WEST MONROE, LA (KSLA) - Johnny Huntsman may be best remember for his delicious pizza and that charismatic personality while starring in his Johnny's Pizza House commercials for years.
But now some 6 months after his passing, his pizza family is hoping to honor his memory by joining the fight against the disease that took his life, Alzheimer's.
"I think until you actually witness this with someone you care about, that's when it really hits home just how terrible the disease is," says Johnny's Pizza House CEO and longtime friend Melvin DeLacerda.
"It took away the person we knew and loved."
Johnny's Pizza House now is selling 2018 calendars packed with coupons and memories of the man who first stuck his name on a 1967 business risk called pizza.
"He literally had to teach people what pizza was," DeLacerda explains.
Money raised from the sale of those calendars will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association.
Some of the memories and photos in the calendar include pictures of the first Johnny's Pizza House that opened more than 50 years ago right across the street from Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe.
"Back when he first opened that first location, there was only one other pizza place in town."
Also inside the calendar, memorable photos from 1989 when Johnny stood next to a business intersection wearing only a barrel with suspenders, holding a sign asking passerbys to "Please Eat Johnny's Pizza".
This was at a time when business was slow.
But it revealed a hint at his creative marketing mind that has made Johnny's Pizza House one of the most popular pizza restaurants for five decades.
The rest of North and Northwest Louisiana were exposed to Johnny's creative and charismatic side when he first started starring in his television commercials.
"He used to be great on those commercials. He was a natural," DeLacerda remembers.
A graduate of West Monroe High School in 1957, Johnny went to college in Lamoni, Iowa.
That's where he was first introduced to the world of pizza.
"They had a pizza house there, and he'd never seen a pizza house," shares Marilyn Soignier, Johnny's sister.
After college, Marilyn says, Johnny came back to Monroe with the grand idea of opening up a pizza house of his own.
"We were right there in there helping him in the evenings," Marilyn remembers.
"When he got it going, we were behind the counter making pizzas. He needed the help," she laughs.
Now 50 years after Johnny prepped, cooked and delivered his first pizza, his Johnny's Pizza House family is giving back by raising money to help defeat the disease that took away their fearless leader, Johnny Huntsman.
"It's a way to celebrate 50 years and celebrate the man while at the same time do something for the Alzheimer's Association to put an end to this terrible disease," DeLacerda says.
The Walk to End Alzheimer's will be held this fall in the Shreveport-Bossier City area.
KSLA News 12's Doug Warner serves as emcee for the walk and serves on the Walk committee for the local Alzheimer's Association.
Everyone is invited to attend a special Walk Volunteer Celebration event scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 27 at Brookdale Senior Living Center on Beene Drive.
While there, you can sign up to volunteer with the Walk to End Alzheimer's or sign up a team to participate.
For more information, call the Alzheimer's Association at (318) 861-8680.