Finch reflects on 20 years of service as Ogle County coroner

‘Working with our county and local first responders over 20 years has been great’


OREGON — Ogle County Coroner Lou Finch will not be seeking re-election in the upcoming March 19 election. Finch has served as coroner since 2004. 

“It was just time,” Finch said of his decision to not seek re-election. “When I first ran, I always said, 'When you don't want to learn anything new and you're stuck in your ways, it's time to move on.' It's time. The office needs new blood. It was a learning experience from the beginning. I believe the office now is running perfectly for the citizens here in Ogle County.”

Finch is a fourth-generation funeral director and owns and operates Finch Funeral & Crematory in Mt. Morris. He also served as an Ogle County Sheriff’s Office deputy before he became coroner. The sheriff back in the early 2000s, Mel Messer, approached Finch with the idea of pursuing the office of coroner in 2004, and he decided to run. His experiences as a funeral director and in law enforcement lent themselves well to serving as a coroner, Finch said. 

Coroner’s offices investigate death in certain cases such as sudden or violent death, suspicious circumstances, when alcohol or drug addiction may have been a contributory cause, death without medical attendance by a licensed physician, and hospice cases. 

Work includes attending scenes and declaring patients have passed, and the performance of autopsies. 

“We investigate death,” Finch said. “The best way to explain it is, we're kind of like a detective for the body. Sheriff's office and local police department detectives work the scene, and we're with the body. We work hand in hand.”

Finch said he has enjoyed working with county first responders over the past 20 years. He’s seen sheriffs and police and fire chiefs come and go during his time as coroner. His “old-school” thought process has meshed well with law enforcement officers that have been trained in new investigation tactics. 

“Overall, without their help, this office would still be trying to get where it is today,” Finch said. “The county can't ask for anything better than what it has right now with law enforcement agencies.”

Finch has seen the county and society change in his 20 years as coroner. When he first ran for office, he said Ogle County had more of an agricultural demographic and over the years he started to see more residents that had moved to the area for their retirement years.

The longtime county coroner also worked through the start and growth of social media in his 20 years, which made for complications when investigating deaths or notifying families of the deceased. 

“The hardest thing that people do not understand is social media,” Finch said. “When I was first elected, that wasn't a thing. We could do our job and then make notification to families. Now with social media if someone drives by and knows the individual, they can put it out there before we can notify the family. That's the hardest part.”

An aspect of being a coroner is seeing and investigating scenes that would be traumatic to most. Finch said over the years he learned to keep his work separated from his family life to keep balance in his life. The job also includes breaking hard news to families and helping them through the aftermath.

“A lot of families when you first make that death notification, it's really a shock to them,” Finch said. “But over time, a lot of families still come in and sit down and just want to talk about the time that their individual passed. You do your job, you make notification, you make sure the families understand every step of the way. It seems like some families like to come in year after year to kind of go over everything again. In my position, you just listen.”

Following his departure from the coroner’s office, Finch’s work as a funeral director with his family business will continue. 

Running a funeral home and the coroner’s office was “hectic at times” over 20 years, Finch said. He thanked his family and co-workers for their help in his time in office. 

“I had to make sure I was covered if I was at a funeral and I got a coroner's call,” Finch said. “My family was able to help me, and that was huge for me. And here in the coroner’s office, we all work together. The county should be happy with who is here. They're taking care of the day-to-day and making sure everything runs smoothly for all of the families in this county.”