

In the fall of 1961 John would follow my brother Jim’s footsteps and join the Air Force. I think John really liked the Air Force again with a sense of belonging and camaraderie and the additional lift in status toward Jim’s as a member of the Air Force. A serious occupation. I was proud of both of them as were our parents. John was an airplane mechanic and Jim a security policeman. John worked ground crew but he wanted to fly with the plane so he applied for that position when it came up. He had to pass a more rigorous physical exam than his entrance physical exam to qualify for flight status. When the tests came back there was bad news about his kidneys. The Air Force wanted to pay him a lump sum and discharge him.

We are all so thankful that my brother Jim counseled John wisely and instructed him to sign no release nor accept any sum of money to excuse the Air Force from responsibility. They should have caught the problem on the entrance physical or the problem developed after he was inducted. Either way they were on the hook and John was given a medical discharge with full disability and medical coverage. Even though this was a lifesaver for John, it was bittersweet in that he lost that sense of belonging and camaraderie and the status of being an airman and his bid for an advance in rank to a leadership role. He was displaced once again. Jim did 24 years in the Air Force. I think John might have been a lifer too.

By late 1963 John was out of the service and living back at home. Over the next ten years he would work as a city bus driver, a car salesman, a tire salesman, a truck driver, and eventually an oversize load escort and route planner. He was a member of the NHRA and the SCCA. An avid motorcyclist. He used to include me in his escapades at motoring events like sports car rallies and drag racing his bike (I was his pit crew). He was indeed nervy. He liked to push his wheels to the limit. Because of him, I will never get on a motorcycle again. In a fit of road rage, he took off after a guy that nearly ran us off the road and reached 130 mph in the pursuit. John was dressed in full leathers and a helmet. I had jeans, a sweatshirt, Beatle boots and no helmet. It was terrifying even though he was extremely confident and non hesitant…I was scared **** and I had him in a death grip bear hug that would suffocate. This happened fifty three years ago and still…I’ll never get on another motorcycle…ever.

John was married in 1968 and I was his best man. By 1974 that marriage was over and John was starting to show symptoms of his developing kidney disease and he was not feeling well enough to work. He was in Iowa in the wintertime and bummed out that he felt poorly and that his marriage failed and he had nothing to do and felt no sense of purpose. At the time, I was on the road playing in lounge bands at Holiday Inns, Sheratons, Ramada Inns, etc. and I always got a room with the gig and the room always had two beds. I invited him and his dog Pepe down to stay with me in Brunswick, GA where I was working and soon they were there. John stayed on the road with me for a while and his disease was rapidly getting worse. Some nights I would come back to the room after work and he would be curled up in fetal position in the bed, hugging Pepe. His complexion was gray. I wasn’t sure, until he would move, if he was alive. His weight had dropped to about 130 pounds. Later that summer of 1974 John bought his first motorhome and relocated to Ft. Lauderdale. The search for a kidney donor was on and dialysis would soon begin. None of us in the family were a close enough match to be considered as a donor.

He began dialysis at the V.A. hospital in Miami in late 1974 early 1975. He met his future ex-wife there where she worked as a nurse. He began to feel much better after the dialysis and became more active. He enrolled in the photography program at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. In 1976, John and his new wife moved to West Branch, Iowa to be close to the V.A. and University of Iowa hospitals where she would work and John would continue dialysis treatments and eventually receive a kidney transplant in late 1976 early 1977. The doctors told him his new kidney would last six to seven years. They were off the mark by thirty five years or so.

While living in West Branch, John started a photography business that had moderate success which may have developed (no pun intended) had he and his wife decided to stay in Iowa. Once John was feeling better though, he was wanting to move to a warmer climate and since she was a native of Florida, she wanted to get out of Iowa as well. They began searching for a V.A. medical facility with a reputable kidney transplant program and work opportunities for her in the Sun Belt. They found what they were looking for in Columbia, S.C. and moved there around 1980 give or take a year. John put the photography bug on the back burner and went back full swing into nationwide oversize load routing and escorting. I visited his new home once while he and his wife were living in it when I moved from Florida to California in 1982. The next time I would visit the property would be in October of 2018 to look after his affairs. His second marriage ended sometime in the mid-eighties and he rented out the house and moved permanently into his motorhome parked on the lot next to his house. I’m not exactly sure when he acquired the Wanderlodge that was his final home.

