University News

Western New England University Benefactor S. Prestley Blake Dies at 106

Published: February 22, 2021 | Categories: Alumni, Law, All News
Photo of Pres and Helen Blake on Campus.

Noted philanthropist and friend to Western New England University (WNE), S. Prestley Blake, has died after a short illness at a hospital near his home in Stuart, FL. He was 106.

"The entire Western New England University community is so grateful for Mr. Blake's vision and generosity, and admire all that he accomplished in his long and storied career as a savvy business person and wonderful philanthropist. We are proud that our law facility bears his name, and that the Blake Law Center affords our students the opportunity to learn in an exceptional educational setting," said WNE President Robert E. Johnson.

Blake and his brother, Curtis, opened the first Friendly ice cream shop in Springfield, MA in 1935. From meager beginnings, the business grew into the restaurant chain Friendly's, which had more than 500 locations across the eastern United States at its peak in the 1970s.

Spanning more than four decades, in addition to their community engagement through Friendly's, the Blake brothers made significant philanthropic impacts in greater Springfield, with emphasis on education, healthcare, and culture. The brothers were inducted into the Western Massachusetts Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame at the Springfield Enterprise Center in 2000.

Prestley Blake and his wife, Helen, continued the Blake's focus on philanthropy with their gifts to WNE, now collectively surpassing one-million dollars. Their significant philanthropic impact at the University began with Blake's gift to the School of Law in 1978. The S. Presley Blake Law Center, named in his honor, opened later that year and continues to be the foundation for the WNE University School of Law.

In continued recognition of their commitment to philanthropy, Prestley and Helen were named "Philanthropist of the Year" by the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Beyond their philanthropic support at WNE, Prestley and Helen were active in many communities throughout New England and in Florida.

"Pres's legacy goes well beyond the School of Law and is characterized by philanthropy that has helped to build and sustain the greater Springfield community. Our law school, university, and region have lost a friend," said Sudha Setty, dean and professor of law at the WNE University School of Law.