JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - A pizza giant, and southern Indiana native, gave back to his hometown in a big way Wednesday to help save a beloved 80-year-old downtown gym.
John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John's and a 1980 graduate of Jeffersonville High School, has made an $800,000 donation to the Jeffersonville Parks Authority. The donation brings the fundraising total to $1.3 million, just $500,000 short of its goal.
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Papa John himself helped announce the donation as the city of Jeffersonville renamed the building the John H. Schnatter Nachand Fieldhouse.
As a result of the donation, the Nachand Fieldhouse, located at the corner of Court Avenue and Mechanic Street, will be renamed the John H. Schnatter Nachand Fieldhouse.
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When it was built in 1937, Nachand Fieldhouse was the largest indoor arena in the Hoosier state. It was the home of the Jeffersonville High School basketball team until 1971, and since then has served all kinds of recreation leagues and given children in the neighborhood a place to go.
"I hope everybody realizes how big of a moment that this day is in the history of Jeffersonville," Mayor Mike Moore said. "This fieldhouse is a haven for them."
Schnatter said he always wanted to give back to his hometown in a big way. It's a place he remembered watching Indiana's Mr. Basketball Mike Flynn in the early 70's.
"People would hang off the rafters," Schnatter said. "This place is coded for 5,600 seats and the fire marshal would bend the rules and let us put in 6,800."
The fieldhouse is in a neighborhood where he learned a lot about life.
"Dad's office is right there, he practiced law," Schnatter said. "My mom was a county clerk. I learned how to weld barges one mile that way. I learned how to make pizzas and wash dishes at the Rocky's Sub Pub one mile that way."
It's also not far from where he started Papa John's. The gym was named for Charlie Nachand's father.
"I'm really happy that he can be part of the Fieldhouse, too," Nachand said.
The board is now one giant step closer to preserving Jeffersonville history for the next 80 years.
Money raised in the Save the Fieldhouse campaign will be used for improvements and upgrades to the infrastructure of the 80-year-old building.