She Went From Serving Customers to Serving the Community

At 11, she was orphaned during the Great Depression after her family fell ill with typhoid fever. A younger sister also died, and Ms. Finlay and Ms. Montgomery, the only survivors, were separated and raised by aunts in their hometown, Pittsburg, Tex.

After high school, Ms. Finlay moved to St. Louis and in 1941 began a correspondence with her future husband, Augustine Finlay, who was in the Navy. They stayed in touch through letters during World War II while Mr. Finlay, of the Bronx, was deployed at Guantánamo Bay, a naval base then used for postal operations and anti-submarine warfare training.

They met in person when she came to New York in 1947, and they married two years later, settling in Brooklyn. A newly divorced Ms. Montgomery followed her sister to New York in 1952, bringing along her daughter.

Ms. Finlay worked at a manufacturing company for two decades, a job that outlasted her marriage. (The couple divorced in 1961.) She took a job as a companion to the elderly for a couple of years, but when a friend asked if she wanted to run the restaurant, the opportunity piqued her interest.

Photo

Pictures of Ms. Finlay in 1984.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

The sisters, then in their 50s, bought the luncheonette and ran it for the better part of a decade. Ms. Finlay said they closed after crime rose in the neighborhood “and we were afraid to be in the business alone.”

The space is now Dean Street Cafe, a kosher coffee shop that roasts beans in house and serves $3 espresso shots and artisanal sandwiches starting at $6. The owner, Zalmy Mochkin, opened the shop in January.

“The diner in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was the backbone of America’s food culture. I’m trying to bring back the history of the place,” Mr. Mochkin, 27, said. “We want to contribute to what’s here.”

After the restaurant closed, Ms. Finlay embarked on three decades of volunteering. Testaments to her service line the walls of her apartment in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Ms. Finlay has lived for 35 years. She volunteered with the Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Flatbush, and with the Lions Club International. She received the Radiant Star of Paradise Award from the Order of the Eastern Star, which the group called “a token of our love and appreciation for her dedicated excellence in service,” in 2004;…

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