A grand time, and $87 grand, come from Preston events

Charlie Roeder wins Larry Bird jersey for $6,200. Ryan Thwaits presents Scott Skiles' Wkarusa Pharmacy jersey to Shirley Preston.
Posted on Aug. 26, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 26, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.

NAPPANEE — The most tense moment of the Phillip Preston Memorial Scholarship Fund live auction came when a high-stakes bidding war was waged for the last item, a Larry Bird-autographed Boston Celtics jersey, ultimately snared by Charlie Roeder for $6,200.

The most tender moment came a while earlier, when Ryan Thwaits won a Scott Skiles-autographed Wakarusa Pharmacy jersey for $1,000, then immediately walked over and presented the framed jewel to Preston’s widow, Shirley.

“That about brought me to tears,” Shirley Preston said of the gesture shortly after hugging Thwaits, whose father, Doug, like Skiles, played on those powerhouse Wakarusa Pharmacy summer league teams of the 1970s and ’80s.

Phil Preston, who sponsored those teams and was a giving friend to virtually all in area basketball, died April 20 at age 76.

Five of Preston’s many buddies — Jim Hahn, John Gemmer, Mike Scheetz, Doug Thwaits and Larry Bowers — played the lead in setting up a letter-writing campaign, golf outing, the auction and more to establish funds for a scholarship, to be awarded annually in Preston’s memory to an area student affiliated with his or her high school’s basketball program.

The golf and auction took place Saturday, Aug. 24, at McCormick Creek. About 175 people attended the auction.

The first-year goal from all activities was $50,000.

Preston’s friends did not meet that goal. They blew it away.

The grand total for funds raised stood at $87,717 as of Saturday, according to Gemmer, with more money still possibly coming from the letter-writing campaign.

“Bill Doba, an old football coach of mine, once told me to set my goals almost higher than I could imagine,” Gemmer said in an email to his fellow organizers. “I didn’t listen to him then, but as I got older and somewhat wiser, I began to take his advice. (Still) I would have never believed we could have raised this much money for the scholarship fund, but I forgot one thing. This was about Phil, his life and the many wonderful memories he’s left behind.”

The letter-writing campaign, which stood at $32,925 through Saturday, an Elkhart County Community Foundation gift of $14,619.50 and the auction, which brought in $33,600 for 31 items, yielded the bulk of the money — capped by Roeder shelling out that $6,200 for that framed Bird jersey.

The $6,200 nearly doubled the next-highest item sold, four prime tickets to an Indiana Pacers game against the Miami Heat that went for $3,250.

“I don’t know, it was for a good cause,” Roeder said Monday of his purchase. “Phil Preston helped an awful lot of people, and not just in sports. The other two owners of Indiana Transport and I talked about what we might spend, and it just kind of happened.”

Roeder and Ryan Thwaits, who were star basketball players at NorthWood and Fairfield, respectively, before graduating in 2000, own Elkhart-based Indiana Transport with NorthWood grad Joe Bonacorsi.

Roeder said Bird is among his favorite players, though not necessarily No. 1.

“He’s just someone I enjoyed watching play and have followed (through his coaching and executive positions) with the Pacers,” said Roeder, who plans to keep the jersey at home, not work.

Ryan Thwaits, besides winning the Skiles jersey and donating a pair of Notre Dame-Duke basketball tickets to the auction, also enthusiastically served as a demonstrative bid-calling assistant to auctioneer Brian Lambright.

Hahn handled the item descriptions. The former Concord High School coach played it mostly by the script, but did self-deprecatingly offer when a Shawn Kemp jersey went up for bid that Kemp “is the all-time leading scorer for Elkhart County and considered one of the best basketball players ever to come out of Indiana — and if he had gotten any coaching, he would’ve been a heck of a lot better.”

Hahn said Monday that the golf outing may continue next year, but that the auction was a one-time event to kick-start the fundraising.

Nineteen foursomes competed in the golf, which netted more than $5,200. Kurt Hand, Rich Brown, Adam Leeper and Jordan Adams comprised the winning team.

For a complete list of what the auction items sold for, and for information on how to donate to the Preston scholarship, visit Basket Blog on etruth.com.

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