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FISHERS, Ind.– The founders of Ricker’s fuel and convenience stores pledged a major financial gift to Conner Prairie Wednesday night.

The $500,000 donation was announced at their annual meeting and will help restore the museum’s Chinese House, a historic venue on the property.

The Chinese House is located near 126th Street and Allisonville Road and used as a venue for private events, including weddings and corporate outings. The house, bought by museum founder Eli Lilly in 1949 and decorated with Chinese art and architectural elements, will undergo a $1.4 million restoration in 2018, according to Conner Prairie.

“We are very grateful for this tremendous gift which honors the Lilly legacy of history and hospitality,” said Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns. “The Rickers’ generosity will no doubt inspire others to help the museum begin to renovate, restore and expand the Chinese House to preserve Eli Lilly’s interest in Asian art and culture and preserve the structure as a special gathering place for community and corporate events.”

Ricker’s was presenting sponsor of the museum’s 1859 Balloon Voyage experience when the 170-foot, helium-filled tethered balloon flight first debuted in 2009. The company continued its exclusive sponsorship of the exhibit through 2014.

“We feel it’s very important to give back to the communities that have have supported our business,” said Jay and Nancy Ricker in a statement. “It has been our pleasure to give our time and financial resources to Conner Prairie. We have witnessed how the museum has touched the lives of our five grandchildren. They can’t wait for summer day camps and they thoroughly enjoy exploring everything from Animal Encounters to Treetop Outpost. We are pleased to be part of the legacy to keep Conner Prairie vibrant and ongoing.”

Originally from Middletown, Ind., the Rickers were high school sweethearts at Clinton Central High School before heading to Purdue, according to Conner Prairie. After college, they founded their company; Jay drove delivery routes while Nancy managed finances. The couple opened the company’s first convenience store in 1989.

The Rickers reside in Pendleton, Ind., and have two adult children.

As Indiana’s first Smithsonian Institute affiliate, Conner Prairie offers various outdoor, historically themed destinations and indoor experiential learning spaces that combine history and art with science, technology, engineering and math to offer an authentic look into history that shapes society today.

See a photo gallery of the Chinese House below, courtesy of Conner Prairie.

Chinese House at Conner Prairie