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Finkelstein's public service career in education spanned more than 50 years

Sydney Finkelstein believed public education was the cornerstone of democracy and spent more than half a century giving back through public service in the field.

Finkelstein, a trustee with Western Suffolk BOCES whose career as a board of education member spanned more than 50 years, died March 18 at the age of 95 at home in East Northport.

Born in Manhattan, he lived in Brooklyn as a child. He later moved to East Northport with his wife Gloria. The couple married in 1947 and raised three children.

A World War II veteran with the Army Air Forces, Finkelstein earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He worked as an engineer with Sperry Gyroscope and Grumman Aircraft for 25 years and as a telecommunications officer with Chemical Bank and Chase Manhattan in New York City for 21 years.

Finkelstein began his legacy of service to public education when he became involved with the Elwood School District, where his children were enrolled. Among his many volunteer roles, he was chairman of the district’s Citizens’ Budget Committee and Citizens’ Building Committee.

He also served as PTA liaison to the board of education. Finkelstein was elected Elwood District trustee in 1967 and went on to serve 12 years, including a term as vice president. He joined the Western Suffolk BOCES Board of Education in 1979, serving a term as president, and continued his service until his passing.

His daughter Jill Finkelstein, of Northport, said colleagues often spoke of his dedication, with one educator recalling the night of his 65th wedding anniversary when he attended a local ceremony for graduating nursing students before going home to celebrate with his wife.

"He was a great dad," Jill Finkelstein said.

In November 2017, Western Suffolk BOCES honored him at its annual gathering of component school district boards of education. Upon receiving his award, Finkelstein was characteristically modest, recalling his days as a student in a New York City public school, officials said then. He said his professional success had its roots in a desk in a public school and felt it was his duty and responsibility to repay the education he received, according to officials at Western Suffolk BOCES.

“It has been an exceptional privilege to know and work with Syd Finkelstein. Every discussion with Syd, regardless of the subject, was marked by respect and keen intelligence,” said Michael Flynn, chief operating officer of Western Suffolk BOCES. “He leaves a legacy that few can match. We will miss him dearly.”

He also was a member of the Long Island Sunrise Trail Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.

In addition to his wife and daughter, surviving is another daughter, Cathy Thomas, of South Salem. He was predeceased by his daughter Nancy. 

Services were held March 22 at Brueggemann Funeral Home in East Northport and burial March 23 at Pinelawn Memorial Park.

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