PHOTOPHILE- 'Minor' successes: Frugal teacher's legacy still helps students

An unusual array of savory delicacies awaits attendees at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Minor Preston Fund.

Something happened at the Omni hotel on February 7.

"It's a really amazing story," says Garrett Smith, the president of a little-known but well-endowed non-profit group created 25 years ago by an elderly woman.

The woman was Asalie Minor Preston, and she lived in what's become known as the "Rock House," a Preston Avenue bungalow that recently won historic status, in part because Asalie Minor Preston lived there. Here's why.

In 1982, Preston was a 78-year-old African-American teacher who had taught in the Albemarle County schools for 43 years. She had never married and had no descendants.

"She was a little old lady who scrimped and saved," Smith says. "She went to my father, an attorney, to have a will prepared, and she named a bunch of charities. And then he asked if she thought she ought to leave her own legacy to the community. She ended the conversation saying she'd like him to set up an educational fund."

Three days later, Preston died. "It was a Friday when she came to see my dad," he says, "and she died on Monday." She hadn't signed the will.

Fortunately for students, she'd mentioned her intentions to her two surviving sisters, who, Smith says, renounced any claim on the estate and actually made sizable contributions of their own. Thus the Minor Preston Fund was born.

The sisters in this education-loving family went on to bequeath even more money to the fund– so much, Smith says, that the Fund now contributes $150,000 to $200,000 each year in the form of scholarships to needy students graduating from the four public high schools in Charlottesville and Albemarle– grants aimed at underprivileged, minority, and immigrant scholars, plus those from families who have never been able to send one of their children to college.

With grants as high as $3,000, the scholarships have supplied substantial assistance for many students, including a free ride to Piedmont Virginia Community College.

In an Omni ballroom, guidance counselors, scholarship winners, and prospective scholars joined  Fund officials to celebrate 25 years of giving.

As for Preston's Rock House, it's now home to Legal Aid's "Just Children" program, which ensures that disabled young people get equitable educational opportunities– a "perfect fit" Smith says for the home of a woman who dedicated her life and her legacy to helping young people.

Brian Menard is the executive director of the fund.

Board member Margaret Littlepage

Asalie Minor Preston's father, Rives Minor, taught 21 years in Albemarle

The Rev. Raymond Hailes offered a benediction.

CHS students Alex Sims, Niya Bates, Saranjanee Davis, Robert Moorhead, Kendra Wesley, and Daisa Granger

Western Albemarle counselor Shelby Poole (third from left) dines with students Billie Huckstep, Tori Woolheater, April Salisbury, Ashley Jones Howard, and Sadeeka Dosu