"This is the most important thing we have ever done."
—S. Prestley and Helen Blake
The Blake Center for Faith and Freedom is a satellite campus of Hillsdale College in Somers, Connecticut. Opened in 2020, the Blake Center is named in honor of S. Prestley and Helen Blake, who donated the property to Hillsdale in 2019. The crown jewel of the property is a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which features the Jefferson Library, a collection of rare and antique books according to the same system Jefferson would have used in his own Monticello.
Pres, who passed away at the age of 106, founded the Friendly Ice Cream Company in 1935 with his brother Curtis. They grew it into a thriving restaurant business with locations across the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States, and they sold it in 1979.
Over the years, Pres transformed “a field and some trees” into a beautiful pastoral setting, says Helen. His passion for landscaping and construction projects continued well into his 90s. He loved architecture, and at the age of 98, he decided to build a replica of Monticello.
Helen earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Bates College and Springfield University, respectively, and taught middle school algebra. She has served as a trustee for many non-profit organizations and supported her husband’s many endeavors. Together they created what President Arnn describes as “paradise.”
Pres and Helen Blake were awarded honorary Doctor of Public Service degrees by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn and Hillsdale Provost Christopher VanOrman in February 2020 at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Naples, Florida.