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Rounding Up Memories

Despite Cancellation, Gerry Rodeo Remains Special For Area Couple

Pictured, from left, are Rusty Finch, Nichole Smith, Victoria Smith, Todd Smith and Shirley Finch as they enjoy a barbecue beef dinner at the Gerry Rodeo on the Finch’s 50th wedding anniversary. Submitted photos

After 75 consecutive years, the Gerry Rodeo will not take place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The major fundraiser for the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department will be missed by many, especially Mr. and Mrs. Francis Finch Jr. of Randolph who have attended 50 of the last 52 years.

Shirley Finch first attended the rodeo with her dad, Magnus Thompson, when she was 14 or 15 years old. Thompson and his brother, Jim, built the Falconer Drive-In in 1955 on land that adjoined Magnus’ property on Falconer-Kimball Stand Road. The hardworking father ran a gas station on the same property, but found time to take his children to fun activities.

“He was a fantastic man,” his daughter said.

One of those activities was a square dance that was held weekly at the Randolph Grange Hall. This is where the daughter met Rusty Finch, who took her to the Gerry Rodeo on one of their dates. They married on Aug. 3, 1968, and as they approached their first anniversary, Finch asked his new bride where she would like to celebrate. She replied, “Dinner and the rodeo.”

Pictured, from top to bottom, are Makayla Miller, Jordynn Finch, David Miller and Alex Finch.

They have returned to the event every year since, with the exception of a year that Rusty fell ill and again in 1979 when their newborn son had complications that caused him to remain in the hospital.

“The reason I enjoy it is because it is wholesome, with no booze and no profanity to speak of and the staff is so friendly,” said Shirley Finch, a mother of five. “You meet friends out there. I went to school in Falconer and I see old classmates. Rusty sees trucker friends and people he met on the docks. It’s a big socializing thing for us, and I’m really going to miss it this year.”

The Finches have no preference as to which night they attend the event that is typically held Wednesday through Saturday in late July or early August, with the exception of the years they took their children. It was in those years the family made sure to attend on a Wednesday when a reduced rate was offered.

It is impossible to attend an event for 50 years without acquiring special memories — and the Finches have many. Among them is the year they won a computer when their raffle ticket was drawn. Another year, an unexpected electrical storm sent rodeo participants rushing to their vehicles. Since the couple had chosen their motorcycle as their mode of transportation that evening, they took shelter under a roof extended from one of the buildings. Since they would get wet whether they stayed or headed toward home, they made a decision to wait it out and stay for the show.

“It was one of the best shows we’d seen,” she said.

Shirley and Rusty Finch on their wedding day August 3, 1968. Submitted photo

Another special memory took place two years ago on the occasion of their 50 wedding anniversary when one of their daughters surprised them, with the help of a rodeo volunteer, with a decorated table in the dining room.

“We have 18 grandkids and I think I’ve been (to the rodeo) with just about every one of them,” she said.

After their children were raised, the couple began making it a priority to go to the famous beef dinners all four nights, but only stay for one show.

“I love their beef dinner,” said Shirley Finch, who is happy the rodeo committee decided to offer a drive-through dinner service this year, even though there is no rodeo. “I get to go for my anniversary dinner.”

In addition to their five children and 18 grandchildren, the couple’s family includes nine great-grandchildren. The entire family lives within 10 miles of the Finch home on Jamestown Road with daughter’s, Victoria Smith and Virginia Miller, living behind their parents’ home, and the youngest son, Russell, residing across the road.

Bob Finch lives in Randolph and Richard Finch in Kennedy.

Rusty spent his career as a truck driver for S.M. Flickinger Company and SYSCO Corporation. Mrs. Finch worked at various jobs, including Weber-Knapp Company, Truck-Lite Company and the state of New York.

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