Helen Finney

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008

Alaska Women in Timber, former Ketchikan City Council member and a co-founder of Alaska Cruise Lecturers Helen Finney died Feb. 25, 2008, in Ketchikan. She was 79.

She was born Helen Ruth Yaw on Nov. 9, 1928, in Sitka, to Caroline (Witzigman) Yaw and Les Yaw, a director of the Sheldon Jackson School during the 1930s and '40s, and later, manager of the Sitka Pioneers Home.

She attended Sitka High School, Cornell College of Iowa and Washington State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in communications.

She also was a teacher, cruise lecturer, political activist and advocate for Alaska who lectured on Southeast history and geography for 30 years. Her community service also included stints on the Alaska State Board on Post-secondary Education, Alaska State Parks Advisory Board, Ketchikan Children's Home board, Ketchikan Gateway Borough Planning Commission, and the board of directors of Ketchikan community radio station KRBD.

While at WSU, she met Don Finney, a forestry major at the nearby University of Idaho. He had spent a summer working on the green chain at the Ketchikan Spruce Mill and had decided to return to Alaska when he graduated. They were married on Dec. 18, 1951, at the Sitka Presbyterian Church.

In 1953, Don took a job with Ketchikan Pulp Co. and they moved to Ketchikan and later to Hollis on Prince of Wales Island. Helen became the camp school teacher for the final six weeks of school one year because the teacher left and she was the only person with a college degree available to fill in.

When it was time to move the camp to a new location, Don and Helen moved their family to Thorne Bay, where she home-schooled their children until the camp and school were moved from Hollis.

"Helen loved the life of the remote camps and often said those were the best years of her life," her family said.

In 1964, the family moved to Ketchikan, where she became active in local issues. "She is remembered for her tireless work in the 1960s in support of a public sewer system for the Carlanna area, when she lobbied the city council, toilet plunger in hand," her family said.

She was active in the League of Women Voters for many years. She served as the local president and on the state board. She was a charter member of the Chapter ★ PEO Sisterhood. She was active in the Women in Agriculture association, helped found the Alaska Women in Timber and served as the last president of that organization in 2000.

She was a tireless advocate and promoter of Alaska and worked especially hard to advance the concerns of the people living in the logging communities in Southeast Alaska.

"Helen befriended everyone she met," her family said. "She picked up strangers hitchhiking along Tongass Avenue and offered them a meal and a place to stay. Her Thanksgiving table always included at least one new friend."

She was preceded in death by her brother, Robert Edgecombe Yaw.

She is survived by her husband, Donald L. Finney, of Ketchikan; daughter, Dr. Debra Finney and her husband, J.G."Koos" Prins, of Folsom, Calif.; sons, Kevin Finney and his wife, Sarah, of Eugene, Ore., and Brad Finney and his wife, Patzy, of Ketchikan; sisters, the Rev. Betty Jo Potter and his wife, the Rev. Taylor Potter, of Pasadena, Calif., and Dr. Nancy Yaw Davis and her husband, Dr. Bill Davis, of Anchorage; brother, Chuck Yaw and his wife, Carol, of Mt. Vernon, Wash.; 10 grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were March 1 at the Ketchikan Presbyterian Church. A celebration of her life followed at the Cape Fox Lodge.

She requested memorial donations to the First City Council on Cancer, P.O. Box 8832, Ketchikan, AK 99901.



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