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LEAD New York founder James Preston ’50 dies

LEAD New York founder James Preston ’50 dies

Author: Whitney Wilgus/Thursday, September 12, 2019/Categories: Obituaries

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James Clarence Preston ’50, Ed.D. ’68, a former Cornell Cooperative Extension agent who served as a professor of rural sociology at Cornell from 1968-88 and developed the Empire State Food and Agriculture Leadership Institute (LEAD New York), died Sept. 2 at his home in Hector, New York. He was 92.

Preston was born Oct. 14, 1926, in Friendship, New York, and grew up in farming communities across the state, developing a lifelong interest in agriculture and rural community development. He graduated from Ithaca High School in 1944 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a patrol craft radarman during WWII.

Following his honorable discharge from the service in 1946, Preston enrolled at Cornell and earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) in 1950. He began his career as a Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) agent that year, traveling the back roads of the counties he served, rarely taking the same route twice and making many lifelong friends of the farmers with whom he worked.

He earned his master’s degree in 1959 from the University of Wisconsin, and in 1963, Preston accepted a job with CCE. He earned a doctor of education degree from Cornell in 1968 and began teaching in the Department of Rural Sociology, at the same time becoming director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development.

Preston developed the Empire State Food and Agriculture Leadership Institute (LEAD New York)in 1985 and became its first director. His two-year pilot program for the institute was well-received and it continues today, having graduated 17 classes and more than 450 alumni who serve the food, agriculture and natural resource industries in a variety of leadership roles at the local, state, regional and national levels.

Preston retired to his home on Seneca Lake in 1988, was elected professor emeritus and continued to teach classes.

He was a man of many interests and a fan of Cornell athletics, rarely missing a Big Red hockey game. A member of Alpha Zeta fraternity, he was active in Cornell Alumni Associations; into the 21st century, he served as vice president of the board of directors of CCE Schuyler County.

Survivors include Preston’s wife of 66 years, Gretta; three daughters; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Calling hours are Sept. 14 at the Hector Presbyterian Church, Route 414, Hector, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with a memorial service immediately following. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be sent to LEAD New York, 275B Warren Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853; or the Hector Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 96, Hector, NY 14886.


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