A Model Steward: Meet Preston Cole

Written by Cassie Mordini
    Tuesday, 26 November 2013
A Model Steward: Meet Preston Cole

We generally remember the simple lessons we learn as kids: don’t talk with your mouth full; put things back where you found them; say please and thank you. We often pass on those easy to remember and easy to follow rules to our children too. While they help shape us into well mannered adults, there are other important lessons in life. And as Preston Cole explained to me as we chatted one afternoon, teaching children to appreciate and understand our natural world is paramount for our collective future. After all, they will become the next generation to steward our natural resources.

Preston Cole is the Director of Operations for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works and was appointed Chairman of the Board for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Preston also sits on the board for the Arbor Day Foundation.

Growing up as the ninth child of sharecroppers in Southwestern Michigan, Preston remembers well the land ethic and general love for the land that his parents had. “They taught me that we should only take what we need, and that we have to take care of the place where we live.” He credits his parents for instilling these morals in him as a child and as one of the important influences that led him down his career path. He proudly adds, “My mother, now 91 years old, still lives on those 11 acres.”

Other influences and learning experiences for the young Cole included involvement with the Future Farmers of America, his first job tending to grape vineyards, and apple orchards, and his work building nature trails during Junior College. In fact, Preston revealed that it was out of this “simple act” of building nature trails that his desire to enter the field of Forestry Management was cultivated. “It’s the simple acts that change people,” he said.

Likening the experience of building nature trails to any one experience a person could have at the Urban Ecology Center, Cole explained, “That’s what’s so great about the Center.” He remembers back to when he first learned about the Center when he was Commissioner for MMSD; it was not long after the award-winning green building in Riverside Park was built. He had heard great things about how the Urban Ecology Center was engaging young people in particular and thought, “Wow. Who is Ken Leinbach? And what is he [and the Urban Ecology Center] doing to engage children?”

Over the years, a supportive and collaborative relationship evolved between Preston, the organizations he works for, and the Urban Ecology Center. A number of projects, namely Three Bridges Park and the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, have been successful outcomes of such collaboration.

Preston’s unwavering commitment to the environment and our community are extraordinary. Beyond his “day job” of overseeing all the divisions that make up the Department of Public Works, including Forestry Services (Preston was City Forester and Environmental Services Superintendent prior to Director of Operations), Preston devotes much of his free time and resources to other organizations that are helping make our world a better place to live. Through his appointment as Chairman of the Board for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Preston works to create policy that protects and preserves our natural resources. And through his work with the Nature Explore program as board member for the Arbor Day Foundation, Preston is helping schools and teachers create nature-based outdoor spaces and providing effective tools to enhance comprehensive learning about the natural world.

In addition to sharing his time and expertise, Preston is also a philanthropist. “I understand how difficult it is, especially for environmental organizations, to find sustainable funding sources,” Preston explained. “That’s why I find a way to use my resources the best way possible to support organizations that do this important work. The Urban Ecology Center is one of those organizations.” Preston has been a long-time friend and supporter of the Center. Through the city’s Combined Campaign, a work-place giving program, city employees are encouraged each year to find organizations to support. As a member of Community Shares, the Urban Ecology Center is one of the organizations to which city workers can designate their donations. “Through workplace giving, it is easy to direct funds over the period of a year, taken little by little from each paycheck. And for me, I like that it provides for complete accounting of my charitable donations for year end tax preparations,” explained Cole.

If you would like to learn more about Community Shares or how to start a workplace giving campaign, click here or feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Preston Cole is truly an outstanding citizen working on many levels to make our community, and our world, a better place to live. In my opinion, I think his parents taught him more than just land ethic… It has been a pleasure getting to know Preston and sharing his story. I hope you have enjoyed it too.

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Cassie Mordini

Cassie Mordini

Perhaps naively, Cassie thought that every child grew up playing in the woods and building forts like she did. After a move to the city had her longing for outdoor adventure, she realized that urban kids have a very different perception of nature. And something like serendipity, Cassie found the Urban Ecology Center and is delighted by her role as the Donor Relations Manager to share her passion for the outdoors with others and help the Center provide opportunities for people to discover nature in the city.


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