ITS HISTORY AND TRADITION
M. L. FLINN
Iowa has been especially honored in the characters and careers of her active
men of industry and public service, men who have been born to leadership in
the various vocations and who have dominated because of their superior
intelligence, natural endowment and force of character. These reflections are
suggested by the career of Matthew Lawrence Flinn, who, beginning life in a
modest way, forged his way to the front ranks of the successful men of his section of the state and became an influential and important factor in the development and improvement of his locality.
Mr. Flinn was born in Albany, New York, on the 15th of June, 1849, and his
death occurred at his home in Sioux City on the 26th of December, 1922, in the
seventy-fourth year of his age. He had resided in Sioux City for fifty-six
years and was widely known as a contractor and business man of the
municipality. He was a son of Bernard and Catherine (Mulhall) Flinn, both of whom were natives of Ireland, the father born in Mead and the mother in West Mead. On their arrival in the United States they located at Albany, New York, where they remained until 1850, when they moved to McHenry county, Illinois. In 1858 they went to Chicago, remaining there about ten years, on the expiration of
which period they came to Sioux City, Iowa, where they continued to reside until called to the home beyond.
Matthew L. Flinn, who was the third in order of birth in a family of eleven
children, was a public school pupil in Chicago to the age of sixteen years
and subsequently worked in the Tremont and Briggs Hotels of the metropolis. He
accompanied his parents on their removal to Sioux City, where he spent the
remainder of his life. Here he first obtained a job as brakeman on the Sioux
City & Pacific Railroad and was later with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul
Railroad. While employed in the train service on the latter road he met with
an accident in 1873, losing an arm, and on his recovery he was made operator
and timekeeper in the railroad shops of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis &
Omaha Railway at Sioux City, filling that position for five years, followed
by two years as chief clerk. Thereafter for a period of two years, beginning
in 1880, Mr. Flinn conducted a meat market. Next he turned his attention
to the real estate business, to which he later added the contracting business.
In 1888 he engaged more extensively in the latter field, taking large city
contracts for street paving and the construction of sewers, in which he was
eminently successful. He was the first in Sioux City to use creosoted wooden
blocks for street paving, as well as a pioneer in the use of concrete for
street pavements here. Paving in many of Sioux City's business streets was laid
by his crews, among them being Fourth, Jackson, Nebraska, Pierce, Sixth,
Water an Twenty-seventh streets. The M. L. Flinn Company, of which he was
president, became known as one of the strongest and most reliable contracting firms in this section of the country and has done a large business over a long period of years. The following is an excerpt from a review of a career of Mr. Flinn which appeared in the Sioux City Journal at the time of his death: "Mr. Flinn was one of the leading paving contractors of the northwest. His paving crews operated as far east as Chicago and as far west as Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was heavily interested in numerous business enterprises here, being a director and stockholder in the First National Bank, president of the
Lindholm Furniture Company and a director in the Interstate Live Stock Fair Association."
In 1876 Mr. Flinn was united in marriage to Miss Mary Emma Wilkins, a
stepdaughter of James and Sarah Gray (Wilkins) Puck, the former of whom was one of the prominent early hotel men of Sioux City, while her mother was a native of Arkansas, coming to Sioux City during the Civil war. To Mr. and Mrs. Flinn were born the following children: Grace Margaret,who is the wife of W. T. Foley, of Chicago; Frank Matthew, of Sioux City; Alice, who died in 1904; Edward Bernard, who is now president of the M. L. Flinn Company and who married
Miss. Lucile Moore.
Politically, Mr. Flinn was a stanch supporter of the democratic party and
for many years was an active and prominent figure in local political affairs.
In 1881 he was elected alderman at large, served two years as assessor, three
years as chairman of the county board of supervisors and four years as
United States marshal during President Cleveland's first administration. He was a
communicant of the Roman Catholic church and was a member of the Knights of
Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He was a progressive man in the
broadest sense of the term and lived to see and take a prominent part in the
growth and progress of his community. His was a long life of honor and trust
and no higher eulogy can be passed upon him than to state the simple truth
that his name was never coupled with anything disreputable and that he fully
merited the reputation which he enjoyed for sterling integrity and unwavering
The following editorial appeared in the Sioux City Daily Tribune under date
of December 27, 1922: "Some years ago near the corner of Third and Pierce
streets, Sioux City, a powerfully built elderly man with soft hat pulled well
down over his eyes could have been seen directing and helping in the loading
up an old farm wagon with all kinds of supplies. An empty right sleeve and a
quiet, dominating air made passersby look a second time at this figure. There was a something that appealed; a something that stopped people a moment and caused them to wonder. A friend coming by spoke cheerily and asked about
the proceedings. M. L. Flinn, known far and wide as 'Matt' Flinn, answered almost gruffly that he was just helping load. The friend knew without another word that he had caught Matt Flinn in one of his innumerable little acts of
kindness to some old friend or former employe, and Mr. Flinn acted as if he had been found out and did not like it much. The incident was typical of Mr. Flinn - keen and forceful, yet reticent to an unusual degree. He loved home and family and with them he enjoyed himself most. His sense of humor saved many a delicate situation and he liked to laugh and bring laughter to those whom he knew well. That he accumulated a modest fortune is greatly to his credit, for he did so despite great handicaps. He often said that it was not until he lost his arm that he had to use his brain to make a living for his family. With a keen mind he had imagination and an uncanny knowledge of men in every walk of life. He silently studied the bosses and men of his paving gangs as he watched and listened to the men about the banking tables and in business circles. Speaking seldom, his words invariably carried weight when he spoke.
