Mary Hicks was born on December 14, 1908 in the dining room of the house that is now 71 Church Street in Phelps. She died in the living room of this same home, the day following her 97th birthday. Her father, William B. Hicks, was a farmer, and lived from 1875 to 1927. Her mother, Elizabeth C. Hicks, was born in 1881 and died in 1950. Few details of Mary’s life are known as she was an extremely private person.
After graduating from the Phelps High School, Mary worked as a secretary for the Clifton Springs Sanitarium. In the late forties, she met her husband to be, Ralph T. Preston. They were married for just a few years until his death in 1960.
Mary’s aunt, Caroline “Kit” Fowler, who had worked in Boston for some time, moved back to Phelps where she died in 1954. She left Mary a sizable amount of money that Mary carefully invested. In time, Mary built up assets that allowed her to travel extensively around the world, to keep a nice car in the garage, and to donate to her favorite charities and community organizations regularly. Her donations were always made anonymously.
Mary was one of the founders of the Historical Society and served as secretary for several years. She donated the funds to make it possible to purchase the Howe House for the Historical Society and she took great joy in watching the building come back to life through the countless hours of hard work by many volunteers. Mary also donated the funds to purchase the Country Lawyer’s Office for the Historical Society.
Mary was the largest single financial contributor to the Phelps Community Memorial Library, providing funding for capital projects in addition to her annual contributions. She also provided a significant portion of the start up funds for the Phelps Community Center and committed to annual donations as well.
Because Mary wanted no recognition for any of her monetary gifts, most people do not understand the impact that she has had on this community. Her good will lives on through the Mary Hicks Preston Foundation, which will make grants available to non-profit organizations who support Mary’s vision to improve the social, recreational and educational opportunities available to Phelps residents as well as preserve historically significant buildings and artifacts in this area.