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ASU Law scholarship honors alumni family's life of public service

Finn family to establish scholarship, donate original documents to celebrate Ruth G. Finn’s legacy of serving others


Finn Family

The Finn Family has established the endowed fund, “The Legacy of Ruth G. Finn Scholarship: Finn, Gartell, Turner,” to honor their mother and grandmother.

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November 19, 2021

For one family, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is more than just a law school — it is a place of legacy.

The Finn family established an endowed fund, “The Legacy of Ruth G. Finn Scholarship: Finn, Gartell, Turner,” to honor their mother and grandmother. Ruth and her husband, the late Herbert “Herb” Finn, were instrumental in advocating for desegregation and social justice during the civil rights movement.

For the Finns, ASU Law is truly a family affair with three generations of alumni: Ruth (’70), her daughters, Judge Elizabeth G. Finn (’72) and Alice Finn Gartell (’89), and Elizabeth’s son, Jesse Finn Turner (’05), with Ruth and Alice both graduating summa cum laude.

Part of ASU Law’s founding class, Ruth set the framework for the family at the law school, beginning her degree pursuit at 48 years old and graduating summa cum laude in 1970.

“My parents met at ASU. I had ASU baby clothes,” Jesse said. “Every member of my immediate family has an undergraduate degree from ASU, including myself. I am the fourth member of my extended family to attend ASU Law.”

The entire family also followed Ruth’s and Herb’s devotion to public service. Elizabeth, who recently retired as the presiding judge for the Glendale City Court after 49 years of service in the legal field (including 42 years on the bench), worked in the family firm, called Finn, Finn, and Finn, and advocated as a judge on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Jesse became a Maricopa County public defender advocating for those in the criminal justice system who have no voice, while Alice — now retired — served as general counsel of the Arizona Education Association promoting public education and literacy.

“The Legacy of Ruth G. Finn Scholarship: Finn, Gartell, Turner” celebrates the path Ruth paved for the family — despite the obstacles that she faced as a woman in law.

“In those days, it was rare to have a woman in law school — there were only four — and it was even rarer to have a middle-aged student,” Elizabeth and Alice wrote in a joint statement. “Ruth faced many challenges as an older woman in law school; one student asked why she wasn’t at home taking care of her grandchildren.”

Prior to attending law school, Ruth worked as what is known now as a paralegal in Herb’s private practice, conducting legal research and writing briefs. However, she could not appear in court or sign her name to her writings.

“In my grandmother’s day, law firms would turn her down because they had ‘hired their woman for the year,’” Jesse said. “I am fortunate to work in an environment where women attorneys and judges are seen as the norm rather than a curiosity.”

In addition to the scholarship fund, Elizabeth is planning to donate original documents related to her parents’ work in civil rights in Arizona to ASU Law.

These documents provide a glimpse into their tireless work as civil rights activists — working in the legal sector to desegregate schools in the Phoenix area, tackling discriminatory public space accommodations and housing redlining, and fighting job discrimination.

In particular, these documents highlight the couple’s pivotal work with Hayzel B. Daniels, Arizona’s first Black lawyer and judge, to file two suits with the Maricopa County Superior Court to desegregate Arizona’s high schools and elementary schools, pursuing the cases on their own without pay or reimbursement for expenses — all one year before Brown v. Board of Education.

They also shine a light on the kind of people Ruth and Herb were.

In a particular article, “Civil Rights for Everyone,” Elizabeth recounted her first experience with discrimination, when her mother took her downtown to lunch with her father and Daniels. They were told Daniels was prohibited from entering the restaurant. When the Finn family brought him in anyway, the staff proceeded to smash every glass and dish by the side of their table.

“Though my parents had meetings at the house that discussed (discrimination), the breaking of the dishes drove home to me that these differences actually meant something to other people,” Elizabeth said. “They did not mean anything to me because of how I had been raised: Everyone is equal, special and unique, and these kinds of differences were to be cherished.”

“The Legacy of Ruth G. Finn Scholarship: Finn, Gartell, Turner” aims to fund female ASU Law students who embody these qualities and contribute to the Finn family legacy of public service.

“Our family has a strong tradition of public service, each of us in our own way,” Elizabeth and Alice wrote. “We want the scholarship to go to a student with a record of public service and dedication to helping others.” 

Above all, though, the Finns hope the scholarship will honor their mother’s life.

“We wanted to honor Ruth G. Finn. She died in 2019, but her gravestone accurately describes her as a ‘warrior for justice,’” Elizabeth and Alice added. “We want to continue her legacy of helping others, especially giving voice to those who have no voice.”   

For more information on the scholarship, contact kelli.rael@asu.edu.  

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