He asked of his men and his partners only those things that he himself would do and did do. And through the years he built a reputation for integrity and fair dealing that may well create more envy than material prosperity. He was one of those men about whom others said, 'His word is as good as his bond.' Early in life necessity taught him how to work and through experience and many trials he learned how to work effectively. His life is a denial to weak-kneed youths who say there is no opportunity. Mr. Flinn not only worked; he was a saver and builder. When he spent money it was for the good things of life;education and opportunities for his family. He denied himself that others might enjoy life more fully. Many there are who mourn his going, yet it would be his wish that the tributes be unostentatious and that the grief be soon over. He would prefer to leave happiness in his wake, not sorrow. With his friends let us say simply and reverently: 'Goodby, Matt. You have been a great friend and loyal. We wish you well. Goodby.'"
From the Sioux City Journal of December 30, 1922, we quote the following:
"Crowding the Cathedral of the Epiphany to capacity, hundreds of persons from
every walk of life gathered yesterday morning to pay their last respects to
M. L. ('Matt') Flinn, prominent contractor and business man . . . . Rev. T. J.
McCarty's funeral sermon follows in part: "The church in her legislation,
voices her disapproval of fulsome eulogy pronounced at the bier of the
deceased. But the simple and sincere facts of a life, spoken in a simple and
sincere way before you, is not eulogy; and I judge it a matter of simple duty now,
and in that sense endeavor to perform it. There is a strange and a false
idea prevalent among worldly men that religion, though suitable for the nature
of women, has a weakening effect on the character of a man. The very opposite
is the fact. The outstanding characteristic of this man was manliness,
rugged and unassuming. It was manliness born of his faith in the perfect man,
Jesus Christ, our Lord. he never feared in any company to profess his
religion. He never hesitated to give the teaching of its example. In a word, he
never apologized for his religion. His practice of it was quiet and constant, a
simple matter of course, a thing he would not have anyone wonder at and for
which he would scorn to be praised. The accident in early life that, to
many, would be a physical handicap, was turned by him into an incentive to
greater effort, an effort that brought out a native ability, and applied it
successfully to the making of a useful career. His business success was a matter of straightforward honesty, combined with an energy that was constructive and practical. Whatever of material wealth came to him came rightfully, and was used rightly for the good of home and family, and was given freely for the higher things of faith and of charity. Of his private charities, unheralded and unnumbered, little need be said, as he contributed by the quality of citizenship to the building of this community. His career is a typical example of the rise of the young American of foreign parentage. Is the term right when parents, wherever born,furnish men like this to our republic? He had a heart interest in the struggle for liberty of another land, that of his father's. Let me ask here and now, when we are assailed by the superpatriotism of the self-styled 100 per centers, did it ever make him the less loyal to his own country, the less devoted to its interests?"
With the death of Mr. Flinn many expressions of regret were heard among
business men who had known him for years. Some of the expressions follow:
Edward Carey - "Sioux City has lost one of its greatest and best citizens in
the passing of Matt Flinn. I first met him in May, 1871, - more than fifty
years ago. I knew him as butcher, railroad brakeman, banker and paving
contractor. He was always the same congenial Matt. He helped hundreds of unfortunate folks that the outside world never heard of. He was good to his family and good to his fellowmen. I mourn the loss of a true friend and Sioux City mourns the loss of an estimable citizen."
F. L. Eaton - "In the passing of Matt Flinn, Sioux City has lost another one
of that band of energetic and forceful men who were the real factors in the
making of this city. A modest gentleman, a delightful companion, a stanch
friend, a wise counselor, an able leader and a successful man, he will be
missed by all who had the good fortune to know him. His influence on the affairs
of this community where he spent practically all his life and where he had
been interested n so many lines of industry has been powerful, and he has
contributed in more ways than any of us will ever know to the upbuilding of this
city. In all his wide circle of friends, no man can ever quite take the place
of Matt Flinn."
Mr. Flinn's home life approached the ideal. A loving husband and an
indulgent father, he found more real happiness and joy in his own household, in the companionship of his wife and children, than anywhere else in the world. To his most intimate associates he confessed the conviction that he owed his success in life to the inspirational helpfulness of his devoted wife. His passing left an irreparable gap in the family circle, and his memory will ever be cherished in the hearts of those dear to him.
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