Despite the below-freezing temperature, the fast-moving stream wasn't allowing ice to form.

Rives C. Minor realized he would have to wade across yet another stretch of frigid water before reaching his destination. It was early 1879, and the former slave was walking from Charlottesville to Highland County, where he had been promised a teaching job.

With snow falling most of the way, the 23-year-old educator covered more than 100 miles on foot, fording all the creeks and rivers along the way. It wasn't the $20-a-month salary he would earn that spurred him on through the burning cold water and up and over the hills and mountains that stood in his way.

What drove Minor forward was his unflagging determination to educate black people, both young and old. With emancipation came the promise of the great gift of knowledge for all those who had been denied it during the era of slavery.

For more than 30 years, 21 of them in Albemarle County public schools, Minor worked to make that promise a reality. In 1922 his daughter Asalie Preston followed his footsteps into teaching.

Except for a three-year period in the early 1930s when she was earning a college degree, Preston devoted her life to teaching. By the time she retired in 1969 she had taught in several segregated Albemarle County schools, including the Albemarle Training School.

Although Minor died on March 8, 1926, and Preston passed away on July 29, 1982, their legacy continues to help needy students reach their educational goals. Since 1983 the Rives C. Minor and Asalie M. Preston Educational Fund has helped nearly 1,000 Charlottesville and Albemarle County public high school students go on to undergraduate studies.

For a quarter of a century, the fund has quietly given away nearly $2.5 million in need-based scholarships. Brian P. Menard, executive director of the fund, said except at the four local high schools - Albemarle, Charlottesville, Monticello and Western Albemarle - few people in the community

know the fund exists.

"We have tended to keep a low profile, and that has helped us get our work done, and not be bombarded by a lot of extraneous requests," said Menard, who has been serving in his position since 1993.

"On the other hand, when we were looking toward this milestone date, we thought it was time for us to tell the story of this extremely generous family. And also tell the story of what we have been able to accomplish through their generosity.

"We decided we would use the 25th anniversary as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to reach out to the schools. So we had a luncheon, and the majority of the participants were students, guidance counselors and principals from the four local high schools."

The luncheon was held earlier this month at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel. During the event students who were thinking about applying for a scholarship learned about the history of the fund.

Minor had been one of the slaves belonging to Col. T.L. Preston, who had a plantation on the outskirts of Charlottesville. When the Civil War ended, he divvied up small parcels of land and gave them to his former slaves.

With freedom came the right to learn, and Minor was educated in the Freedmen's School in Charlottesville. One of the major goals of the school was to instill enough knowledge of primary school subjects that students could go on to teach others.

Minor was only 17 when he earned his teaching credentials. In addition to teaching, he was a farmer and astute businessman who understood the value of owning land.

The financial foundation of the Minor Preston Educational Fund was created largely from money that came from the sale of property once owned by Minor. Lloyd Smith served as Preston's attorney and was instrumental in the creation of the fund and handled the sale of some of the land.

"Asalie told me that many of Col. Preston's former slaves couldn't make a living on the acre or so of land that he had given them," Smith said. "They would usually just abandon it and go to places like Washington, West Virginia and Philadelphia to find work.

"They might sell the land to her father or, if it became delinquent in taxes, he would keep up with that and buy it then. He certainly knew what he was doing."

Over the years, Minor acquired a sizable amount of prime real estate. He also owned an 80-acre farm, where he raised hogs.

As Charlottesville expanded, this land continued to increase in value and, over the course of several years, was sold off. Shortly before her death, Preston went to Smith to have him draw up a new will.

"Asalie had made notes on various local charities she wanted to leave her money to, such as her church and the Red Cross," Smith said. "Her sisters [Glenna E. Minor and Bernice M. Hargis] had as much money as she had, because they had divided everything three ways.

"There was no need to leave money to them, and none of them had children. So I went ahead and drafted this just the way she told me to. But I knew from our conversations that she and her father had spent their lives teaching."

After drawing up the will, Smith called his client on the telephone to let her know it was ready. During the conversation, he mentioned an idea that had occurred to him.

"I told Asalie that it was just my idea, but she had enough money to start a foundation for education," Smith said. "She said, 'Well, tell me something about that.'

"So I told her we could set up a little board of directors and give money out just the way we're doing it now - applications from local high schools and all that. She said that it sounded like a mighty fine idea, and that she would let me know the following Monday."

The conversation was held on Friday, and Preston passed away unexpectedly the following Sunday.

"On Monday I got a call from Glenna and she told me that Asalie had died over the weekend," Smith said. "But before she died, she had told her and Bernice about the idea and they said they wanted to do it.

"The old will had left everything to the two sisters. But they renounced that and I went ahead and set up the foundation."

When the two surviving sisters died, they also left their estates to the foundation. Smith served as its president for nearly 20 years before turning the reins over to his son, Garrett, who continues to serve in that position.

The scholarships are awarded based on financial need. Menard said the schools do an excellent job in screening applicants for eligibility before submitting the applications.

High school seniors can apply for an initial award through the school's guidance department. Recipients seeking renewal of their awards apply directly to the fund's board.

"Because the local public high schools do a very good job of presenting us with the right candidates, we're able to fund the vast majority of the applications we receive," Menard said. "What makes our scholarships unique is the fact that its renewable for up to four years.

"And, in exceptional cases, we have continued scholarships beyond four years for students who have done very well and are going on to law or medical school or some graduate program. I think this aspect of the fund shows that the board is just interested in helping students get through school.

"And we try to help as many students as we can. We could give larger awards to fewer students, and we may have to do that some day. But the concern right now is trying to meet as much of the need as is presented to us."

During this academic year, the fund has given out 86 awards. On average 30 to 35 new students are brought into the program each year.

Awards range between $1,500 and $3,000 a year, with $2,500 being the average. Menard said the scholarships at the lower end of the scale are usually for students going to Piedmont Virginia Community College and are usually enough to cover all their costs.

In 1994 the fund decided to help support the Imani Project, an early intervention program at Charlottesville's Venable Elementary School, and later the Walker Learning Lab. It provided nearly $50,000 toward administrative costs of these projects.

Starting last year, the fund also helped support the educational initiatives of Legal Aid's JustChildren program. Future goals for the foundation are to expand its scholarship program and help other educational projects they deem worthy.

Menard said it's truly remarkable what Minor and his family have done for the local community.

"I think it's important to mention that the people who gave the money to create this fund were possibly at times in their lives folks who could have used this money themselves," Menard said. "These weren't wealthy people, and yet they created this legacy to the community.

"They have made it possible for a lot of students, particularly those who go to PVCC, to literally get their foot in the door. A letter was read at the luncheon in which the student said until he received our scholarship he didn't realize there were people out there who cared about his going to college.

"My experience has shown that for a lot of these students we do make a very big difference in helping them go down a productive path in education. And the members of our board are fully engaged in this work and take an interest in each and every one of the students we help."

When Smith was asked to share his thoughts about the significance of the fund, he pondered the question for a moment or two. Looking back on its 25 years of history he was able to put it into a personal perspective.

"I think the Minor Preston Fund is probably the most successful thing I've ever created in my practice of law," Smith said. "And that would include the television station WVIR and what is now Union Bank.

"I started both of those and was chairman of both. I was also the chairman of the Minor Preston Foundation, and I think it is the best of them."

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