The Shelbyville community was enjoying a festive day of celebration at the dedication of the reconstructed and renovated Public Square in the summer of 1980. Mayor Dan Theobald, in the first year of his first term, prepared to address the assembly of citizens as the community band played.
Well-known band member Maurice Finkel paused for a quick radio interview and closed his comments by saying, “We have a beautiful new circle, music and Shelbyville people. What more could a person ask for?”
Those words exemplified Maurice Finkel. He held a special affinity for music, Shelbyville and, most of all, people. He enjoyed an extraordinary life filled with an abundance and variety of experience. He was a man who seemed to always radiate a sense of gratitude for life’s blessings.
Finkel was a successful businessman who came to Shelbyville in the early 1950s. He worked as a salesman and later an entrepreneur in the auto parts industry. However, he was always most recognized for his contribution to the arts and his enduring sense of goodwill which was forever readily on display until his death in 2020 at the age of 97.
Maurice and his wife, Carol (photo above), served as significant promoters for a variety of campaigns to stimulate Shelbyville arts and musical endeavors. They started the community band and were at the forefront of The Shelby Arts Council and The Shelby Orchestral Association.
Their marriage and productive partnership as well as them ultimately making their home in Shelbyville were both ironic and unlikely.
Maurice’s father emigrated with his wife from eastern Europe to London. The elder Finkel’s intuition proved prophetic as problems in the region would eventually increase and result in the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939 during World War II. He and his wife had three children in London before moving to Montreal where Maurice was born in 1923.
Music occupied a good deal of Maurice’s time as a youth growing up in Montreal. He played clarinet in the Baron Byng High School band. He became a skilled draftsman and developed an interest in aviation. Following graduation, he began work at Canadian Vickers, a civil and military aircraft manufacturer which would become Canadair.
During World War II, Canadair lent Maurice to Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California. He worked on the Beaufort and the Boningbroke Bombers. He designed the overhead cockpit window seal for the PBV-1 Canso aircraft.
After the war, Maurice began selling in the auto industry for Canadian-based Lion Auto Parts. The company would become C. Mills Automotive. Maurice accepted a position as a salesman covering the Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia territory.
Maurice established National Automotive Lines, Inc. in Shelbyville in 1969. The company would be housed at the West Franklin Street location until 2019.
National Automotive, whose ownership would eventually include Maurice and sons Ken and David, sold auto parts to customers throughout the world. Maurice specialized in alternator, starter and transmission rebuilding parts. He was known and respected for his vast knowledge of the automotive parts industry.
Maurice settled in Shelbyville and met Carol Drevno, a native of Chicago and graduate of the Indiana University School of Music. They would eventually marry and raise their children, Cydney, Sondra, Ken and David, in Shelbyville.
All four offspring would share their parents’ love of music and play multiple instruments. Ken and David would be members of the Indiana University Marching 100 during their college years in Bloomington.
In addition to organizing and developing community music associations, Maurice and Carol organized a music study club.
“These were similar to book clubs, except those in attendance explored and learned about music,” said David. “Mom and dad really enjoyed these meetings because everyone learned something every time they met.”
The couple also organized the “Shelbyville Community Concert Series.” This was a series of concerts held several times per year during the 1960s and 1970s at Shelbyville High School’s Breck Auditorium. The productions featured a variety of very talented performers and were well attended.
Maurice’s humble demeanor belied his myriad talents and achievements. He was an accomplished pilot who flew 40 types of aircraft. He was designated a Master Pilot by the FAA and recognized for 50 years of safe flying. He spoke fluent English, French and Yiddish.
He purchased his well-known calliope (basically a portable organ) in 1987. He would become a popular musical attraction, especially at downtown Shelbyville events such as the Strawberry Festival.
“Dad really liked playing the calliope because he could see how much the public enjoyed the music,” said David. “It was instant feedback.” Maurice would play the calliope at the Indiana State Fair for 30 consecutive years from 1988 through 2017.
Maurice enjoyed providing musical opportunities to others. He used his connections to find pianos that owners were looking to discard and placed those instruments with interested people at no cost; a practice that David continues.
His children would grow to adulthood and move on with their lives. Cydney became a doctor of Audiology and settled with her family in California. Sondra would marry and unfortunately die of cancer in 1990. Ken and David would have their own families and join Maurice in developing the family business with Ken living in Indianapolis and David in Shelbyville. Carol passed away in 2005.
Maurice bought the family home on Van Avenue in Shelbyville in 1954 and lived there until his passing less than two years ago. He and Carol expanded the house three times over the years and installed three organs while they lived there. A recent visit to the residence provides a pleasant integration of a musical museum and a warm, familial ambiance; much as it did in the 1960s and 1970s.
The benevolent spirit of the man who lived there for more than six decades continues to resonate. Maurice once said that life on Van Avenue was “A slice of Americana, where neighbors shared lives.”
For many of us, a drive past the Finkel house today resurrects memories of a family that fully invested itself in the Shelbyville community and a patriarch who consistently demonstrated a love of life and a special appreciation for the simple gifts it offered.
Maurice Finkel was a talented man who believed that every day could be a good day. He worked to make all of us believe it too.