By Ty Young
Melissa Halterman/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Jean Goreman, a Tucson resident and bicycle safety advocate, coordinates donations for the matthew Preston Memorial House. Goreman has been instrumental in the renovation effort, organizing furniture donation pickups and lending a hand in the physical restoration of the foundation.
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Wednesday July 16, 2003
When people call Melinda Preston's Tucson mobile phone number for the first time, some are taken aback by the voicemail message that greets them.
The voice is of Preston's son, Matthew, a University of Arizona biomedical graduate who was killed in October 2001 while riding his bicycle home from work. Although his voicemail message is simple and does not even mention his name, it means the world to his mother. Preston's decision to keep the mobile phone and the voicemail message has helped keep her son's memory alive for herself and anybody who calls.
Preston's decision to keep the mobile phone and the voicemail message has helped keep her son's memory alive for herself and anybody who calls.
Now, after repeated attempts to construct a roadside memorial were met with theft and vandalism, Preston has embarked on an ambitious memorial structure that will ensure that her son's memory in death will mirror his character in life.
A nurse practitioner at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., Preston is renovating a dilapidated house on the corner of North Tucson Boulevard and East Lester Street, near the spot where Matthew was killed. When complete, it will house between four and six University of Arizona medical students for discounted rates. Once the house is completely paid off, Preston plans on offering the house to medical students rent-free.
Preston said this act of kindness is the perfect way to honor her son.
"Matthew was after something and I wanted to help other students who are after something as well," she said.
What he was after was a genetics degree at the UA. Preston said the degree was the route her son chose in order to reach his ultimate intention, to help other people's lives. As a firefighter for the Northwest Wildland Fire District of Tucson and a registered emergency medical technician, Matthew was well on his way to his goal of helping others.
"Matthew was after something, and I wanted to help other students who are after something as well.
Given his character and ambitions, Preston said her son deserved a proper memorial, one that would not be desecrated by vandals.
"It broke my heart to see his memorial vandalized," she said. "It was so horrible to see, given what kind of person Matthew was."
This is the second house that Preston owns in Tucson. The first was Matthew and his fiancˇe's, which Preston purchased to "give Matthew the home he deserved."
Just before his death, Matthew invited a fellow UA medical student to live there for free. Preston still rents the house to one of her son's friends, but said the money received in the lease barely meets the bills.
"With the work I'm doing on (the memorial) and the cost of the other house, I'm digging quite a hole," she said.
The renovation has not been easy, however. After three months of waiting through foreclosure meetings and auctions, Preston was finally able to purchase the house in early April.
Since then, she has traveled to Tucson to work on the house, making it her home every weekend. She keeps a foldout bed in one of the closets. A recently donated stove and refrigerator have helped sustain her over the busy weekends.
"I've painted nearly every surface in that house," she said. "I've worked on the wiring, pulled out the carpets and fixed all the cabinets."
As she painted and fixed the four-bedroom house, she repaired and covered years of neglect. Once used as a drug house and home to transients, Preston at one point had to scrape out putty and cement that sealed the windows of one of the bedrooms, which housed a methamphetamine lab.
As she continues to etch a new, symbolic face on this once decrepit foundation, people in the community have come out in droves to help Preston and her efforts.
Jean Goreman, a Tucson resident and bicycle safety advocate first called Preston after hearing about Matthew's death in 2001. Her son, local realtor Brad Goreman, was killed on Catalina Highway in 1999 as he was training for his seventh El Tour de Tucson. She offered an empathetic hand during the tragic times, and at the beginning of the renovation, a room for Preston to stay in over the weekends.
"People say that time will heal your wounds, and you'll be fine after a while," Goreman said. "It just doesn't work that way."
Goreman has been instrumental in the renovation effort, organizing furniture donation pickups and lending a hand in the physical restoration of the foundation. On Monday, she organized a daylong donation drive throughout Tucson while Preston was on vacation in Ohio.
"We're just trying to put positive energy out there after a tragic event," she said.
Goreman and Preston said they both appreciate the help that the local community has provided. Perimeter Bicycling Association of America has helped by publicizing the renovation and has set up a memorial fund in Matthew Preston's name.
A number of Tucson businesses have also pitched in to help. Allstate Cab Company and Arizona Pony Express have agreed to pay for doors and locks for the house. ChemrX Advanced Technologies recently donated tables and chairs from their office.
Anonymous donors have also helped with by providing furniture and monetary donations.
There is still work to be done, however. There will be a workday on July 26 at the site. Preston and the other volunteers will be working on the front and back yards as well as continuing the painted process. Among the needs for the house are gravel, soil and desert plants.
Preston hopes to have the house complete by early August before UA medical students begin their semester. Prospective UA medical students are still being sought to live at the house.
As they work to finalize the memorial, Preston, Goreman and Matthew's friends all believe they are working in the memory of a fine, dedicated young man. The house, once completed, will allow people to see the good that Matthew brought to others, both before his death and after.
"Life is so very precious," Goreman said. "Hopefully we can help others to appreciate that through this."