Story reprinted from the June 27, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times.
by DONNA CRONK
KNIGHTSTOWN — Although Robert “Bob” Garner is from Knightstown, with the historic gym the site of numerous community and school memories, once he graduated in 1966, he never visited the building again. Until 2015.
Today, as events coordinator of The Hoosier Gym, it’s his second home – and his passion.
The gym and its storied history, both personally and due to scenes from the movie “Hoosiers” filmed there, are so meaningful to Garner that he has published a book, “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons.”
In it, Garner explains what he learned about life from the movie classic.
“When you played here – the last team that played here in 1966 – you wanted to go on the road,” Garner recalls, recalling his admiration for larger gyms. “You thought it was a dump. But now, you consider it a shrine.”
He’s far from unique in holding The Hoosier Gym in such high regard. Thirty-five years after the movie was filmed, some 60,000 people a year visit the landmark where guests can view and walk through the pristine gym as it appeared both as a functioning high school facility and as a set for movie scenes.
There, they can shoot the ball from the floor and sit the bench in the locker room. Garner and 25-year volunteer Mervin Kilmer will even give you insiders’ tours.
Why he returned to town
While life took Garner away from Knightstown, it never took Knightstown away from Garner. Through the years he returned to visit family, and when the film was shown locally for the first time at The Castle Theatre in New Castle in 1986, Garner was there.
It was a meaningful experience. “I really liked it but more importantly (was) seeing Mrs. (Peggy) Mayhill on the bleachers. She had been like a second mother to me. Seeing her was a cherry on top.”
His first job, coincidentally, was covering a basketball game for her husband, publishing icon, the late Tom Mayhill.
Garner spent his working years in the medical field away from the Hoosier state. His wife passed away in 2014 from Sjogren’s Syndrome.
As a result, Garner was asked by the Sjogren’s Society to coordinate a bicycle fundraiser, launched from The Hoosier Gym and ending in Colorado. Along the way, Garner would speak about the charity to raise awareness.
In August 2015, while starting that fundraiser in the gym, Garner’s life changed.
“There was something about being in the gym,” he recalls, “that maybe I should come back and be a Hoosier again.”
Two months later, he did just that.
Back home again
It didn’t take long for Garner to volunteer at the gym. He was impressed by efforts of local volunteers to keep the landmark so special following filming of the highly lauded movie.
And of course, there was all that personal history. Today, Garner points to the bench at the end of the gym. “I grew up sitting on the bench down there,” says the former Knightstown Panther. He tells visitors that he started center on the town’s basketball team. Then comes the punch line. “Started 20 games in the center of the bench.”
Inspired by Angelo Pizzo
Garner remains in awe of “Hoosiers” screenplay writer and producer Angelo Pizzo.
“When you talk to visitors, you notice the impact the movie has on a variety of people. Why is this movie so important all these years later?” Garner asks and answers his own question. “Angelo Pizzo was a genius. He had written a script that taught so many life lessons.”
Garner set out to capture the essence of those lessons that have to do with timeless values concerning community, faith, redemption, trust and more. He viewed the movie in five-minute segments over and over, taking note of the lessons he found in the order he found them.
“If you learn them at a young age, you’ll have a foundation for a great life. If you follow them, you’ll have a great life.”
He says, “If this book is meaningful to one person, that’s all I need.”
Even before the release, Garner found “that one person” in the form of a pre-reader, a 19-year-old Knightstown graduate who read the proofs and told him how the book helped her with something she had felt the weight of on her shoulders.
The book is about 11 different themes, including change and exploring the changes people need to make without changing their core values.
One of the 11 chapter lessons is that of the theme “Trust,” which Garner explains. Each of the 11 chapters offers a new life lesson.
Kilmer encouraged Garner to write the book. He said of the movie “Hoosiers” and Garner’s new book, “Eleven Life Lessons,” may change your life.
The book release is Wednesday, July 1. From 2-7 p.m. that day, the public is welcome to show up at The Hoosier Gym and purchase signed copies from the author. Those unable to attend may visit the author’s website at elevenlife lessons.com to order them.
Garner gives a special shout out to Knightstown graduate Zoe Huntsinger for her “brilliant” work editing his copy.
Long-term, the book will be available at The Hoosier Gym where a portion of sales will benefit the gym. The author can also be reached via email at rgarner@elevenlife lessons.com. The book is $25 including tax and shipping.
“I want people to read this with an open mind to understand the brilliance of Angelo Pizzo’s script,” says the author.
The Hoosier Gym is at 355 N. Washington St., Knightstown. Phone is 765-345-2100. Visit www.thehoosier gym.com for hours and updates.
SUMMER COMFORT FOOD? YES, PLEASE
When it comes to comfort food, June may be the last month you think of.
But I would say that given the year we're all in, comfort food is perfectly appropriate. I'm going to an outdoor pitch-in tonight with a salad-supper theme. My church life group, the Midlife Moms, or MLMs for short, are having our first in-person meeting since early March.
I wanted to make something special for the occasion and thought of a 1970s classic, a Jell-O dish that is more dessert than salad, Strawberry Pretzel Salad.
I had been given the recipe in 1978 as a wedding or shower gift along with a piece of (if memory serves) yellow Tupperware. I feel sure you can find it on allrecipes.com or some other online site. I haven't made the dish in probably two decades -- or longer.
As an empty nester, my cooking these days is generally simple, and gravitates to recipes I could make in the dark. What I realized as I prepared to make this one is that it was a different time in the 1970s. First of all, when was the last time you found a recent recipe for something with Jell-O? There are three different steps involved with this recipe which involve a lot of bowls, an electric mixer, an oven, a fridge and a grocery cart full of ingredients.
I decided to gather what I needed in a separate trip to the grocery store one night after work. It's interesting how ingredients for this jewel come from a lot of different aisles. Canned goods: pineapple; Frozen foods: strawberries and Cool Whip; dairy: butter and cream cheese; Snacks: pretzels; Baking: sugar, and from another place (I don't remember the aisle for it): Jell-O.
My recipe said it's better made a day ahead so I got started yesterday and it's a good thing because I spilled the cup of pineapple juice I had set aside. So off to the store I went for another can of pineapple! (It was cheaper than a can of pineapple juice which we would never drink otherwise).
So yeah, a good thing I started a day early. Right now, the dish is chilling out and I hope my crew enjoys it tonight.
Brian and I got to talking about '70s dishes and he said he always liked that salad with lots of layers. I knew exactly what he was talking about: Seven-Layer Salad. On our regular grocery-store trip, also yesterday (the one before the one needed after I spilled the pineapple juice), we gathered the goods for that: cauliflower, green onions, Romaine lettuce, bacon, frozen peas and grated cheddar cheese. I told him the dressing makes it and I could lighten up the mayo-sugar combo it calls for. He said no, he'd rather have our Light Ranch.
I made it after I did the strawberry dish and we both loved it. This dish, too, requires a lot of ingredients. I think for the two recipes alone, you can expect a pretty full grocery cart.
Not dishes I would make every day. But that's OK. Sometimes a food trip to the '70s is refreshing, as are both these beauties.
What would be on YOUR list for a summer comfort food?