If you asked Harry F. Finke Jr., 89, Centerville, about his time as board president for Dayton’s Calvary Cemetery, his modest response would leave you believing he came in 1963 and simply decided to leave 51 years later in 2014.
Those that worked with him tell a much different story. Rick Meade, superintendent of the Calvary Cemetery Association, said that he met Finke in 1990 after he was hired on at Calvary. “In my opinion, he is a living legend here at Calvary.”
Meade said that when began working at Calvary it was a good but very basic cemetery and through his collaboration with Finke it was expanded and transformed.
“Since I’ve been here we have either built something or refurbished something on a yearly basis,” said Meade.
Finke, a retired civil engineer, began his work with Calvary as a contractor in the late 1950s and early 1960s when his engineering and construction company, The Finke Company designed a new office space for the cemetery. The original office was an old farmhouse that eventually became too crowded to serve its purpose. After that project his company was asked to develop some of the ground, and in 1963 Finke was asked to join the cemetery board and eventually became the board president in 1967.
As president he presided at the meetings of the parish representatives and served as the chief contractor and project manager for the development of the grounds as well as working with the superintendent of the cemetery ensuring smooth operation of short-term and long-term strategic plans of the board.
Of his many projects Finke said that one of his proudest accomplishments was the designing of the Spirit of the Living Water Cremation Garden and overseeing the renovation of the cemetery’s St. Henry’s Memorial Chapel, which was built in 1902.
Calvary was originally built as a Catholic cemetery, but as it opened its gates to people of different faiths and practices they also expanded interment options. Spirit of the Living Water which was built in 2010 is an area where relatives of those who have been cremated can pay their respects in a serene and beautiful environment. The area housing the cremation niches leads out to a small waterfall surrounded by stone path and several flower beds including a butterfly garden and reflection pool.
Spirit of the Living Water is one of four such cremation gardens and mausoleum areas that Finke had a hand in. Others include the Stations of the Cross community mausoleum built in 1995 with its brightly colored mosaic tiled niches, which were added in 2000, the Garden of the Resurrection, which was the cemetery’s first columbarium for cremation niches built 1988-98, and the Evergreens cremation garden built in 2006
During his tenure Finke supervised numerous other projects that changed the face of Calvary Cemetery from its roads to its monuments. When asked how they planned to fill Finke’s shoes now that he is gone Meade said, “Sink or swim.”
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Contact this contributing writer at EricaHarrah@woh.rr.com.