There’s little in Naperville that Cliff Preston didn’t have a hand in. He came to town in 1952 and instantly started making his mark.
He once remarked, “Moving to Naperville was one of the best things that I could do. Because I’ve been very active in the community and helped start the Jaycees in 1954, and then in the late 50’s we started the Wiseman club at the Y.”
But the project most associated with Cliff Preston is the crown jewel of Naperville itself – the Riverwalk. Serving as chairman of the Riverwalk Commission for 17 years, Cliff not only lent a voice to the project, but a set of very capable hands. And his craftsmanship extended to other parts of town as well: seen in the gazebo at Fredenhagen Park, and the restored bandstand and log cabin at Naper Settlement. In 1968, he started Preston Builders, now run by his son, where he displayed the work ethic and tenacity instilled in him at an early age
He recalled, “I grew up in a family in the Depression days. There were 6 of us kids and it was tough.”
He would see tough times of a different sort after he graduated in 1944, and answered Uncle Sam’s call as a new Navy recruit. His handyman skills were quickly noticed, landing him in the Seabees: but not out of the line of danger. He was soon shipped off, landing in Okinawa.
He faced danger that very first night. “At midnight all heck broke loose,” he remembered. “We’re sitting there with no ammunition or anything, and the only thing that saved us was the Marines had an anti-aircraft gun on the beach, and they opened up on the two barges and they called for reinforcements. So that saved us.”
He survived a year of surprise kamikaze attacks, returning back home after the war ended and marrying his high school sweetheart Eleanor two years later. The two would have a son and a daughter, three grandchildren, and one great grandchild. But throughout his life, the words he would often reflect on most came from his own mom.
“Mother taught us whatever you do in life to do the best of your ability, and be honest with people and so forth,” said Cliff. “So I grew up learning to do many, many things.”
And Naperville is all the better for it. Cliff Preston was 90 years old.
Naperville News 17’s Kim Pirc reports.
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