Home on the Range: An Interview with David Preston
David Preston, great-grandson of H.V. Foster, owns the Delk-designed Foster Ranch in Bartlesville in part with his relatives and brothers. Having been born in the area, he later moved to Memphis, Tennessee before attending the University of Kansas and then practicing law in the Kansas City area for twenty years. Currently, David works at Oklahoma Wesleyan University as Executive Director of the OKWU Foundation and has led the university’s stance for the last year regarding the lawsuit against certain provisions of federal health care.
We spent some time going over David’s history with the Ranch, his favorite photos there, and everything it takes to manage it.
TOWER: Does anyone currently live at the Ranch?
Preston: Since I started working at Oklahoma Wesleyan, I spend a fair amount of time there, taking over management of the property on behalf of my two brothers. The Ranch is owned by my brothers (both of whom live in Memphis) and me. My wife Shelley and I probably spend half our time living at the Ranch and half in Kansas City and go back and forth as best we can.
T: How are you connected with the property?
DP: I’m connected to it because H.V.’s wife Marie (my great grandmother) lived at the Ranch until 1983 when she was 99 years old. I spent a lot of time at the Ranch visiting her, going swimming and camping, that sort of stuff.
My mother was the only granddaughter of H.V. Foster. He left the house to my grandmother with the understanding that it would ultimately go to my mother. So she inherited the house and left it to the three of us when she passed away in 2008. We now own it and are charged with maintaining it. So it has always been an important center of life and the lives of my family members.
T: What comprises your role at the Ranch?
DP: It’s a combination of owner-manager-caretaker. I do a lot of the maintenance because I understand the old boiler system, the air conditioning that was installed in the ‘80s, what’s required to clear brush, repair fence, do the mowing. I do what I can to keep the old systems running.
T: What else does it take to maintain the grounds and lodge?
DP: It takes a lot of work. In the past several years since coming back to Bartlesville, I’ve done bulldozing, chain saw, backhoe. The house was built on a ridge with a view to the west, and from the front a view to the east across a meadow. Over the eighty-five years it’s been there, though, the fence line had become overgrown to the point that you could not see any part of the meadow. One of the things we did was run a bulldozer to clear the bramble to reclaim those views as best as we could.
T: What do you think the Ranch signifies now?
DP: To the community, the Ranch bears a relationship to its early years as a city. Foster built the house and dammed up the creeks to build sixty-acre lakes between 1928 and 1932. The Depression occurred in ’29 and between the La Quinta Mansion and the Ranch’s lakes, fences, and roads there was enough work to do to keep a healthy part of Bartlesville employed.
When my mother became the owner, she would have OKMozart events and sometimes the public was invited. I look for opportunities similar to the Foster Bonanza where we can put the house and grounds to good use to raise money for causes I’m interested in, like Oklahoma Wesleyan. It has been untapped for many years, so I’m trying to make it available while also using it as a private home.
To our family, it’s an ancestral home. It’s a place where we enjoy getting together, in particular my wife and I, my daughter and her husband, my son, and their friends. We spend weekends out there. So for our family it’s an important second home.
T: What renovations have occurred at the Ranch since it was first built?
DP: Structurally, the house is identical to how it was built. For the interior we’ve changed the kitchen so a modern family can gather, rather than the service staff for working. We redid fabric like sofas, chairs, drapes, and blinds about twenty-five years ago. We update as we go on. All the hardware on the windows and doors are original. It’s so good it hasn’t needed to be changed in eighty years. We also rebuilt the pool—it was huge, almost Olympic size. We brought the deck in a little and redid it, and built an open-air summerhouse.
T: What is your favorite part about the Ranch?
DP: I’d say the fact that when you walk in to the old lodge—which was built as a hunting lodge—it’s like stepping back in time. You can get a feel for what it was like when those early oil pioneers (Phillips, Foster, Sinclair, Marland—founded Continental Oil Co) were around. The basement where they used to play cards in front of the fireplace still looks the same.
The other thing that I really like is just getting out to the remote parts of the ranch down on the lakes, where there are a couple of bald eagles and ducks, coyotes, deer, quail. I just like being out on the land.