Wednesday, September 12, 2012
A man who lives to be 100 has a long list of experiences. Henry Preston, a soon-to-be centenarian, still remembers many of his.
In his lifetime, Preston saw such major events as both World Wars, a man walk on the moon and fellow countrymen fight for equal footing during the Civil Rights movement. In his own right, Preston has had a major influence on many in the community.
Many who come to visit Creekside at Shallowford, where Preston now lives, recognize him as the pastor who officiated their wedding, baptized their baby or led the funeral of a loved one. On his birthday, Sept. 14, his family will get to hear him preach again as they celebrate his existence.
“He’s a great preacher,” said Tom Winfrey, a staff member at the retirement center where Preston lives. “He says the best blessings when we get him to pray for the meals.”
Preston was born Sept. 14, 1912 in Dublin, Texas, a small town to the southwest of Fort Worth. When he was 17, his family moved to Alabama. Shortly after arriving, Preston continued on to Chattanooga to work at his uncle’s home goods store.
It was there that he received the inspiration to follow what would become his lifelong passion: preaching.
“I remember the day that I felt that’s what God wanted me to do, and I said, ‘Yes, Lord, I’ll prepare myself to preach,’” he said.
In 1937, after attending seminary in Los Angeles, Preston was ordained as a minister. He served as pastor to churches in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, spending the last 37 years of his career at East Ridge Baptist Church.
“Had a lot of fun, a lot of heartaches,” he said, “but doing what you know God wants you to do is a pleasure and a joy.”
Some of those joys and heartaches came out as Preston, neatly dressed in a dark gray, pinstripe suit, talked fondly of his family. His small living room is full of photographs of his wedding day, children and grandchildren; a lineup which he refers to as the “rogues’ gallery.”
Most of all, however, he talked about his late wife, Catherine.
“Oh me, she was a sweet woman,” he said.
Preston saw his wife-to-be for the first time when he came out of a local drug store. She was standing across the street from him.
“And the next Sunday at church I walked home with her and the bug bit me,” he said, “and when the love bug bites ya, you’re a goner.”
After seeing each other for seven years, they decided it was time to make their relationship more official.
“I remember we were walking along; I don’t remember where, and I gave a funny proposal: I said to her, ‘I guess we’ll just consider ourselves engaged,’ and she said, ‘Yes.’”
They were married for 71 years.
Preston is still an active man. Every Tuesday afternoon he takes part in the community’s bean bag baseball game. Preston is a consistent home-run batter, according to activities coordinator Anissa Harrison.
Preston attributes his longevity to finding God’s will and doing it.
“Trust the Lord and live according to his word,” he said.
Preston has been many places throughout the years: Israel; Lima, Peru; and Santiago, Chile, to name a few. But time flies, even for centenarians.
“It doesn’t seem possible that I’ll be a hundred years old,” he said.