50 years and counting, couple celebrates milestone

February 15, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Finnegans celebrate golden anniversary, share a lifetime of tales

Leo and Rose Finnegan spoil their black Lab, Murphy, as they retell stories about their 50-year marriage and how they raised five children. Contributed

After spending 50 years together, raising five children and helping Issaquah’s handicapped adult community, Leo and Rose Finnegan have a lifetime of stories to share.

The two grew up in Montana and attended grade school together, but it was not until they crossed paths at a funeral that romantic sparks flew.

The two had already moved into early adulthood, with Rose earning her nursing degree and Leo studying engineering at Gonzaga University and the University of Notre Dame.

Leo’s grandmother passed away in summer 1960, and Rose’s mother, who knew the family, took Rose with her to the wake.

“For some reason, we just clicked,” Rose said. “We had an awful lot in common. We felt like we knew each other very well.”

By that summer, Leo proposed and they married Jan. 28, 1961.

“It was probably my grandmother’s doing,” Leo said.

The young couple moved frequently in their early years, from Colorado to Idaho to Michigan to Montana, and finally to Issaquah.

Leo worked for aerospace companies and with nuclear power. He even worked on a computer code that predicted what would happen should a commercial nuclear power plant explode. His calculations proved correct with the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, not that it was of much help at the time.

Rose secured nursing jobs or taught nursing to students. When they moved from Idaho to Michigan, the family caravanned in two cars, their children keeping them awake with chatter late into the night.

Rose and Leo had four boys and one girl — Shawn, Patty, Tim, Mike and Dan.

Helping Tim grow

After church one Sunday, when he was 2, Tim had a seizure.

His parents noticed his development was slower than his brothers, “but he wasn’t that far off,” Leo said.

“We were getting kind of suspicious when he wasn’t reaching the milestones,” Rose said.

Anxious, the Finnegans took Tim to the doctor, but they didn’t get the response they expected.

“The first thing they said is, ‘You might as well institutionalize him,’” Rose said.

“We told him in no uncertain terms that wouldn’t be an option,” Leo said.

They told their children that Tim’s brain wasn’t quite like everybody else’s, so it took him longer to learn.

His older brother and sisters Shawn and Patty kept an eye out for him, helping Tim if he had a seizure on the school bus.

“They would always put Tim down on the floor,” Rose said. “When you have a seizure, you’re confused. One would talk to Tim and the other would calm down the bus driver.”

Throughout the years, the Finnegans adjusted the medicine and dosage for their middle child. They learned what seemed to trigger his seizures and how to help him.

In 1974, they moved to Issaquah and decided to stay put.

“With the five kids, we needed a bigger place,” Leo said.

On their way to a University of Washington Huskies game, Tim fell down during a seizure and Rose bent over to catch him. Police thought there was a fight and sped over to break it up, but once they realized the situation, escorted the family inside the arena to their seats and led Tim to a bed where he could sleep and recover.

Community involvement

Over the years, Leo and Rose involved themselves in their children’s lives, coaching sports and leading 4-H projects.

When their other children graduated high school and left for college, Tim stayed at his parents’ house, working and volunteering with Eastside Fire & Rescue and the city of Issaquah. The Finnegans loved their son, but they wanted him to be independent if anything happened to them. They joined a group of parents and created Life Enrichment Options, more commonly known in the community as LEO, an acronym that Leo called, “totally coincidental.”

They thought LEO would serve as an employment agency, but it soon became more, helping adults with handicaps connect with services and providing them a home for independent living.

The two LEO houses — the Rose House (founded in 2003), and the Ann House (founded in 2006) — each have a contracted caregiver helping a total of 10 residents. As a community, Issaquah has supported LEO, especially through the Issaquah Rotary Challenge Race, an annual soapbox derby for children with disabilities.

“They’re not focused on material things, they’re focused on the people in their lives,” the couple’s daughter Patty Finnegan-Siegel said. “I feel blessed to have such wonderful parents.”

When Tim, now 44, moved into Ann House, named for LEO co-Founder Ann Dennis, the Finnegan family took turns calling him every night to check in on him. The second night, he was having so much fun, the family decided it was a good fit.

“When Tim left, we were pretty confident he had social skills,” Leo said. “He can’t read or write, but he knows what a stop sign is and which bathroom to use.”

At the Finnegan residence, the empty nesters stay busy at their church, with softball tournaments, helping friends, playing tennis and LEO work.

Though they celebrated their 50th anniversary Jan. 28, the couple plans to celebrate it all year, doing something special every month, kicking it off with a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

“It takes teamwork to maintain and grow in a relationship, and this includes prayer, along with making time for just fun things,” Rose said.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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One Response to “50 years and counting, couple celebrates milestone”

  1. Jerry Hensler on March 1st, 2011 1:25 pm

    To Leo and Rose: Congratulations and God bless you on your 50th from Jerry Hensler, ND Class of 60 . This is a great life story. We kind of keep up on the Finnegans through Don and Sue Curet when we see them. Leo was my Notre Dame lab instructor in the Heat Power Lab (I believe) in 1958.

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