Fran Preston

Preston Named Waubonsee “Fab 40” Alumna

Waubonsee Community College is honoring Fran Preston, seen here with some of her artwork in her Greenfield, Wis., home, as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni for her many accomplishments and service.
Sugar Grove — Fran Preston decided early on that her disability would not keep her from having a rich, fulfilling life. A talented professional artist for years, Preston earned her degree from Waubonsee Community College later in life and then spent 15 years working at the college, helping other hearing impaired students reach their educational goals. For her accomplishments and service, Waubonsee is proud to honor Preston as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

The arts have been a lifelong passion for Preston. She attended the Art Institute in Chicago after elementary school and later worked as a greeting card artist at Rust-Craft Greeting Card Company.

“After the company I worked at as a greeting card artist closed, I heard that Waubonsee was opening a new program for hearing impaired students,” she said. “I applied, and Barb Merton (the director at the time) warmly welcomed and encouraged me to take classes despite my being older than the average student. Every day I drove 34 miles to Waubonsee from Shorewood in my old VW Bug.”

Speaking at commencement in 1978, Preston brought her eloquence and insight to her classmates in the graduating class — receiving a sustained standing ovation in the process. She signed her speech while an interpreter spoke her words.

“This college, nestled out in the country, is like a garden teeming with learning, culture, and industry — a sea of knowledge and skill of 5,000 years of civilization,” she said in her speech. “Here is where ideas grow.”

Preston is thankful for the “many wonderful and dedicated” instructors and sign language interpreters who helped her in her education at Waubonsee. Her husband, Mike, of 59 years, was also supportive of her returning to school.

“It was a wonderful experience being a full-time student and knowing one is never too old to learn,” she said. “The Waubonsee faculty and staff were like family and gave me support in every way possible — giving me confidence, which is why I chose to stay and work at Waubonsee after I graduated.”

Working as the Tutor Lab coordinator and an instructor at the college, Preston helped make an education accessible for hearing impaired students. She worked at the college for 15 years before her retirement.

Preston and her husband, longtime residents of Shorewood, now live in Greenfield, Wis., with their dog, Paddy. Their son, Paul, is a professor at University of California – San Francisco. He drew on his experiences growing up with hearing impaired parents to write “Mother Father Deaf”, which examines the family histories of other hearing children of hearing impaired parents to better understand the “place where deaf and hearing cultures meet.”

“Paul’s book has helped hundreds or maybe thousands of people understand the deaf,” she said. “I run into people all the time who tell me how much they love his book.”

Preston continues to live a full life in retirement — still attending and presenting at conferences and conventions.

“No rocking chair for me! I still share the joy of traveling and camping with my husband of 59 years,” she said. “And I squeeze all this in-between still drawing and painting.”