Lee Finch was a dedicated family man and a master craftsman who led a life worth celebrating. He passed away on November 3 at the age of 84 after a long battle with various pulmonary and heart conditions, his loving wife of 62 years, Carol, by his side. Lee was predeceased by daughter, Lisa Koumarianos and brothers, Orrin and Donald Finch. In addition to Carol, he is survived by son Steven Finch, grandchildren Mercedes Koumarianos, Logan Conley, Clara Finch, Quin Finch, family member Antonio Alvor, siblings Kenneth Finch and Susan Hill, and numerous nieces and nephews.
The youngest of five children, Leland George Finch was born September 24, 1939 in Sacramento, CA to Orrin Ernest Finch and Sonoma Baker Finch. He spent the bulk of his childhood in Sacramento before the family moved to San Rafael in 1956. He graduated from San Rafael High School in 1957 and joined the Army a few months later. After basic training, Lee was shipped to Germany where he spent two years assembling electronic parts for nuclear weapons. At the end of three-years’ service he toured 13 countries by train, ingraining a passion for travel and adventure that would stay with him the rest of his days.
Returning home in the summer of 1960, Lee met Carolyn Ongaro at the home of a mutual friend. Cinematically smitten, she returned home to her parents and told them, that same night, she’d just met the man she was going to marry. Eight months later, on May 14, 1961, the union of Lee & Carol Finch was consecrated at the San Francisco Theological Seminary Chapel in San Anselmo. He was 21 and she was 20.
Soon after, Lee went to work for his father-in-law, Quin Ongaro, in the excavating and grading business–piloting loaders and dozers on construction projects in Marin County and beyond. When Quin retired, Lee took over the business as President while Carol stepped in as V.P., Secretary and Treasurer. Like Quin, Lee quickly developed a top notch reputation. Whether for grading residential grounds, bulldozing new business sites or repairing the all too regular landslides that plagued Marin County’s hills, you called Lee Finch Excavating & Grading if you wanted the job done right at a fair price. A master of his craft, Lee joined the Operating Engineers Local 3 Union in 1963–and earned his 60-year pin last year.
In 1965 Lee and Carol adopted their son Steven, and in 1968 their daughter, Lisa. The family lived in Novato until 1977 before purchasing 40 acres of Russian River frontage on Black Bart Trail in Redwood Valley, California. The two of them (with only outside help for masonry, roofing and solar) took to constructing Carol’s Mendocino County dream home, a 19th century style, three-bedroom farmhouse–from the excavation up. The Finch homestead became a haven for family gatherings, generations of golden retrievers and countless river campouts. While Lee was recovering from one of his surgeries, Antonio Alvor, an energetic 20-year old, came to help with the continuing upkeep of their country property. As Lee’s physical health waned, Antonio became a trusted and invaluable support to Lee and Carol. Now considered their third “adopted child,” Antonio has remained an integral member of the Finch family. Finally, after 25 years in the country, Lee’s numerous back surgeries and a myriad of other health issues precluded his ability to care for the property, and he and Carol moved to Ukiah.
A silver lining from his health struggles is that Lee’s disabilities also led to early retirement–giving him and Carol more than 30 years to travel the world together, often in one of their string of three motorhomes. They joined the Diablo Ramblers, a club of fellow RV enthusiasts, meeting up once-a-month for 14 years for outings throughout Northern California. Club campouts were complemented by frequent cross-county road trips to state and national parks–and historical sites such as the Lewis & Clark and Pony Express Trails. Genealogy buffs, Lee and Carol’s sojourns also included seeking ancestral homesites, obscure gravestones and sometimes even the discovery of distant relatives unremembered or long lost.
And there were always especially fond memories of four winters spent sequestered on El Requeson Beach on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur. These multi-month Mexico adventures were filled with lazy happy days kayaking and collecting seashells with their camping friends. Other expedition highlights included eschewing the open road for the open seas with cruises to Alaska, Australia and New Zealand, Panama Canal, Italy and the Caribbean–and river cruises winding through Germany and France. Bucket lists checked and grateful for a fun, fulfilling ride through life, their epic escapades came to a ceremonial close when their last motorhome went up for sale in 2021.
Without fail, you knew that when Lee Finch took on a task, his jack-of-all-trade prowess, persistence and perfectionism meant the results were going to be exceptional. He didn’t just, almost unbelievably, build his family a storybook home in the country, he filled it, and all their homes, with handmade furniture, clocks, cabinets and innumerable other treasures–including a trove of enchanting toys for his grandchildren that will be passed on for generations. In fact, one of Lee’s last creative endeavors was a fleet of toy trucks and tractors, hand crafted to scale, on which he labored an hour or two each day up until the last few weeks of his life. He often worked together in his woodshop with Antonio, who took it upon himself to complete these projects on Lee’s passing.
Beyond his wonders with woodwork, not many knew Lee was also a prolific and accomplished lensman. His legacy of well over 5,000 photographs cataloging a lifetime of travels, triumphs and travails fill up countless albums and wall frames–and still light up Carol’s laptop backgrounds. His was a life well-lived and–in a world of uncertainty–Lee will be remembered always as a stalwart colleague, a steadfast friend and an unwavering source of strength and support to his wife and family. He was a good man who remains in our hearts and who will be terribly missed."