Preston’s friends pressing on with scholarship program

Aug. 24 golf outing at McCormick Creek among fundraising activities planned.
Posted on Aug. 5, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

NAPPANEE — Jim Hahn acknowledges the irony in organizing a golf event that bears Phil Preston’s name.

“Nope, you’re right, he never golfed,” Hahn said with a laugh of his longtime friend, who died in April. “I don’t think Phil would even know who Tiger Woods is. He kind of had a one-track mind as far as sports. If it wasn’t basketball-related, forget it.”

There is, however, no irony entailed in organizing something that bears Preston’s name and benefits people.

And that’s exactly what Hahn and several others are trying to do with the inaugural Phillip Preston Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing, set for Saturday, Aug. 24, at McCormick Creek.

It’s just one prong in an ongoing multi-pronged effort to gather scholarship funds in honor of Preston, who was known around Elkhart County as a caring pharmacist, insatiable basketball enthusiast and generous friend.

“I’m not surprised by it, but it’s actually been a pretty easy experience so far, because of who Phil was,” Hahn said Monday, Aug. 5, of the fundraising efforts. “Phil knew a lot of people, and a lot of people are stepping up with one call.”

A letter-writing campaign to individuals associated with Preston is under way.

Raffles are planned, and a live auction will follow the golf event.

Further, the Elkhart County Community Foundation will match, up to $5,000, 20 percent of funds raised.

Without much publicity, 17 teams are already signed up for the golf outing, which is limited to 22 teams.

Hahn, the former Concord High School basketball coach, and fellow Preston pallbearers John Gemmer, Mike Scheetz, Doug Thwaits and Larry Bowers formed the Founder’s Group of Phillip S. Preston to establish the scholarship.

The intent, according to Gemmer, is to award a four-year renewable scholarship annually. Candidates can come from Elkhart County or any adjacent county.

“Ideally, it’s going to go to somebody who was associated with their high school’s basketball program who also has the need,” Gemmer said. “A good student, a good worker, a good work ethic, a good citizen. It’s not for a basketball player who’s going to go play in college on full scholarship, but for somebody who has a need.”

The annual scholarship amount will depend upon how much money is raised.

The initial fundraising goal, according to Hahn, is $50,000 for a scholarship fund that would continue in perpetuity.

“The great thing about Phil was he would help anybody,” Gemmer said. “In all the years I knew Phil, he didn’t care what you did or what you looked like or what your nationality was. If you were a good person, you were good with Phil.”

Unlike most of the others on the scholarship committee, Gemmer didn’t come to know Preston through basketball.

“I knew Phil some from church, but I really got to know him around the time I was diagnosed with kidney disease (in 2006),” said Gemmer, formerly of Goshen and now living in Syracuse. “He was just somebody I started talking to about once a week, had lunch with once in awhile, somebody who cared during a really tough time.”

Preston, 76, died April 19 after his own battle of more than three years with pulmonary fibrosis.

He owned Wakarusa Pharmacy for 30 years before accepting a position with Judd Drugs of Goshen in 1992. After retiring from full-time employment, he continued to work part-time at area drug stores up until about a month before his death.

Preston sponsored the powerhouse Wakarusa Pharmacy basketball team that ruled the Plymouth Summer League for more than a decade and later sponsored a Concord AAU club.

He was known to love basketball at all levels, regularly attended high school, college and pro games, helped many area players establish contact with colleges and was highly regarded by coaches for his keen eye concerning player potential.

The scholarship golf outing is $400 per team or $100 per player. It features a 2 p.m. shotgun start and scramble format. Carts and Nelson’s chicken dinners are included.

The post-golf auction starts around 6 p.m. and is open to all. Some of the donated items up for auction are expected to include IU basketball tickets, Notre Dame football tickets, Indiana Pacer tickets, a hog roast for 50 people and golf packages.

For more information about the Preston scholarship program contact Gemmer at jwgemmer@aol.com or 457-5428.

For more information or to sign up for the golf outing, call Hahn (536-7056), Scheetz (286-0324), Thwaits (238-0395) or Bowers (340-6896).

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