Twenty years ago, Jamie Pulcheon Finch moved to North Carolina, where she finished high school and embarked on a career as a schoolteacher and life as a wife and mother.
But she still visits the Finger Lakes yearly to see relatives in the Phelps and Clifton Springs area. Her Thanksgiving trip this year, however, involved more than eating turkey and visiting family.
Finch, 37, of Hampstead, N.C., decided she wanted to do something to honor the memory of her mother Linda Crowley of Canandaigua, who passed away in August 2018 at the age of 58 — just three months after being diagnosed with cancer.
So Finch organized a highway cleanup on Route 96 as a way to remember her mother and gather together the people that loved her.
Finch is a schoolteacher and said she lost a young student in a car accident several years ago. His family organized a similar event and it resonated with her that they wanted to do something positive in their son’s name and be able to hear others talk and reminisce about him.
“I thought that was a really good sentiment,” Finch said. “I’m not up there in New York to hear the stories [about my mother].”
Although November can be a dicey time of year for a highway cleanup (think the 6 to 8 inches of snow we just received!), Finch was a bit hamstrung on timing. She has four children age 5 and under (the oldest are twins) and is expecting her fifth child in February. She was understandably determined to travel north for Thanksgiving and set this project in motion before her life gets even busier.
She contacted family and friends and spread the word about the planned highway cleanup via Facebook. Finch also had to secure permission from the state Department of Transportation and arrange for the group to undergo safety training.
A group of about 15 met the Tuesday before Thanksgiving with a DOT rep then got to work beautifying a 2.5 mile section of Route 96 from Brother’s Still and Grill (the former Yankee Clipper) to the railroad tracks in the village of Phelps. Finch noted her mother worked for a bit at the Yankee Clipper and met her husband, Mark Crowley, there.
Although the weather cooperated on their work day, held from 2 to 5 p.m., Finch was a bit disappointed it had to be scheduled during the week when most people were at work. Still, she estimates the group collected about 15 to 20 bags of garbage and numerous large trash items.
“It was a nice way to keep people together, and I hope it will grow more in the future,” she said.
Finch’s aunt (and her mother’s sister), Gail Warrick of Clifton Springs, will hopefully be able to organize another cleanup this spring, preferably on a weekend. Finch noted a sign already has been ordered designating that stretch of highway as having been adopted by the family and friends of Linda Crowley.
Finch has numerous aunts and uncles as well as two grandmothers still living in the Finger Lakes. Her mother’s mother — Patricia Weeks — resides in Clifton Springs.
Finch believes her mother would have approved of the project — and not just because a stretch of a major Finger Lakes thoroughfare is cleaner.
“She liked having everybody together and liked the area and everything …” Finch said. “She would have been there if she could have.”