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“Maximizing Growth and Opportunities for Students”

The Legacy of A.E. Finley Shines On in His Namesake Facility

By Karen Lewis Taylor | Back to Table of Contents


In January, Ravenscroft leadership announced the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center. Representing a bold new vision for student wellness and community, the facility is steadily taking shape this spring and is slated to open within the next 12 months.

This rendering shows the contemporary lines of the new dining facility that will be an integral part of the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center.

Much of what remains standing behind the blue construction fencing is cherished territory for Ravens of all ages. Dedicated on April 27, 1974, the A.E. Finley Activity Center — the fourth and final building of the initial campus construction — was unrivaled among local school facilities: it boasted a 1,500-seat main gym, an indoor swimming pool, a wrestling room, a dance studio and a student lounge. It was also the first Ravenscroft building to be named in someone’s honor.

That it is such a familiar name to people who live and work in the Triangle area is further testament to Albert Earle Finley’s vision, leadership and philanthropy. From his humble beginnings in Virginia and Maryland, Finley defied the odds when he founded a business during the Great Depression. As a result of his knack for salesmanship, the Raleigh-based North Carolina Equipment Company eventually became the largest of its kind in the United States. More successes followed, giving Finley the opportunity to guide and support other entrepreneurs, many of whom would become influential business leaders themselves.

In a video shared on the A.E. Finley Foundation website, former Raleigh mayor Smedes York ’59 recalled that his father, real estate developer Willie York, considered Finley a mentor. “He called Mr. Finley ‘Captain Boss,’” York said. “There weren’t a lot of people who could just say a word and it would totally impact my father, but they had that kind of relationship.”

A.E. Finley (at right, with fellow Ravenscroft trustee Robert Holding) joined the board because of his commitment to education and young people.

Finley’s commitment to using his good fortune to better his community motivated him, as he approached the age of 80, to join the Ravenscroft Board of Trustees. “I’m interested in anything that will assist younger folk,” he is quoted as saying in Ravenscroft’s “The Story of a Southern School.” “An educated individual has a much better chance of getting somewhere than someone who isn’t.”

“He invested in things he believed in, that he thought would make a difference in the community,” Vic Bell III ’74, who currently serves as the foundation’s vice chair, said in the video. “I think he really believed Ravenscroft would make a difference in this area.”

And the Finley Center made a difference at Ravenscroft. It quickly became the hub of campus activity, hosting athletic events, fine arts performances, commencement ceremonies and guest speakers. Alumni remember pep rallies, school dances and swimming lessons there.

The Finley Center’s aquatics facility, a source of pride for Ravenscroft in the campus’s early days, has long been home to P.E. swim classes and the school’s swim team (as shown in the 1976 “Corvus”).

“It’s hard to overstate how important this facility was,” Bill Moss ’74 said in the video. “I’m positive many a family had their heads turned by looking at this facility, envisioning their own children spending time and growing and maturing and developing here.”

Cementing his commitment to the school, Finley directed that income from his family foundation be used to support the building’s maintenance in perpetuity. In this way, the A.E. Finley Foundation continues to partner with Ravenscroft to uphold his legacy as the facility has been updated to meet the evolving needs of students.

The Main Arena, shown here during the energetic 2014 fall pep rally, is home to Ravenscroft volleyball and basketball and has long been the gathering spot for campus-wide events.

Moss said the Finley Center remains an example of the “vision of those founders, of having a school dedicated to maximizing the growth and opportunities for students. [Ravenscroft has] always tried to bring forward whatever ‘cutting edge’ is for this generation.”

Today, as his namesake building undergoes a renovation and expansion that will “assist younger folk” in myriad ways that support holistic wellness, A.E. Finley’s example, captured at the Finley Center’s dedication, continues to inspire Ravens: “a modest and just man who personified by performance the courage to dream and dare.”

Second-floor common areas and meeting spaces will include a variety of seating options to meet students’ evolving individual, social and community-building needs.

Above, the renovation and expansion of the much-cherished A.E. Finley Activity Center represents a bold new vision for student wellness and community.

Follow our progress

Enjoy additional architectural renderings, an animated fly-through video, ongoing storytelling and frequently updated photos from the construction site on our dedicated project page.