Lilly Melquist, a 2020 Jamestown High School graduate, is the first recipient of the Karen Volpe Preston Legacy Fund, a scholarship created to support Chautauqua County high school graduates majoring in theater arts.
“For as long as I can remember, theater has been a driving force in my life,” Melquist wrote in her application.
From her first trip to Disney World as a child to seeing her first Broadway performance, Melquist became fascinated with learning the magic behind the scenes. As a middle-schooler, she served as student director for Persell’s production of Shrek Jr., and was involved with the musical each of her four years at Jamestown High School.
As a student at SUNY Fredonia studying theater arts, Melquist hopes to use her education to learn more about what happens backstage.
“Telling a story in theater form is more than just the actors on the stage,” Melquist wrote. “It’s also the people backstage, the managers, set designers and dressers that make the production a reality.”
In addition to her academic achievements and extra-curricular activities, Melquist has spent significant time with the National Comedy Center and its annual Comedy Festival. Since 2016, she has volunteered as a dresser for Ethel in the Lucy and Ethel Variety Show, assisting the actors with quick costume changes behind the scenes. In 2019, she began working in guest services, assisting visitors throughout their museum experience.
“I cannot wait to inspire audiences the way I was inspired as a child,” she wrote.
An award-winning actor and comedian, Karen Volpe Preston graduated from Cassadaga Valley Central School, Jamestown Community College and Fredonia State. In 2019, she was diagnosed with state 4 pancreatic cancer and passed away on Christmas Eve.
Since her passing, her husband, 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 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.
“I was delighted to hear about (Lilly’s) involvement in The National Comedy Center and that she’d be attending Karen’s alma mater, Fredonia State University,” Paul said. “This is a bullseye in terms of finding the right person to honor in that it seems Lilly shares Karen’s dreams and I’m thrilled that the Fund can support her.”
In honor of Karen’s upcoming birthday on May 19, Paul, along with Karen’s friends and family, are hosting a birthday celebration, filled with stories, comedy and videos to remember Karen and raise awareness for the fund.
The celebration will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.
Each year, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation awards over $1 million to local students wanting to achieve higher education. Scholarships are available for graduating high school seniors, undergraduate and graduate students. There are also awards for Chautauqua County residents seeking certification outside of higher educational degree pathways.
Applications for the Foundation’s general scholarship process are now available at crcfonline.org/scholarships. The deadline for applications, transcripts and student aid award letters is July 15.