Bob Garner was a gregarious, larger-than-life figure who greeted visitors to the Hoosier Gym with a smile — and then showered them with every detail of the Knightstown, Indiana, relic and the movie “Hoosiers” that brought the tiny building national fame in 1986.
He was the alum who liked to tell anyone who would listen that he played basketball for Knightstown in that gym’s final game in 1966. He was a man who loved the movie and the building so much, he published a book “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons.”
Garner, 74, died Thursday from COVID-19. He was not vaccinated, his son Keith Garner said.
Just last month, Garner was able to see a dream of his become reality when “Hoosiers” was shown at the gym with all the original scenes added back in. As Garner said, “This was the way the movie was meant to be seen.”
Garner sat alongside “Hoosiers” writer Angelo Pizzo to watch, smiling the entire time.
“That was kind of his last big thing for the 35th anniversary (of the movie) to put that together,” said Keith Garner. “In his mind, the movie was officially done.”
Keith Garner is so grateful his dad got to see that happen before he died.
Bob Garner’s official title was events coordinator, but for him, the job and the gym was his savior, said Keith Garner.
When Bob Garner’s wife died in 2014, he was lost, trying to decide what to do next, his son said. The couple lived in Florida.
“He ended up back where it all started for him,” said Keith Garner.
Once back in Knightstown, one of Garner’s high school friends, who was a volunteer at the Hoosier Gym, saw Garner struggling.
“Why don’t you just come with me to the gym?” he asked Garner. Almost immediately, Garner started volunteering, then giving tours. He soon became the No. 1 person requested for tours, Keith Garner said.
“He had all these ideas,” he said. “They said, ‘Well, you should run this place.’ “
Garner, who had spent his life in the medical field, couldn’t think of anything he’d rather do.
“The gym and the place and the people, he just loved all of it,” said Keith Garner. “It was just a nice last chapter of his life. Kind of a cherry on top.”
Neil Shaneyfelt, a board member of the Hoosier Gym, met Garner when be returned to Knightstown in 2014.
“He was just so much involved with the gym from the start. He just jumped in with both feet and devoted all his time to the gym,” Shaneyfelt said. “There is going be a huge void for us to fill.
“He gave everything to that gym.”
‘I will miss him dearly’
Garner first saw “Hoosiers” when the world first saw it, November 1986. He sat inside Castle Theatre, a now shuttered relic of the bustling Chrysler town of New Castle, the month the movie was released.
Garner was in his late 30s. He had graduated from Knightstown High in 1966, the final year the Panthers played in the Hoosier Gym. He watched in awe on the big screen as Hollywood took over the tiny court where he and his classmates had played.
“I was just mesmerized by it,” Garner said earlier this year. “And it never ended for me.”
Garner couldn’t begin to count how many times he’d watched the movie, but each time he did, he learned something new. He noticed how much was taught about life in that 2-hour film.
“Trust, forgiveness, second chances and redemption,” Garner said last month. “That movie could be changed to a football movie set in Wisconsin and it would still be just as good. The theme and what you learn would still all be there.”
In 2020, Garner wrote “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons,” a short book that replays scenes, characters and lines from the movie, then details a life lesson.
Garner’s mission was to bring as much awareness and adoration to the gym and the movie as he could, said Zoey Hunsinger, assistant events coordinator at the gym.
“Without his help, the gym would not have reached as many people as it does today,” said Hunsinger, who worked with Garner for four years. “Bob was very special to the gym.”
Hunsinger remembers how Garner would often call her “his brain.”
“He thought of the big ideas and then it was my job to figure out a way to put them into action,” she said. “To me, it seemed the gym was his entire life, even when he wasn’t there it was clear he was always thinking about it. I will miss him dearly.”
Board member Helen Gorman said all those at the gym will greatly miss Garner.
“He was just a wonderful guy who loved the gym,” she said. “We will miss him a lot.”
Services for Garner unknown at this time.