My visits with John would consist of him driving to my location. Since there was limited accommodation in his rolling living quarters, visits to his location weren’t practical. He made frequent stops on his escort trips to see Jim, Aggie, and me in Texas, Illinois, and California.

Over the years John’s agenda always included a liberal dose of car racing and attending car related events. In his need for speed he raced just about everywhere in some form or another and he won a ton of trophies. As the years progressed, the oversize load business tapered off and racing events and his involvement with the Wanderlodge Owners Group took up the slack. He loved being a member of the racing culture and the WOG.

John also was a member of AA and NA. I must say that I never saw John take a drink. I never knew John to abuse drugs and he was required to take many to maintain the transplanted kidney. I do feel that John always needed to be a part of an association or group…somewhere that he fit and belonged. He had lost that in being discharged from the air force and by being removed from his home as a teenager and by being displaced by my debut. Those needs were met by his association with AA, NA, WOG and earlier on NHRA and SCCA. In those groups he found acceptance and love and that he felt that he contributed and made a difference to those groups. He found those with whom he had a common interest. These people gave him that sense of belonging and camaraderie that he really cherished. These people were his extended family. These people were, in many ways, closer to him than I was and knew him in ways I did not and never would.

The last time I saw John was last Christmas (2017) when he visited me in Florida. He was not feeling well and had low energy. He had a bronchial irritation and said he thought he could kick it. After he left my part of Florida, he was hospitalized twice in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. I had trouble reaching him by phone at first but got through eventually. He was being released from care when I spoke with him and he waved off my offer to come over.

I last spoke with John several weeks before he passed away. He told me about his scheduled upcoming cataract surgery and that he was getting his Jeep fixed up for sale as he felt he could no longer take it’s rough ride and that he was getting his Cadillac fixed up to be his everyday driver. He was ready to cruise old guy style.

John’s tenants and the local postmaster told me that John did not look to be in good health when he returned from Florida this past spring and that he was moving very slowly and using a cane to walk. He was a stubborn guy and probably thought he could just tough it out. Maybe he was just sick of hospitals and decided he’d had enough. Only he knows. When I spoke with the Richland County Coroner I was told that John died from congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Now it’s just Aggie and me as Jim passed in 2011. John’s beloved pets Bud the beagle and Callie the calico cat are being cared for by John’s tenants and the animals seem content in their new home on familiar grounds.

Rest in peace my big brother. I love you and miss you. You certainly beat all the odds and lived life on your terms. You were a very resilient man and rolled with every punch life threw at you and stood back up. I wish you were still here for one more Saturday morning pillow fight. I think I might be big enough to win this time.

Ed
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Old 12-13-2018
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WOW,
Randy and John, thank you for posting this it is very heart warming and sad too... I will never forget John, he was always there to help me and I will never forget him, again thank you for giving us this synopsis of his trials and tribulations of his life... Thank Ed specifically for it...
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Old 12-13-2018
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Thank You.
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Old 12-13-2018
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X2 thank you
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Old 12-13-2018
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John was one of the first people I met when I joined this group. Yes John liked discipline.
His conversations were always funny but straightforward, always willing to help someone out. I had the pleasure of joining John at many potlucks. The smoothness of John, Bud or Buddy and later on the golf cart rolling up for meals and the ladies that would make sure he had a plate, dessert, drink always made me chuckle. He was smooooooth!
John, you're dearly missed ole friend.
Thanks for this Ed.
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Old 12-13-2018
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Thanks for sharing.
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Old 12-13-2018
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After reading what comes to my mind that John did the best he could. Far from perfect fighting disability disappointments and illness he managed. He love his friends and his family. He cared for his pets. He was a good guy.
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Old 12-13-2018
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Thank you Ed for a beautiful eulogy. John and I had a chance to visit and we talked about our lives, while he was "camped" in my driveway a few years back. So I was aware of most of what you talked about, but coming from a loving brother, who looked up to his big brother, put a whole new perspective on John, that I now understand even better. John was a big brother to all of us here on WOG. I think we were, an addition, to his family that helped make up for the times he was not able to be with his real family. I know he certainly loved all of you, because he always talked very loving of each of you in his family and looked forward to his visits with you. John is missed very much by all of us. He was and always will remain a part of this "family" called WOG.
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Old 12-13-2018
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Thanks for sharing. It looks like John lived life to it's fullest. He is sorely missed.
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Old 12-13-2018
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Thank you for the read . I enjoyed the visits with Mr John at WOG and reading his comments of wisdom on the forum. I feel it was an honor to share the same birthday .
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