Founding Board Member of The International Center
Before she joined The International Center’s first board of directors, Marianna Preston served as secretary of The International Center Committee at the Indianapolis Council on World Affairs.
Marianna Preston was a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, but her global mindset made Indiana a more welcoming and worldly community.
Her son, Chuck Preston, remembers her as a woman fascinated by the world. She always wanted to learn more about different countries and cultures—and would even collect books of photos from destinations across the globe. It was that global curiosity that led to Marianna one day becoming a founding board member of The International Center.
“My mother was involved in various charities and organizations throughout her life,” said Chuck. “But The International Center was the one that she was most proud of.”
While her husband managed local grocery stores, Marianna dedicated her time to raising their family and giving back to the community. In 1964, she volunteered for the American Field Service’s secondary school exchange program, which connected international students with host families in the community. Their first exchange student was a young woman from Peru, and she quickly became the first of many.
From that point onward, the Preston family welcomed a constant stream of international visitors to their household. Marianna already had five kids of her own, but she was always willing to open her home to students in need. In fact, it was these foreign exchange students that transformed Marianna’s curiosity into a true passion for international relations.
“My mother noticed that the international students were so isolated. They had to write letters home, and it would take weeks to get one back,” said Cindy Dinwiddie, Marianna’s youngest daughter. “She realized that there were pockets of people from all over the world living in Indianapolis, and her goal was to bring all those pockets together and help them find ways to join the community at large.”
Mayor Richard Lugard also recognized a need to unite our international community. He believed that Indianapolis could benefit from an organization like The International Center—a single entity that could manage the city’s global visitors and create a forum for cross-cultural communication.
At the time, Marianna’s “Hoosier Hospitality” had become widely known throughout the local international community. So, when Mayor Lugar began plans for The Center, Marianna Preston was one of the first people he called.
In 1972, the Indianapolis Council on World Affairs formed an ad-hoc committee dedicated to the cause—with Marianna serving as secretary. Alongside Robert G. Nelson and K.P. Singh, Marianna helped steer the committee and outline a proposal for the creation of The International Center in Indianapolis.
“A centralized, multipurpose International Center has long been the dream of many organizations, associations and individuals in Indianapolis,” wrote Marianna. “Such a ‘center’ is seen as a way to provide cross-cultural contacts to visitors to Indianapolis, be they professional, governmental-sponsored individuals or students. It is also a way to involve Indianapolis citizens in an interchange of interaction, ideas and experiences.”
Thanks to her efforts, the final proposal included 75 letters of support from local businesses and leaders—and successfully established The International Center in 1973. In recognition for her support, Marianna Preston was then named to The Center’s first board of directors, where she continued to shape the future of Indianapolis for years to come.