“He never failed to make my day a little brighter with his infectious positivity and I can only imagine that he had the same effect on the thousands of students and faculty he interacted with over his three and a half decades at the school,” Associate Head of School Seth Low said. “He will be sorely missed.”
A native of Morris, Finnemore was a graduate of Wamogo High School and worked for several years at a nursery in Washington Depot owned by Clayton Parks. It was there that he accumulated his horticultural knowledge and expertise. “Charlie always was our go-to guy for any of that knowledge,” said Mark Showalter, The Gunnery’s Director of Facilities, who worked alongside Finnemore for all of his 35 years.
Finnemore joined the Maintenance Department in August 1984 as a carpenter. He was hired by Showalter’s father, Dave, who was a master carpenter and served as Head of Maintenance at The Gunnery for 22 years. “My dad hired him only four months after I was hired here,” Mark Showalter said. Glenn Hartz and Rocky Thomspson joined the department around the same time. “We went through a lot of things together, solved a lot of problems together,” Mark Showalter acknowledged with a slight smile.
Finnemore credited Dave Showalter with teaching him most of what he knew about carpentry and he served the school in that capacity for nearly 30 years before transitioning to working outdoors as a groundskeeper. Over the last several years, he worked extensively to maintain and enhance the school's gardens, landscaping and trees. He kept a small nursery at the shop, where he would winter over plants. “He was so happy. He just loved it,” Mark Showalter said. “He never complained. He would always say to me, ‘We will just do what we have to do.’”
He had a tremendous work ethic. One night, in anticipation of a big snowstorm, Finnemore accepted Peg and Ed Small’s invitation to stay in the guest room at Morehouse House, just to be sure he was on campus early the next day. “He was a fixture of this place, always willing to give you any advice you asked him for,” said Peg Small, who worked with Finnemore on several improvements to Morehouse House, including the design of a new pantry for the kitchen. “He always loved coming up with new ideas.”
Every Saturday, he worked at Linen Rink and he made if fashionable to drive the Zamboni. Finnemore also managed the school’s composting operation, utilizing all of the leaves gathered up from campus in the fall. “He was pretty proud of the fact that he was caring for a lot of the plants without fertilizer, just using the compost,” Showalter said.
An avid reader, Finnemore knew “a lot about a lot of things,” Showalter said, recalling that Finnemore’s beekeeping skills were put to the test on more than one occasion. “We’d have these big swarms that would appear. He would go up there with a cardboard box and swipe them.”
Finnemore was also known on campus for his skills as a locksmith and was the keeper of keys. “He knew how to rekey our locks, which can be a tedious and complicated job,” Showalter said, explaining that Finnemore learned this particular skill over the phone from a hardware store employee in Torrington. “That was before YouTube was popular,” he added.
Just last week, Finnemore had taken his clipboard over to the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center and begun the process of identifying which locks and keys were needed by the arts faculty. “It was his last mission,” Showalter said.
Though he had not announced a decision to retire, Finnemore was looking forward to his retirement years, and Showalter had been saving a special gift for him. It is a replica of the old Ford van Finnemore once drove. Another colleague had painted it and put The Gunnery logo on the side. “I was waiting for him to retire, to give it to him,” Showalter said.
Finnemore’s handiwork can be seen throughout the campus. Earlier this year, he replaced a rhododendron in a corner of Bourne Courtyard with a new lilac bush that is expected to flower for the first time this spring. He was instrumental in the planting of a new Copper Beach at Conroy House and several new trees on campus, one for each current class, in part to replace some of the trees taken down on campus over the last several years.
“Most of us will not benefit much directly from these trees but future generations of students will. They will provide shade and a place to gather, and just beauty,” Head of School Peter Becker said at Convocation, referring to the commemoration of the new trees by students and faculty as “as a simple but powerful way to make concrete our connection to the past and present of this school.”
Just as we benefit from the trees planted by people long before us, “we inherit, we steward, and we pass on,” Becker said.
Charles Finnemore is survived by his wife, Judy, who worked alongside him at The Gunnery for many years; a son, Travis Finnemore; a daughter, Hilary (Finnemore) Carlson; four grandchildren, Ethan, Tyler, Josephine and Charles Joseph (his namesake); and a sister, Laura Halloran. A service will be held on Saturday, December 28 at 2 p.m., at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 121 Dibble St., Torrington. All are welcome.