SPECIAL TO THE GOSHEN NEWS
Right from the opening tipoff, Phil Preston enjoyed life to its fullest.
Preston, long-time sponsor of AAU basketball teams and well-known area pharmacist from Wakarusa, died Saturday at the age of 76.
He leaves behind scores of friends who have a ton of memories of this 1954 Lima High School graduate who was on a first-name basis with many big-time college coaches like Jud Heathcote of Michigan State and Jerry Tarkanian of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Preston gained local notoriety with his Wakarusa Pharmacy summer basketball teams which featured top area stars and helped some land college scholarships.
He was also a place judge at the boys track and field Goshen Relays for several years.
Jim Hahn, who had a 202-67 record coaching the Concord Minutemen from 1983-94 with state runnerup finishes in 1988 and 1990, was among those deeply touched by Preston’s passing.
“He did so much for so many kids over a 30-year stretch,” said Hahn. “I got to know Phil during my days of playing for Penn High School (1975 grad) and Ball State. He asked me to play for his summer team.
“One of my stars at Concord, Jeff Massey, was helped so much by his association with Phil who became totally involved in Jeff’s career.
“They had a great summer league in Plymouth during the 1980s and Phil helped recruit a lot of talent there.”
Preston, who played in high school for the Lima Tigers of northern LaGrange County, went on to Butler University where he earned a degree in pharmacy.
It was at Butler that Preston got to know Bobby Plump, the hero of Milan’s 1954 state championship team and his love for basketball blossomed.
Preston’s dream of a summer team started in the 1970s with local stars like Doug Brookins, John Wysong and Doug Thwaits of Fairfield, Jeff Hossler of Goshen, Dan and Tom Glanders of Elkhart Central and Hahn from Penn.
Thwaits said of his long-time friend, “Phil was probably the most giving person I have ever known. He loved basketball at any level, from grade school to the pros.
“He took me to a lot of games over the years and we had a lot of great talks. Everywhere we went, he seemed to know everyone.
“He would call college coaches and tell them of a local talent they might be interested in watching. Phil would go on the spur of the moment to watch someone play.
“It was only a month ago that Phil took me and some friends to a Pacers game. He wasn’t feeling well, but wanted to enjoy life to the very end.”
Preston was honored with a surprise party, organized by Hahn, on July 2, 1992 at Baxter’s Restaurant in Dunlap.
Retired Goshen News sports editor LeRoy Lambright, another friend of Preston’s, attended the event and wrote a feature story for the paper.
“This is touching. It really is,” Preston told Lambright that night.
“There was a certain dedication and love for each other among those guys that helped them stay together and support each other.
“Winning breeds success and these guys did a lot of winning. You get a good nucleus as we did in the early 1970s and then it is easy to keep a team together.
“To me, it is a great diversion. Many people get their kicks out of playing golf or something else. For me, it is basketball. I never get too much of it.”
Many never got too much of having a friend like Phil Preston.