For Earl Smith Jr., a long-time Gary coach and mentor, this day couldn’t come soon enough.
Smith, 88, dreamed of a Gary Sports Hall of Fame for decades. He helped file its nonprofit incorporation papers in 2014.
Eight years later, he celebrated the unveiling of 12 plaques on Wednesday commemorating Gary legends on a “Wall of Fame” inside the Arts & Sciences building on the campus of Indiana University Northwest.
“The keyword here today is’vision.’It was the motivating word that got us going in the right direction,” Smith said during a press conference before the unveiling.
The Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation pushed the Hall of Fame over the finish line with a $ 10,000 donation and a matching $ 10,000 gift from Bruce and Beth White.
Slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hall of Fame announced inductees into the 2021 class and 2022.
The inductees or their family representative will be honored at an installation at 6:30 pm July 29 at the IUN Arts and Sciences Building auditorium, 3415 Broadway. The cost to attend is $ 25.
The Class of 2021 members are Dick Barnett, Rhonda Brady Gilles Anderson, Lee Calhoun, Tom Harmon, Alex Karras, and Ron Kittle.
The Class of 2022 Inductees are Lloyd McClendon, Glenn Robinson, Hank Stram, George Taliaferro, Fred Williamson, and Tony Zale.
Smith said IUN helped clear the obstacles, offering a prime campus location.
“This is something Gary has needed for many, many years,” he said.
Mayor Jerome Prince said the sports hall creates an opportunity to connect the city’s past with its present.
“It’s a mechanism to honor what we consider the best of the best,” he said.
Bill Hanna, executive director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, said the couple’s son Bruce White is a huge fan of Gary sports. The late Dean White left his mark as a Northwest Indiana businessman launching the Holiday Star Theater in Merrillville and a billboard business he built into White Accommodation.
“My boss, Bruce White, is a big fan of Gary sports,” said Hanna.
Hall of Fame vice chairman Chuck Hughes said the donation will help sustain the organization as it gets its footing.
Board member and retired local sportswriter Al Hamnik said Gary has one of the richest athletic traditions in the state, second only to Indianapolis.
“Let young kids know of this great tradition and what they can do, if they aspire to it,” Hamnik said.
Smith said there are plans to develop a curriculum with the Gary Community School Corp. that exposes students to some of the athletic greats from the city.
Hughes said school groups will be brought to IUN to see the plaques and learn about the local legends.
People interested in nominating future candidates can visit the group’s website, garysportshalloffame.org
Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.