MOzarks Finis Gold

Background photo: Postcard showing Nixa's downtown on Main Street with Finis Gold — perhaps its most famous resident — standing in front of his barbershop. Inset photo No. 1: Gold as a young man before he came to Nixa. Inset photo No. 2: Gold in a photo taken by the author at the 1980 Sucker Day.

Finis Gold's barbershop on Nixa's Main Street was a clearinghouse for what was going on in the small town. 

Since he had his finger on the pulse of anything that happened in Nixa and Nixa had no newspaper, Gold decided to start one. He and another businessman began publishing The Nixa Reporter in 1954. 

In 1957, Gold later said, he and Mac McCroskey, Kirk Hawkins and Paul Wasson were sitting around the stove in the barbershop talking about sucker grabbing when the idea for what became Sucker Day was born. 

By spring 1958, he was ready to go into full-Finis-mode on this new event. He met with Mayor Hawkins and other interested persons and convinced the mayor to issue a proclamation declaring May 7, 1958, as the first “official” Nixa Sucker Day, a citywide holiday. Of the 36 businesses in Nixa, 34 closed that day.

Sucker Day evolved from there. With new additions, a lineup of boats on Main Street, contests for the biggest sucker caught and the most suckers caught, a parade along Main Street, the crowning of a queen, the Nixa School closing on Sucker Day, the big fish fry, and even the closing of Highway 14 through Nixa on Sucker Day.

Gold brought the Lions Club on board to help. Then he brought in the Nixa Jaycees. His philosophy was “the more the merrier.”

Through it all, Gold was the ultimate organizer and the ultimate promoter. He became as identified with the event as the fish that lent it its name. With his straw skimmer hat laden with Sucker Day pin-back buttons from various years, Gold was instantly recognizable on Sucker Day as “the man.”

Gold invited reporters to a free breakfast the morning of Sucker Day, gave memorable quotes to anyone who would listen and invited every politician in Missouri from the governor on down to attend the event. Many of them came, especially in election years.

Sucker Day grew and attracted lots of visitors, and Nixa became known for the unique festival. That was what Gold wanted more than anything. He enjoyed the attention and being in charge, but most of all he enjoyed the notoriety that Sucker Day brought to Nixa.

In 1959, Christian County celebrated its centennial. Gold was the natural choice to be put in charge of Nixa's portion of the big celebration, and he engineered numerous events for the townsfolk.

Gold also had a great love for politics. In 1960, he ran against the incumbent state representative from the area, Loyd Estep of Sparta. Gold lost the race by a vote of 2,158 for Estep and 1,314 for himself.

That didn't keep Gold out of more localized politics, however. He ran for city council in Nixa and won. Then in 1964, he ran for mayor and won.

Gold was a man with ideas. They were big ideas, and they were also good ideas. The trouble was, Nixa was still a small town, and a small town sometimes has trouble accepting big ideas — especially ideas that cost taxpayers.

Gold, who had started the Nixa Rural Fire Department through the auspices of the American Legion Post, wanted an up-to-date fire department for Nixa. He also wanted Nixa to have a sewer system instead of septic tanks. Gold wanted Nixa to have its own electrical department to buy cheaper electricity for its residents.

The city put the electrical issue to a vote, and although there was vehement opposition to Nixa spending the money to start its own electrical department, Gold and the councilmen managed to drum up enough votes that the issue barely passed.

That's when the fight against the electric company, which had been providing the city's electrical power, began in earnest. There were lawsuits brought against the City of Nixa and against Gold. Suddenly, Gold found himself so tangled in his battles as mayor that he couldn't find time to do all the other things for Nixa that he had been doing for years. So, in 1965, he resigned as mayor.

He kept up the good fight behind the scenes. Nixa, with the aid of City Attorney Sam Hamra, defeated the lawsuits, and the court rulings paved the way for Nixa to own its own electricity.

By the end of the 1960s, all of Gold’s hoped-for improvements were in place — a fire department (he was a director of the Nixa Fire District), an electrical department and a sewer system.

Gold continued to steer the old fiddler's contest and Sucker Day for years to come. He remained active in affairs of the American Legion. 

If someone in Nixa needed some help to buy food or such, Gold was their go-to man. He could either steer them in the right direction to find help or reach into his own pocket and pull out enough cash to keep them going.

In 1975, Gold was writing a weekly column for the Ozark Headliner called, “Nixa Main Street News.”

In October 1957, Nixa American Legion Memorial Post 434 was awarded a citation from the national parent organization for “Outstanding Service to Children and Youths.” The post commander at the time credited Gold and his efforts as Child Welfare Chairman of the post for winning the award.

In August 1985, Gold was lauded as the National Legionnaire of the Month. In January 1987, he was chosen to serve as a member of the National Preference Committee of the American Legion. At the time, he was in his 36th year as the post service officer of the Nixa Legion Post.

On June 7, 1987, Gold was at the dedication for the new Nixa fire station that he had helped get built.

On July 12, 1987, Finis Gold was attending the statewide American Legion convention in Joplin when he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 69. 

The headline in the local newspaper said it all: “A Nixa Legend Comes To End.”

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