SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (Feb. 6, 2013) — When retired St. Robert City Administrator Jack Fincher died Saturday, he left a city behind where employees helped fix lunch on Wednesday for more than 60 members of his family, even though he’d been gone from the city administrator’s office for nearly a decade. Mayor George Sanders ordered city flags to half-staff until Thursday morning and the city council voted on Monday to issue a proclamation in his honor.
Fincher’s final retirement for health reasons in 2004 didn’t end his community involvement. He ran for and was elected to the city council and continued to serve on the Pulaski County Ambulance District board, working with the same tenacity that had allowed him earlier in life to remain city administrator despite losing most of his lungs and riding in a wheelchair.
For City Clerk Debbie Adkins — the city’s second-longest serving employee who knew Fincher 34 years ago when he was still working in the street department — Fincher was a fixture in city government.
“He liked to say he was hired as a meter reader and worked his way up,” Adkins said. “Jack was a worker, and the thing about Jack was he knew this city. If somebody couldn’t locate a water line or anything, Jack knew exactly where it was… Jack loved St. Robert; he was totally, totally dedicated to St. Robert.”
Much of that knowledge has been passed on to Steve Long, the city’s current director of public works, who Adkins said worked closely with Fincher to learn the city’s infrastructure.
However, some of the knowledge didn’t deal with city infrastructure but rather city residents, dating back to the days when St. Robert was charitably regarded as a “wild west” environment, partaking in both the benefits and the problems of life outside the gates of Fort Leonard Wood when it was still a Vietnam-era basic training post.
“Believe me, Jack told me something about everybody in this town, and if I told it, I’d have been dead a long time ago,” Adkins said.
The city’s employee roster has expanded dramatically over the years. Adkins was one of slightly more than a dozen city employees when she was hired for office work; the city now has 107 people on its payroll, and during his decades in city government beginning in 1969, Fincher at one point worked in or headed almost every department in the growing city. His roles include meter reader, policeman, fire chief, electrician, street and water superintendent, director of public works, building inspector, and land use administrator before finally being promoted to the top post of city administrator.
“Jack never had anybody do something that he wouldn’t do himself, whether it was digging a ditch or climbing on a backhoe or whatever,” Adkins said. “Everybody then knew Jack. If anybody had a problem with anything, they called Jack and he was very compassionate, but Jack could be very, very stern when he needed to be.”
Finance Administrator Edna Givens started her job much later in September of 1995 when Fincher was already the city administrator, working alongside him for 11 years before his retirement.
“He was awesome at it,” Givens said. “Jack has always had a caring heart. He cared not just about the employees but any individual. He would give you the shirt off his back if he had to; he was always like that. Very professional, very knowledgeable about the position that he held, and I really respected Jack a lot.”
Givens said it was obvious to employees that Fincher loved the city of St. Robert.
“It was like home,” Givens said. “There are some places where you go to work 8 to 5 and work, work, work all day, and that’s it, no laughter, no personality.”
As a community, St. Robert has changed radically over the years. Fincher did things decades ago which Adkins and Givens both agreed would never be tolerated today.
“I can’t tell some of them stories,” Adkins said. “Jack was hilarious; if you did something to him, you could be assured that something would be happening back to you… if we’d had an HR person back then, we’d have all been in jail. We all kidded around with each other.”
Fincher also had a blunt side that came out in the workplace when he thought it was warranted.
“Somebody had done something wrong and we were upstairs in the old city hall in a staff meeting,” Adkins said. “Jack let out a few cuss words and we come downstairs and (former city clerk Myrtle Long) said, ‘I think I’m going to go home; this is terrible.’ I said, ‘That was nothing compared to what I’d heard.’”
One story that’s become the subject of wildly exaggerated rumors was an altercation between Fincher and a city council member at a council meeting. Both are now dead, though both have many relatives still living in the area.
“He brought a baseball bat in,” Adkins said. “There was something going on and a contention between both of them. One was definitely going to do this, one was definitely going to do this, one was right and one was wrong, and Jack was right. I just remember Jack had a baseball bat. He went out to his truck and then he came walking down the hall with this baseball bat and I thought, ‘Oh, now we’re going to have it.’ Then they called the police chief, who then was Dennis Thompson, over.”
Fincher had also served as a police officer, and had more experience confronting criminals than being confronted by police.
“Somebody had stolen his mom’s Cadillac,” Adkins said. “He ditched the car (in the woods) and took off running, and about the time Jack shot in the air to get this guys attention, the guy hit a tree. Jack thought he had shot him.”
Some of Fincher’s less violent stories included the work he and Adkins did during an unsuccessful effort in the 1970s to force a vote on consolidating Waynesville and St. Robert. Fincher strongly opposed that effort.
“He was very adamant that the city was not going to be annexed by Waynesville,” Adkins said. “Me and him spent I don’t know how many hours at the courthouse going through the (annexation) petition, making sure that these people even lived where they did. What we did was we pulled voter registration cards and went through and checked stuff. We spent hours doing that.”
