On Friday evening, friends and family gathered at Shangri La Asian Bistro alongside Pat Patrick of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce to surprise Richard and Sandy Preszler, who were named the upcoming recipients of the William T. Harkins Outstanding Citizen Award.
The group crowded together at the Dancing Fox before walking over to the Asian fusion restaurant to surprise the unsuspecting couple.
Sandy Preszler began to tear up at the sight of her friends and family as Patrick relayed to the couple that they had received the award.
“Unbelievable. We thought we were having dinner with friends,” Richard said.
The couple has been helping the community for years, including opening their home and hearts to more than 35 foster children over the course of 10 years.
According to Carol Meehleis, who nominated the couple, their involvement in the community has often gone unnoticed because of the couple’s humble nature.
“They are the type of people that are doers, helpers. They are the people who always show up to help,” she said.
Meehleis first met Sandy in 1999 while Sandy was the president of the Women’s Club of Lodi. Maintaining the historic building, one of the president’s duties, is not an easy feat, yet Preszler has held the position twice, each a two-year term.
“But it was not just Sandy, volunteering in the community. It was her husband Richard, too,” Meehleis said. “They are both the type of people who will stay after the party to help clean.”
The couple has been involved with the San Joaquin Historical Society and the Micke Grove Zoo. The Preszlers were good friends of Claude Brown, who was the President of the Micke Grove Zoological Society, and the vice president of the San Joaquin Historical Society, and worked with him on both boards.
“It started out small, by buying Boy Scout tickets, cookie dough, or gift wrap and from there it grew,” Sandy said.
The Preszlers always looked for opportunities to be active in the community and help wherever they could, and became very involved with Lodi Adopt-A-Child.
Sandy volunteers during the holidays to help facilitate the Angel Cards, separating the children by age group and gender, and helping piece together children’s lists.
“They both spend about 18 hours a day until the last gift is distributed to the last child,” Meehleis said.
The couple had been involved with Lodi Adopt-A-Child as foster parents as well. They fostered newborns who were born prematurely due to drug exposure while in the womb until they were adopted.
“They would cry a lot, and shake because they were born with an addiction,” Richard said.
The couple had two children of their own, a daughter and a son, who passed away. Despite the loss of their son, they continued to help and spread good throughout the community.
“They are just so deserving, of this award, and so selfless,” said Gail Riley, who has been friends with Sandy since 1960. The two went to Lodi High together and have kept in touch.
They host a monthly lunch with other friends from high school. The group calls themselves the Ya-Ya's.
Meehleis, who has volunteered alongside the Preszlers, felt it necessary to nominate them for the award because she knew they would never look for recognition themselves.
“They never look to be in the spotlight, or get recognition for what they do, they just do it because they care,” she said.
Meehleis believes that their willingness to devote time and attention to helping the community is what sets the Preszlers apart from other recipients of the award.
“They're inspirational, and they always look to help anyone. They are just amazing people,” said their granddaughter, Jessica O’Neal.
The couple is active in the lives of their grandchildren, who live in the Bay Area. They attend sporting events and constantly work to motivate their three granddaughters.
“They are our role models, and we are lucky because they are amazing people to look up to,” granddaughter Natalie O’Neal said.
The Preszlers will be recognized and receive their award at the 96th annual Dinner and Outstanding Citizens Celebration, which will be held at Wine and Roses on Jan. 24.