Center Grove resident Ray Skillman has paid area school districts more than $6 million in recent years.

In exchange for the cash, paid out in lump sums and annual payments, his auto dealership brand is stamped on high school sports facilities. But Skillman said the advertising deals also are his way of supporting communities that are raising his future employees and leaders.

Last fall, Center Grove’s football team christened the newly renovated Ray Skillman Stadium, a project made possible by an agreement with the local auto dealer. In exchange for 50 years of stadium naming rights, Skillman pledged $1 million to upgrade and expand the bleachers, roughly doubling capacity to about 6,000; $400,000 toward the construction of a new press box; and another $500,000, paid out in installments over 10 years, to cover additional costs.

He previously had given Center Grove $1 million over a five-year period to cover student activity fees.

“The real payoff is immediate and long-term, and that’s how it affects these young people,” he said. “If you keep them busy in sports or keep them busy in band, or you keep them busy in a lot of the stuff that our employees and myself donate to and work toward for education, they’re going to be our citizens. They’re going to be people that’ll work for us someday. They’ll be people that are part of the police. They’ll be mayors and governors, we hope.

“That’s the main reason why we do it, and as long as we can do it, we’re going to continue to support.”

His advertising deals are primarily with athletic departments. He also has an agreement to give Whiteland High School $500,000 over five years, helping to cover recent upgrades to the school’s track and football field. In exchange, his company’s logos are on signs at the football field, the new band practice field and in the gymnasium.

Outside of Johnson County, Skillman recently pledged $1 million to Perry Meridian to pay for the playing surface at their new football stadium, part of a $9.8 million facilities project that should be completed later this year. He also has given money to Lawrence Central and Franklin Central as part of naming-rights agreements in the past, and the Ray Skillman Automotive Group also is the lead sponsor for Center Grove Little League and Bantam Football, among other youth organizations.

A large part of Ray Skillman’s legacy will be the fact that he’s sold a lot of cars, but he’s hoping that the community will remember him for more than that.

“I’d like for them to know that we care about the community in all kinds of different ways, and with the help of our good employees, we’re going to try to take care of the community,” he said. “We care about seeing the community go in a great direction, and if we can be a part of it, we consider it an honor.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.