“Finally they ruled it just wasn’t going to happen and that was probably one of the happiest days of Jack’s life,” Adkins said.
While Fincher loved St. Robert, the city council didn’t always love him back. However, he outlasted virtually everyone on the city council.
“Jack would say he’d been hired and fired more than any other person in one night,” Adkins said. “All the people that I grew up with and worked with had pretty much left by the time Jack retired.”
Fincher continued working in St. Robert despite major health problems, at one point doing his city duties while riding a wheelchair after lung surgery that had removed one lung and much of his second remaining lung.
“It didn’t bother him a bit,” said the current interim city administrator, Anita Ivey.
“He did it; I can’t imagine how you would do that. The city was his life — the city, the citizens, and the people who worked here,” Ivey said. “He didn’t have a life outside of that very much.”
While Fincher’s health declined in recent years, he’d once been a physically strong man, serving on active duty in the Navy but leaving after one term of enlistment at the pay grade of E-5, comparable to an Army sergeant. He had been a fan of Harley riding, and Givens said she had a picture of him with long hair down his back riding his beloved motorcycle.
Fincher was born in Hartville not far away from Pulaski County; his father came to St. Robert to run a car dealership serving the growing military presence on Fort Leonard Wood. He graduated from Waynesville High School, and except for his time in the Navy and a brief period moving to his son’s home in Minnesota, spent most of his life in St. Robert.
As a younger man, Fincher interacted with some people now in local government back when they were teenagers, including Ivey, whose family owned the Champlain Truck Stop at the site currently occupied by McDonald’s restaurant in St. Robert.
“To me he was just an awesome man. He was older than me, but growing up he always had time for the kids… to me, he was just bigger than life,” Ivey said. “We bought our gas from the Finchers for the truck stop, and you weren’t allowed to have riders in the gas truck, but Jack drove the truck at night to go to the depot to pick up the gas, so he would let me and my brother take turns at riding in the gas truck with him at night, and the stipulation was that if he got pulled over, or saw a cop, us kids had to get on the floorboards and cover up with a blanket.”
A few years later as a young adult, Ivey went to work in Camdenton for the Lake Ozarks Council of Local Governments and interacted with Fincher while she was doing grant writing and administration work for the city of St. Robert.
“Jack used to always tell me not to get in government,” Ivey said. “He told me the story about how in one city council meeting he got hired, fired, and hired back, all in one night, and he said nobody in the world could have the record that he had…. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for his convictions.”
“What you saw is what you got,” Ivey said.
Fincher visited Ivey at the St. Robert city hall just a few weeks before his death, and gave her practical advice about city government.
“He’ll be missed by everybody, I think,” Ivey said. “To me, he was the city of St. Robert… he gave the city a good foundation to build on and that’s what has happened since.”
Obituary: Jack Dale Fincher, Sr., 65
May 22, 1947-Feb. 2, 2013
Jack Dale Fincher, Sr., son of the late Junior Dale and Alice Marie (Richard) Fincher, was born May 22, 1947 in Hartville. As a young boy, Jack and his family moved to the Waynesville area where he grew up and graduated from high school.
In 1964, Jack entered the United States Navy and served his country faithfully until his honorable discharge in 1968. He had attained the rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer E-5.
On October 25, 1972, Jack was united in marriage to Nellie Jean Richards in Houston. They shared 22 years of marriage together before she preceded him in death on May 23, 1994. Jack and Nellie were blessed with three sons: Jack Dale, Jr., Steven Michael and James Darrin.
Jack moved to the Waynesville-St. Robert area and immediately became involved in the community. He served as City Administrator for the city of St. Robert and retired from that position on March 1, 2004. He also served for 20 years on the Pulaski County Ambulance Board. In his spare time, Jack enjoyed being outdoors while fishing and also liked doing photography.
On June 30, 2002, Jack was baptized at the New Friendship Baptist Church and became a member there.
Jack passed away Saturday, February 2, 2013, in Phelps County Regional Medical Center of Rolla, having attained the age of 65 years, 8 months and 12 days. He will be sadly missed but fondly remembered by all those that knew and loved him.
Jack leaves to cherish his memory four sons, Steven Fincher and his wife Kimberly of St. Robert, James Fincher and his wife Melissa of Hibbing, Minn., Jack Dale Fincher, Jr., and his wife Ida of Madera, Calif., and Matthew Voigt and his wife Brandi of St. Robert; his daughter, Amanda Voigt of Waynesville; eight grandchildren, Tiffany, Caitlin, Brittany, Ashley, Brandon, Alyssa, Rylie and Jace; four great-grandchildren: Sade, Damarion, Maci, and Kace; two brothers: Ronnie Fincher and his wife Karen of St. Robert and Kenny Fincher and his wife Debi of Lakeside, Calif.; his sister, Dorothy Gilstrap and her husband Travis of Crocker; and a number of nieces and nephews.
In addition to his parents and wife, Jack was preceded in death by two brothers, Bob Indermuehle and Bruce Fincher.
The funeral service was under the direction of Waynesville Memorial Chapel, held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, preceded by visitation from noon to the time of service.