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212 E. Fourth Street
Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Phone: (607) 535-4331
James Preston

James C. Preston

Thursday, October 14th, 1926 - Monday, September 2nd, 2019
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James Clarence Preston, 92, of Hector, NY, and beloved husband of Gretta for 66 years, went to be with his Lord on September 2, 2019. He passed peacefully at home while holding his bride's hand.

'Jim' was born in Friendship, NY to the late Clarence and Livonia (Pierce) Preston. Losing his mother at a young age, he grew up in farming communities across NY State, and graduated from Ithaca High School in 1944. Jim proudly volunteered to serve his country during WWII that same year. In the Navy, unable to pursue his love of flying due to color blindness, he became a Patrol Craft Radarman 3rd class, having graduated from Sampson Naval Base Training Camp in Romulus, NY. Never losing his interest in farming, agriculture and rural community development, after his honorable discharge in 1946, Jim graduated from Cornell University in 1950 and started his working career as a Cornell Cooperative Extension Agent. Jim loved traveling across the counties where he worked, and knew every back road because he rarely took the same route twice. He was much appreciated by those he met, and with his knowledge and winning personality, Jim made many lifelong friends of the farmers he served. He was a member of the Extension professional’s Epsilon Sigma Phi Honorary Fraternity.

In 1951, Jim met 'the love of his life' while working in Steuben County. He married Gretta Robbins in 1953 in Bath, NY. Having loved his time as a student at Cornell, and while starting a family, Jim continued his education, earning his Master’s Degree from University of Wisconsin in 1959. By 1963, Jim and Gretta had welcomed 3 daughters into the world, and that year Jim accepted his dream job in Cornell Cooperative Extension at Cornell University, moving the family to Ithaca, NY. Jim's love of education continued, and he earned his Doctor of Education at Cornell in 1968. Jim accepted his 2nd dream job at Cornell as a Professor in the Dept. of Rural Sociology, and at the same time became Director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. Jim then developed the Empire State Food and Agriculture Leadership Institute (LEAD New York), and became its first Director. His 2-year pilot program for the Institute was so valued and well received that it continues today, having graduated 17 classes. In recognition of his significant contributions Jim humbly received the honor of Professor Emeritus upon his retirement from his much-loved Cornell.

Jim had many hobbies, but loved time spent with his family the best. The family trips every summer will never be forgotten by his daughters. Unfailingly kind and loving, there were still rules to live by that Jim did not waver from and he instilled those values in 'his girls'. Cindy, Joan and Barb could not have been prouder to call him 'Dad' for he was the best one ever. Jim shared his love of gardening, boating, hunting, fishing, archery, golf, square dancing, cards, horseback riding and many other hobbies with anyone in the family with the same interests; those memories of his enthusiasm will remain forever. He remained an avid reader up until his death. Family as well as friends will remember Jim's love of most any Cornell sport, as well as any sport that had one of his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren playing. He never missed a Cornell hockey game if he could help it, and that went double for watching his family play any sport of their choice. His family will never forget the encouragement of his 'cheering ' that could be heard like a foghorn across any playing field. Always closely involved with his home and school communities, Jim happily took leadership roles whenever called upon. He made friends everywhere he went and his commitment to church, Rotary, and Cornell Alumni Associations was unwavering. He was a member of RSVP, Alpha-Zeta fraternity, Naval Patrol Craft Association, Parkinson's Support Group and many others. Jim was honored to have been recognized 3 times in Rotary as a Paul Harris Fellow, most recently in the week preceding his passing. Jim's love of traveling was shared with Gretta. They visited all 50 of the United States, on most trips using their motor home, including to Alaska and back. They did not stop their trips until Parkinson’s disease forced Jim to slow down in his 80's. There was 'no quit' in the man as he did everything 'right' in managing his Parkinson’s, rather than let Parkinson’s manage him. He will forever be an example to his family of the best way to deal with what life hands you!

Jim is survived by his beloved wife Gretta (nee Robbins) Preston, much loved sister Ruth (Robert) White of Cary, NC, sister-in-law Vera Robbins of Bath, NY, daughters: Cynthia (Michael) Hagin and Joan (Fred) Denmark JR, both of Trumansburg, NY; daughter Barbara (William) Yaeger of Cumming, Ga.; grandchildren, Timothy (Kate) and Todd (Lonnie) Denmark, Katelyn (Chris) Hubbell and Stephanie (Jeff) Steuer, Erica (John Whiting) Yaeger and Mackenzie (Henry Candela) Yaeger. Great grandchildren Allison, Cole, Emma and Robert Denmark, and many loving nieces and nephews. In addition to his parents, Jim was predeceased by his loving in-laws Joseph and Ethel Robbins of Bath, NY, his brother Roger (Grace), infant sister Betty, brother-in laws Joseph (Doris), Harold (Patricia) and Albert Robbins, sisters-in-law, Norma (George) Freeman and Thelma (Art) Covert.

The family will be present to receive friends on Saturday (September 14th) at the Hector Presbyterian Church, Rte. 414, Hector, NY, with calling hours from 11AM-1 PM and memorial service immediately following at 1 PM.
Burial will be at a later date. In lieu of flowers the family asks that you kindly consider a donation in Jim's memory to LEAD New York, Cornell University, 275B Warren Hall, 137 Reservoir Ave, Ithaca, NY 14853 or the Hector Presbyterian Church, PO Box 96, Hector, NY, 14886. Arrangements with Royce-Chedzoy Funeral Home (, Watkins Glen.
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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Saturday, September 14th, 2019 | 11:00am - 1:00pm
    Saturday, September 14th, 2019 11:00am - 1:00pm
    Hector Presbyterian Church
    5511 State Route 414
    HECTOR, NY 14818
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Service

    Saturday, September 14th, 2019 | 1:00pm
    Saturday, September 14th, 2019 1:00pm
    Hector Presbyterian Church
    5511 State Route 414
    HECTOR, NY 14818
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Pastor Ben Masters
  • Interment

    Nondaga Cemetery
    Rumsey Street
    BATH, NY
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Interment will be held at a later date.


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Private Condolence
Roger and Diana sent flowers to the family of James C. Preston.
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Roger and Diana

Posted at 11:46am
Those we love don't go away, they walk beside us every day, unseen, unheard, but always near, still loved, still missed and very dear.
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James P Kuehl

Posted at 09:10am
The world is a lesser place today with Jim having passed away. Jim was as gracious and intelligent a man as ever walked this earth. He had that rare combination of humility and authority. It was a privilege to work with him. Condolences to Gretta and the family. As busy and accomplished as he was his family was always foremost in his thoughts. It goes without saying how much he will be missed and how fortunate we are to have known him. - Jim Kuehl

Cindy Harvey

Posted at 10:44am
Jim chaired the Pastor Nominating Committee when I was called to be pastor of Hector and Lodi Presbyterian Chuches back in 1995, so he was one of the first people I got to know in the congregation. He and Gretta were supportive members and friends during my twelve years there. I remember when my parents and my brother came for my installation service, Jim took them out on the lake in his boat.

When Jim and Gretta were adding Nebraska to their fifty state total, they visited my family in Omaha and attended Benson Presbyterian Church with them. They got to meet then Omaha mayor Hal Daub when they did.

I recently chatted online with a colleague from Geneva Presbytery who served in a Presbytery committee with Jim. She said Jim liked to talk about my good sermons. The secret every preacher knows is that they are only as good as the people they preach to. Jim, you were one of the best. Much love to Gretta and the girls and their families as they mourn this enormous loss. I know Ben will do a good job and take good care of all of you.

With love and blessings,

Cynthia Harvey

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