Preston and Erika Rader

Erika, left, and Preston Rader Wednesday, December 5, 2018, at the Longview World of Wonders. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Love of community. Love of family. It’s at the heart of what drives Preston and Erika Rader.

The husband and wife team are this year’s co-chairs of Longview’s premier spirited event: Bourbon & Bowties, which benefits Longview World of Wonders, at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Complex in Longview.

LongviewWOW, a children’s hands-on discovery center, opened in August 2016 in downtown Longview, about seven years after a group of volunteers resurrected an idea for a children’s museum that first surfaced in the late 1990s.

“We’ve seen how LongviewWOW has benefited children in our community. … Our kids love it,” Erika Rader said. She and Preston have an 8-year-old son, Benjamin, and a 4-year-old daughter, Abigail.

“If we want to do something on a Saturday, we can go 5 minutes down the road and do physics experiments or creative play. We look forward to our kids growing up and talking about the memories they have of WOW,” Erika said.

“Before, families had to travel to Tyler or Dallas to get this sort of experience. Not every family can do that. Some of the children who visit the museum have never been to one,” she said.

It was 2014 when Cole Tomberlain approached the LongviewWOW board and offered to produce a bourbon-themed fundraiser. At that time, the museum had yet to open.

“I committed to a three-year deal, and that I would raise at least $20,000 each year,” he said. Tomberlain, his wife, Kendall, and their friends organized the first event, which grossed $290,000.

Bourbon & Bowties remains wildly successful, and the children’s museum is now a reality at 112 E. Tyler St. in Longview.

The Raders attended the first Bourbon & Bowties and have continued to support it.

“We felt honored and humbled by the opportunity (to be co-chairs), and up to the challenge. And Preston loves bourbon, so it was an absolute yes,” Erika said, laughing.

About 550 people attended Bourbon & Bowties in 2017, which raised $242,000, Erika said. After expenses, LongviewWOW received $142,000. The goal is to raise $300,000 this year just for the museum.

As co-chairs, “We are having so much fun! It reminds me of what a great listener Preston is,” Erika said.

“It’s me and my best friend planning a really big party for a community and organization that we really love. I don’t think it can get better than that,” she said.

Erika is a Hallsville graduate, while Preston graduated from Pine Tree. She attended Arizona State University, and he attended Texas Tech. They met through mutual friends after they returned to Longview after college.

They both work for Preston’s family business, Rader Funeral Homes in Longview and Henderson. Preston is funeral director and Erika is community relations coordinator.

Preston’s great-grandfather, LeRoy Rader, came to East Texas from Illinois and started the family business in the late 1930s. LeRoy’s son, Charley, opened the Rader funeral home in Longview in 1953. Charley’s son, Charles (Preston’s father) is now co-owner, president and general manager of the company, which opened a funeral home in Henderson in 2006.

Just 3 percent of family-owned businesses survive for four or more generations, according to the Family Business Alliance, which provides training and resources.

“I really enjoy working with my family. I’m grateful for that,” Preston said.

The funeral home business “has always been a part of my life. I picked weeds at the cemetery when I was 13 or 14 years old,” he said of Rosewood Park Cemetery, which the Rader family also established.

“My grandmother, my aunts, my mom and dad – everyone is involved in the business,” Preston said.

It has succeeded because of “the perseverance of my great grandfather, grandfather and my dad. I’m taking it over at the peak of its success,” he said.

Preston also credits the firm’s employees.

“They are great at their jobs. They are great at taking care of families and the deceased and honoring them,” he said.

Erika said, “There’s also a lot of trust in the family. … (Charles Rader) trusts Preston with the legacy of his family; he trusts me as well.”

Family members talk to each other and are willing to learn from each other, she added.

Being involved in the communities in which they work and live also has contributed to the success of his family’s business, Preston Rader said.

He’s a member of the Rotary Club of Henderson, and supports Buckner, the Christian charitable organization, and its local, annual sporting clays tournament. Preston also participates in the Heartsway Hospice Golf Tournament each year. He is a member of the East Texas Funeral Directors Association, including serving as board member and president, and he’s on the board of the Texas Funeral Directors Association. His wife points out with a smile that he’s also the current Young Professional of the Year for the East Texas region of the Texas Funeral Directors Association.

He and Erika also are active in the International Order of the Golden Rule, an association of family owned funeral homes. He led a new young professionals branch of that group that was started in the past five years, and Preston is a member of the Trinity School of Texas Board of Trustees.

Erika also assists with the Heartsway golf tournament and Asbury House — a preschool for low-income families, and the Longview Wine Festival benefiting the East Texas Alzheimer’s Alliance. She’s also a member of the Junior League of Longview, chairing the group’s Kids in the Kitchen program, past president of Leadership Henderson Alumni Association and involved in her children’s schools — Trinity School of Texas and Hudson Pep. Erika organizes community and veteran support events through Rader Funeral Home. She also created a hospice outreach program and trains and supports funeral homes across the country on hospice support and relations.

“Whether it’s Kilgore, Longview or Henderson, you have to care about the communities that you serve,” Preston said.

Because of a related Longview fundraiser, the Texas Bourbon Shootout on Feb. 1, as many as 10 Texas bourbon distillers will be at Bourbon & Bowties this year, Tomberlain said. They’ll have samples of their bourbons and will be available to field questions from bourbon aficionados and would-be connoisseurs.

In addition to dinner and dancing, party-goers can “tour” the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, as well as taste bourbons from Buffalo Trace, a key Kentucky distiller, he added.

A full-service bourbon bar with more than a hundred bourbons will be on hand, plus mint, bacon and everything else needed to make cocktails.