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Thomas E. Finch

BUTTE, Mont. – Thomas Edward Finch passed away suddenly Sunday, March 17, 2013.

Tom was born March 30, 1940, in Sterling, the only child of Francis David and Hazel Beulah (Ahrens) Finch. He grew up in Dixon, attended local schools, and graduated from Dixon High School in 1958. While playing in the clarinet section in the high school band, he met Kathleen Eleanor Currens. After dating for several years, Tom and Kathleen were married on June 17, 1962, in Nachusa, with Kathy’s uncle, Wilbur Currens, officiating.

Tom graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mining engineering from the University of Illinois in 1963. While Kathy began her teaching career, he continued his education, completing his Master of Science degree in mining engineering, also from the University of Illinois in 1964. The couple moved to Minneapolis, where Tom worked for the Federal Bureau of Mines. In 1965, they welcomed their first child, Ann Elizabeth. In 1966, he began his long career as an educator, taking the position, sight unseen, of assistant professor of mining engineering at the Montana School of Mines in Butte. Son Andrew Thomas joined the family in 1967. 

In 1969, the Finches left Butte for 2 years, returning to the Midwest, where Tom taught mining engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. However, his love for the West helped return them to Butte, where Tom resumed teaching at Montana Tech. The family finally was perfect when son Daniel Francis was born on a snowy October day in 1972, in Butte. Tom continued his education throughout this time, completing his Ph.D. in mining engineering from the University of Idaho in 1978.

Promotion to associate professor was achieved in 1976, and full professorship in 1983. Tom was named the Ingersoll-Rand, Utah International Professor in 1983, and in 1996 was named the Newmont Mining Professor. He served as department head of the mining department from 1981 to 1988.

Professor Finch was an outstanding teacher who took great interest and pride in his students, often having them join family Thanksgiving dinners or use his garage to repair cars. In 1975, he received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and in 1978 received the Amoco Outstanding Teacher Award. In 1995, the Old Timers Club, a national organization of coal mining executives, awarded Tom the Old Timers faculty award for being the most outstanding mining professor in the nation. This joined his Old Timers award for Top Mining Senior in 1963 at the University of Illinois.

He received professional engineer certification in 1979, and served on the Professional Certification Committee for the Society of Mining Engineers. He had served as head of all the education committees of SME, and was an accreditation visitor for ABET for many years. Professor Finch was a member of the Montana Coal Board from 1990 to 1997. He was the advisory engineer when Atlantic Richfield Co. closed Butte operations, and advised on projects in South Africa and West Iryan Jaya, Indonesia. In 2009, he was awarded the Ben F. Dickerson III Award, which recognized professionalism and contributions to the mining industry. Despite all these awards, Tom’s true calling was teaching and mentoring his students. He always said, for good or for bad, he influenced more than 700 graduates, many of whom kept in contact throughout the years.

His personal interests all can be classified as “tinkering.” Whether it was buying old Army Jeeps, collecting/buying/selling British military items, rebuilding cabins on his 20-acre mining claim, or mowing the knapweed and feeding the birds at the “Relyea” outside of Phosphate, Mont., Tom could never be accused of having nothing to do. His interest in military collectibles took him to hundreds of gun shows and kept him busy researching the history of his purchases – never failing to share what he learned with his friends, children, and grandchildren. He was happiest outdoors, and took every opportunity to go “play in the woods.”

He loved teaching, but always said he chose that career so he could have his summers free to spend with his family. Weekends, while his children were small, always were spent exploring the woods, interspersed with day trips to ghost towns and gun shows. After his retirement, he always was found “helping” Kathy at their bookstore, Second Edition Books, where many former students and colleagues would stop by to visit. Words cannot truly express how many lives he touched and positively influenced, complete with his wit and sarcasm. He could not fully pull off his tough exterior, for those who knew Tom always were aware of his deep concern and love for his friends, family, and students.

Tom is survived by his wife of 50 years, Kathleen; and three children, Ann Finch-Johnston and Todd Johnston of Butte, Andrew and Colleen (O’Leary) Finch of Great Falls, Mont., and Daniel and Leslie (Gardner) Finch of Missoula, Mont. Tom was blessed with seven favorite grandchildren, including Thomas, Noah and Samantha Johnston, Alex and Hailey Finch, and Ian and Jacob Finch.

He was preceded in death by his parents.

Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Wayrynen-Richards Funeral Home in Butte, followed by the funeral at 2 p.m. Friday at Mountain View Methodist Church in Butte. After internment, a reception celebrating Tom’s life will be held at Aldersgate Methodist Church, 1621 Thornton Ave., Butte.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Mountain View Methodist Church, 203 W. Quartz St., Butte, MT 59701, or the Montana Tech Mining Engineering Department, 1300 W. Park St., Butte, MT 59701, in Tom’s name, where a scholarship fund has been established.

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