For Karen Volpe Preston, the world was her stage.
The award-winning actor and comedian graduated from Cassadaga Valley Central School and Jamestown Community College before earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Fredonia in 1993.
Since then, Karen and her husband, Paul Preston, a fellow Fredonia alum, have traveled across the country performing in classic stage, comedy and musical roles – both on stage and online. They settled in Los Angeles in 2000 and continued working as actors, comedians and producers, adding a new role to their resumes, community supporters.
Inspired by their parents who were battling cancer, Karen and Paul hosted and produced, “Celebrating Gilda,” a variety show highlighting the career and influence of legendary comedic actress Gilda Radner. The proceeds of the event benefitted the recently opened Gilda’s Club of Western New York, a cancer support community.
Karen and Paul also starred in several scenes from “Bunny, Bunny”, a dream come true for Karen.
“It was one of her proudest moments, being able to play her idol,” Paul said. “The fact that it was also an opportunity to raise money for Gilda’s Club was just a bonus.”
As Karen continued to find success in L.A., she never forgot about her roots.
In 2016, she returned to Chautauqua County for a series of performances and workshops with her brothers and Paul geared toward local students interested in the arts.
“I love performing, but I love it even more when I get to come back and talk to the students in our community about what I’m doing,” Karen told The Post Journal at the time. “When I was a kid, making a living in singing and the performing arts seemed impossible…so I want to come back and help (these students) the same way I was helped.”
Karen also looked forward to coming back for the grand opening of the National Comedy Center.
“She couldn’t believe it,” Paul said. “All of her heroes and all of the legends that inspired her growing up and throughout her career in one place.”
In the summer of 2019, Karen finally had the opportunity to visit the Comedy Center and it blew her away. Not long after her visit, Karen was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She passed away on Christmas Eve.
Since her passing, Paul has made it his mission to get Karen’s name synonymous with comedy in Jamestown.
With guidance from the National Comedy Center and Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, Paul recently created The Karen Volpe Preston Legacy Fund to support local students who, like Karen, dream of performing and are determined to make those dreams come true.
“It was rare for Karen to have as big of dreams as she did coming from a small town,” Paul said. “The whole point of this scholarship is to encourage students to follow their dreams, just like Karen.”
The Karen Volpe Preston Legacy Fund will be awarded annually to female Chautauqua County high school graduates majoring in theater arts, with an interest in comedy as a career. Preference will be given to students with a background in performance, specifically comedy.