John Preston, a longtime community volunteer in Keizer, passed away Monday at the age of 59. (KEIZERTIMES/File photo)

John Preston, a longtime community volunteer in Keizer, passed away Monday at the age of 59. (KEIZERTIMES/File photo)

Of the Keizertimes

Keizer lost a once-mammoth presence in the city earlier this week with the passing of John Preston, 59.

Preston passed away after a lengthy illness Monday July 9. His last words were directed to his sister: “I love you, Sue.”

While illness kept Preston out of the limelight in recent years, he was a longtime community volunteer serving as president of both the Keizer Kiwanis Club and the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, and a key figure in helping bring the Volcanoes baseball club to Keizer.

Preston was born Aug. 24, 1953, to Robert Lawson, a sheet metal machinist, and Virginia Morgan Preston, a housewife, at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco.

Preston graduated from Terra Nova High School in Pacific, Calif., in 1971 and attended Columbia College in Sonora, Calif., the following year.

While not deeply immersed in the bowling culture as an athlete, Preston’s first jobs included working at Sea Bowl in Pacific, Calif. He went on to manage the establishment for several years and eventually managed Keizer’s Town and Country Lanes under owner Don Lebold.

“John walked in one day looking for a job in management and his experiences were a good match. He did a bang-up job for us,” Lebold said.

Beyond his duties at the bowling alley, Preston became a major Keizer and civic engagement booster. Lebold said the two bonded over their desire to give back to their community.

“Serving was a real gift that he had. John was giving almost to the point of exhausting himself. When I look back on it, it was the greatest trait that he possessed,” Lebold said.

While working at Town and Country, Preston met and befriended Jerry Walker, co-owner of the Volcanoes.

“We visited Keizer in a grassroots effort to move the team and I met John on one of those trips. He offered to host a rally at Town and Country and helped us navigate the political process of moving the team,” Walker said.

The pair hosted a joint 50th birthday celebration in 2003 at Volcanoes Stadium.

Walker said he learned the importance of relationships through his friendship with Preston.

“Relationship is key and that is what John thrived on. There was no one better at building and maintaining relationships with everyone he met,” Walker said.

Christine Dieker, who Preston interviewed when she became executive director  of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce in the late 1990s and then served under him when he became president, said that she learned a lot about patience and public life from Preston.

“A lot of times things just don’t go your way with community involvement, but he was always able to keep his eyes on the outcome rather than the immediate conflict,” Dieker said

In addition to working for a freight shipping company between Los Angeles and Seattle, Preston’s resume included two terms as president of the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce, involvement with Pacifica and Keizer Little Leagues, member and chair of Pacifica Park Beach and Recreation Commission, several terms as chair of the Keizer Iris Festival, service on a variety of Keizer city commissions, boards and task forces and president of both the state and national Bowling Proprietors Association.

He is survived by his mother, brother Robert Lawson Preston, Jr. and his wife Debra of Pacifica, Calif., sister Sue Preston of Salem, nephew Robert Lawson Preston III, and chihuahua, Lola.

He was preceded in death by his father and dachshund, Molly.

A celebration of Preston’s life will be held Tuesday, July 23.