Coming of age during the Great Depression, Gordon C. Preston P’71, P’72, P’77, GP ’02, GP ’04, GP ’07, GP’20 had developed a reputation as a standout athlete in the Cortland, N.Y. area. He was a scratch golfer, winning the county’s amateur tournament in 1933, and an ace on the basketball court, anchoring Cortland High School’s championship team that same year. He earned a basketball scholarship to Syracuse University, but without his contributions to the household income, his family would have lost their apartment, and ultimately he had to turn down the chance to attend college.
A generation later, when his children were beginning to look at colleges, Gordon and his wife Hester had “saved religiously toward that purpose so we all received the best possible college education,” recalls their son John Preston ’71, P’20. “As a consequence of their planned savings and hard work, we were able to attend whatever school we chose. The important thing was that we go to a place where learning was valued and excitement was created by confronting new opportunities.”
For John, his brother Fred ’72 and sister Ruth Preston Teague ’77, P’02, P’04, P’07 that school was Hobart and William Smith.
Now, with a $100,000 gift to the Colleges, John and his wife Patricia P’20 have created the Gordon C. Preston Endowed Family Scholarship to ensure that talented students from Central New York and the Southern Tier region have the means and access to a transformative education.
John, who is now a principal and portfolio manager at Watts Capital in Manhattan, says this kind of “open opportunity” was at the heart of what his parents wanted for their family.
“I think the most important thing was that we understood we had choices,” he explains. “I don’t think my parents had any expectations that we would go to school to be trained for a specific career. Without the question of affordability hanging over our heads, they expected we would find our way, learning as we went along.”
In the Preston household, John recalls, the notion of lifelong learning was instilled early — both by his mother, a graduate of Elmira College and a teacher in the Cortland and Homer, N.Y. school systems, and his father, who after serving in the South Pacific during World War II, rose to become treasurer and head of human resources at Crescent Corset Company while teaching himself accounting.
With that example, John and his siblings “grew up with the idea that there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do,” he says.
As he, Fred and Ruth — as well as a number of their cousins, children and extended family members — matriculated and graduated from Hobart and William Smith, Gordon and Hester’s relationship with the Colleges only grew. They traveled to campus for basketball games and parents weekends, made friends with fellow HWS parents; Gordon, a longtime supporter of the Statesmen Athletic Association, moved to Geneva in his later years. The bond they felt with the Colleges, John says, arose out of “a shared respect for the values of a liberal arts education, lifelong learning and hard work.”
That bond is now cemented in the scholarship, which will bring new generations of students and families who share those values into the Hobart and William Smith community.
John and Patricia are hopeful that their $100,000 commitment is just the beginning. The fund is open to contributions from family, friends and those who share the desire to help students of talent and ability to pursue their dreams. To give to the Gordon C. Preston Endowed Family Scholarship, contact Ben Foster ’95, senior director of leadership giving at the HWS Office of Advancement, (315) 781-3776.
As for what Gordon would have made of the scholarship’s namesake, John says “he was a humble guy. He probably would’ve downplayed this, but he would’ve been incredibly proud knowing that students, whatever their field of endeavor might be, will have the opportunity, like we did, to build lives of consequence.”