JOLIET – Aleta Finney of Joliet recalled the old car her father Gene Finney bought her mother Barbara so she could transport her children to school – green on the outside, mustard upholstery on the inside.
The vehicle didn’t seem like much, but during the big snowstorm of 1967, Gene put a piece of wood on the front of that “stupid ugly car,” and plowed the roads in the neighborhood. Gene then went door-to-door, asking people what they needed from the grocery store.
That car, Aleta said, took Gene to the store and back, and he didn’t want a dime for his trouble because Gene always maintained that he had everything he needed. He was, Aleta said, a simple man with extraordinary values, a man of few words who taught by example, expected the best from others and didn’t tolerate bad behavior.
“I don’t believe my dad had an enemy in the world,” Aleta said.
Aleta recalled how, when her husband worked long hours and her children were small, Gene finished her basement and regularly mowed the grass. To Aleta, Gene personified stability, dependability, unconditional love and unwavering support.
“He might challenge me,” Aleta said, “but even if he was upset with me, he never stopped believing in me.”
Gene lived his entire life in the Joliet home where he was born. He and his twin brother, Jack, were the youngest two of the six children. Gene’s father, James Polson, was a railroad engineer and often away from home, Aleta said.
James died the night before Gene’s marriage, so Gene added an apartment to the family home. He and Barbara moved in to help care for his mother, Ester Polson.
Eventually, one of Gene’s sisters came home, too, along with her daughter, Betty Rostan of Joliet, and Gene didn’t think twice about it.
“That’s just what you did,” Aleta said, referring to Gene’s commitment to caring for family.
Betty praised Gene’s tireless devotion to his family and friends.
“If he had come home from work and someone called him and said, ‘I need you. Can you help me?’ He’d go,” Betty said. “He was just a person that cared about everybody.”
Gene’s quiet integrity followed him to work. Brent Finney of Plainfield, Gene’s son, called Gene “an incredible craftsman.” Gene retired from Homes by Holmes in Morris after 38 years of dedicated service.
“There weren’t too many people that could hold his hammer,” Brent said. “He pretty much did it all. … I had the honor – and sometimes the not-so-good honor – of working with him growing up. My dad was the kind of guy where you did it right or you didn’t do it at all. He worked hard. That was the way of life for him. His way of relaxing was to go into the garage and build something.”
Bill Holmes, owner of Homes by Holmes in Morris, said he apprenticed under Gene before starting his company and hiring Gene to work for him. Bill praised Gene’s carpentry abilities as well as his friendly personality.
“He was just a good hard-working man,” Bill said.
Gene was 85 when he died April 16. Aleta and Brent both credit their father for molding the good in them.
“I think if everybody had the dad I had,” Brent said, “the world would be a better place.”
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