SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Charles Clemente Changed the Face of Sports at Florida Tech
By Space Coast Daily // May 9, 2021
2021 sports development inductee
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The late Charles Clemente changed the face of sports for the Florida Institute of Technology and in the process also left his mark in the field of Space Coast sports.
Clemente passed away earlier this year on Sunday, February 14. He was 85.
The $2.5 million gift Mr. Clemente and his wife, Ruth, donated to Florida Tech-enabled the Melbourne university to replace the aging and outdated Hedgecock Gymnasium and classroom annex with the 58,000-square-foot Charles and Ruth Clemente Center, aka the Clemente Center, a cutting-edge facility for varsity and intramural sports, as well as a large fitness center, group fitness room, athletic department offices, multi-purpose room and a café known as the Center Court.
An “air wall” separates the varsity arena from the intramural gymnasium, allowing for more use of the facility. The wall can be removed when large events require it.
Clemente’s generosity not only reshaped the university’s Melbourne campus but also impacted the entire Space Coast community.
“That’s what he had in mind when he provided that facility for the university,” said athletics director emeritus Bill Jurgens, current chair of the Panther Fund.
Jurgens, who was inducted into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, still remembers the first time he walked into the new Clemente Center.
“I was in awe,” he said. “Before, we were so limited in what we could do. With this new facility, we had so much more. It was a milestone in the history of local sports. It was so well-designed.”
The Clemente Center is more than just an athletic complex. For two decades a home for Florida Tech’s basketball and volleyball teams, it has also performed an important role as host to graduations, concerts, conferences, trade shows and special events.
Even former United States President Barack Obama used the facility for a rally, bring the White House chef and china to the facility for a lunch held at Jurgens’ office.
Just a year after opening, the Clemente Center played host to the Sunshine State men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in 2002.
“It was full-house capacity and set the standards for other tournaments to follow,” said Jurgens.
Only two years had passed since Mr. Clemente had joined the board of trustees at Florida Tech when the Clemente Center opened in 2001. He would go on to donate a total of $5 million to the school before passing away at age 85 in February of this year.
The technology industry executive and U.S. Air Force veteran retired as a chief operating officer of American Online/Redgate Communications. His three-decade career in the field involved him closely with major international corporations such as IBM, XEROX, NEC and Digital Equipment Corporation.
“The combination of his experience in technology and business counseling made him an ideal Florida Tech trustee,” said Florida Tech President Dwayne McCay. “We are so thankful for the time we got to spend with him.”
In addition to his efforts with Florida Tech, Clemente served as chair of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and was on the board of the King Center, the American Cancer Society and Easter Seals.
Jurgens will never forget the generous man who did so much for the community.
“He always showed such a level of humility,” he said.