Peter Finley, at right, receives the John J. Finley Award for exceptional service at a dinner Nov. 19 from La Salle University President Brother Michael McGinniss.

In his retirement years, psychologist Peter Finley was called back to active service as a U.S. Marine. The corps needed the Sea Isle City resident to develop the screening process for choosing Marines to guard the White House, Camp David and U.S. embassies around the world.

"They have to be cleared to be in the presence of the president and first family with a loaded weapon," Finley explained.

That was after a long career in special education. The 79-year-old former Vineland resident was the school psychologist at Oackrest High School in the 1960s, then superintendent of the John S. Helmbold Education Center in Corbin City for 17 years. The school educated children with neurological and developmental problems from 56 school districts in southern New Jersey, and was the precursor to the Atlantic County Special Services School District.

Finley said he owes much of his success to his alma mater, La Salle University in Philadelphia. He started out as a pre-dental student, but was not doing well. One of the Christian Brothers who run the university encouraged him to switch to psychology, and Finley says he'll be forever grateful.

He graduated in 1953, got his master's degree, then joined the Marines, serving on active duty for four years. Finley was part of the force that rescued the U.N. peacekeeping team from the Gaza Strip during the Sinai War of 1956, as well as evacuating 5,000 American citizens from Egypt, he said.

Once back in the U.S., Finley continued in the Marine Corps Reserves and began serving on La Salle's boards and helping with fundraising. He has helped with almost every five-year class reunion, and provided free sports psychology consultations to the school's swim and baseball teams.

So it meant a lot to him when he received an award from the university for exceptional service Nov. 19. It meant even more that the award is named in honor of Finley's father, John J. Finley, who graduated in 1924 and dedicated much of his life to promoting the university.

Peter Finley has five children. Only his youngest son Matthew attended La Salle. "There was no pressure," he said.

His oldest granddaughter Danielle Finley also chose the school.

Another Sea Isle story

In a double-header for Sea Isle City, La Salle University also gave its Signum Fidei Award to resident Marci Schankweiler for her work with the Crossing the Finish Line Foundation. The group sends young cancer patients and families on all-expense-paid vacations. She co-founded it with husband Pete Bossow, whom she met at La Salle, and who died of cancer soon after their marriage.

Crossing the Finish Line has benefited more than 850 cancer patients and 3,000 caregivers in the past 10 years, according to La Salle.

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