GREENFIELD — Preston Wise is wise beyond his years.
The 18-year-old will graduate from Greenfield-Central High School next week, but his high school experience hasn’t been stereotypical.
Wise has been working roughly 30 hours a week at the Greenfield Kroger store over the past year to help support his family, which includes his mom, a younger brother and four younger half-siblings. He works five days a week, including eight-hour shifts on the weekends.
Wise learned to step up for his loved ones at an early age after his dad died suddenly when he was just 5 years old.
Wise said his dad’s struggle with mental health likely led to his death — from what he’s been told — but he holds his father’s memory in high regard.
“He was always a great dad, from what my mom has said,” said Preston, his voice wavering a bit with emotion.
While he was just in kindergarten at the time, the teen said he vividly remembers the day his father died.
“It was rough for everyone, especially my mom,” said Preston, who said his 2-year-old brother was too young to realize what was going on.
Five-year-old Preston felt like he had to become the man of the house, even at such a tender young age — a mission he’s tried to carry out over the past 13 years.
He was 8 years old when his mother remarried and eventually had two more children — now ages 10 and 11 — before divorcing when Preston was in sixth grade.
The children’s father went to prison, leaving them without a father figure. His mom’s two youngest children — ages 2 and 1 — don’t have a dad in their lives either.
“There were a lot of father figures in my life who would always be in and out, so I felt like I had to be the big brother and take care of my siblings. I can relate to them growing up without a dad in their lives, so I’ve felt like I had to be there for them. I don’t want them to go through the same thing I’ve gone through,” he said.
While he knows he couldn’t replace their dads, Preston has always been driven to be a positive male role model in his siblings’ lives.
“As I got older, I realized how much of a struggle it was at our house, so I wanted to make make sure they’re having a good life,” he said. “I just try to do my best to be there for them and do fun activities with them. That’s what I would have wanted as a kid — to do fun activities with my dad.”
Over the years, he’s taken his little brother Carter under his wing and got him involved with Greenfield-Central’s bowling team.
“That’s how we’d bond. We’d go bowling,” recalled Preston, who was a member of the school’s bowling team all four years of high school.
INSPIRED BY DAD
While he grew up without a father, Preston said it’s his dad who has inspired him to nurture others.
“All my family members say my dad really loved on me and my brother, so I want to spread that love,” said Preston, who said he thinks of his father often and hopes he’s proud of the young man he’s become.
“People tell me he was smart and kind, so I try my best to be like him,” he said.
Those who know him say Preston is smart, kind and so much more.
He got involved with the youth group at Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield four years ago and has gone on multiple mission trips, including ones to Tennessee and Kentucky, where he helped clean up after catastrophic tornado damage.
He was hooked after his first church service project, which involved spreading mulch and beautifying Riley Park in Greenfield.
“I loved it. I love helping out people and helping the community,” Preston said.
He looks forward to helping others one day as a civil engineer — a career he started dreaming of while building with Legos as a young boy.
“I always loved playing with Legos and my mom said, ‘You know what would be a great job for you? Engineering.’ So I thought I’d stick with it,” he said.
He took a few engineering classes in high school, his favorite being civil engineering, in which students were challenged to come up with a plan to repurpose the current high school auditorium.
“I loved that project. I created a project to turn the auditorium into a library, but we haven’t heard yet if the school is going to go with any of our designs,” said Preston, who would love to design his own house and other properties some day.
He plans to study civil engineering at Purdue University Fort Wayne this fall after graduating from high school June 3 with academic honors.
Preston pushed himself to take Advanced Placement classes this semester so he could earn an academic honors diploma — an accomplishment he said was worth the sacrifice.
“The first semester (senior year) kicked me in the butt, but I’m going to graduate with academic honors, so I’m excited about that. Hard work pays off,” he said.
Preston said he’s looking forward to challenging himself further in college.
“I don’t like things to be too easy. I always need to challenge myself because I want to see the best of my abilities,” he said.
His mother, Amanda McGee, has no doubt he’ll succeed.
“I’m very proud of him,” said McGee, who marvels at her son’s ability to work 30 hours a week while taking challenging classes, doing community service and attending church youth group every Sunday night. He also has a longtime girlfriend.
“He’s just a dedicated person and he just perseveres. He’s been that way since he was a little boy,” said McGee, who can’t wait to see what her son’s future holds.
This summer, Preston plans to work as much as possible at Kroger while saving up for college, which he plans to pay for himself.
Taking on such responsibility doesn’t faze the soon-to-be graduate, who has taken his longtime role as a nurturer and provider in stride over the years.
“It is what it is. It’s just my circumstances,” he said during a break from class earlier this week.
“Everyone has different circumstances, and I’m just trying to do my best,” said Preston, who arguably lives up to his father’s last name.