Listen to this article

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." — Matthew 25:40

Somewhere in the twilight of his life, Bob Nutt lost his way. Described as "semi-homeless" and somewhat confused, he didn't have much. But Nutt had the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Champaign, and together — he and many church members — they formed a bond.

Nutt, who was 75, died Sept. 3. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Nutt's body was found inside a residence in the 700 block of Urbana Avenue in Urbana, an empty house Nutt used to escape the elements.

An autopsy revealed Nutt, who had a variety of medical issues that included heart disease, died from natural causes.

The church claimed Nutt's body, paid for the costs of arrangements and buried his cremated remains in the church columbarium.

First Presbyterian also held an Oct. 2 memorial service that attracted a large crowd. There were church members whose acquaintance with him was more recent, and there were Nutt's friends and associates from the days in the '60s and '70s when Nutt was one of the kings of the local rock music scene.

As the founder of Blytham Ltd., a music booking agency, Nutt was a big deal, promoting musical acts like The One-Eyed Jacks and The Finchley Boys all over the Midwest.

"He was quite the figure back in the day as far as a promoter," said Garrett Oostdyk, a Mahomet resident who was the lead guitarist for The Finchley Boys. "What (Blytham) had is really hard to comprehend right now."

Nutt remains an important figure in the hearts of church members. That's why his friends there have organized a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for noon today. Everyone — church members, Nutt's associates and members of the local homeless community — is welcome.

Dr. Peter Yau, a university faculty member, organized the event because "Bob was a special guy" who "fell into despair."

"I'm always watching out for people on the fringe," Yau said. "These are the people Jesus would want to pay attention to."

Yau's crew is preparing a main course of prime rib, nourishment for both the body and the soul.

"I really wanted to do this (dinner), so we don't forget about people like Bob," he said.

Nutt cut an unusual figure at the church, his haggard appearance usually a stark contrast to the solidly middle- and upper-middle class congregation. There were nights when he slept in the church or used the facilities to wash his clothes. It seems clear that he burned whatever bridges he had with family members.

Nonetheless, Nutt, dressed for the streets and wearing his sunglasses pushed back on the forehead, was a regular attendee on Sundays. He also participated in weekday meetings devoted to Bible study or other church-related programs.

Obviously not a man of means, Nutt never failed to contribute to the church collection plate. He's fondly remembered as a gentleman who tried to be helpful during pre- and post-service coffee time.

"I can remember him getting coffee and serving the elderly," said church member Beth Hutchens. "He was so courtly."

Hutchens said that as the church helped Nutt, so too did he help the church.

"He really taught us as a church to be a more welcoming place," she said.

Nutt, who was from Oswego, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1966, according to a UI alumni magazine article. The story described Nutt as "the guru" of Blytham and Irving Azoff, who went on to great fame in the music business in California, as "the workaholic."

Ralph Senn, a local businessman, was a guitarist for The Regiment, a band booked by Azoff while Nutt managed other bands under Blytham's umbrella.

He said Blytham's booking power generated a huge income for him and other musicians while they were still undergraduates.

"I respected Bob because he set up Blytham and laid out the structure for Irving (Azoff) to work in," said Senn.

Nutt lost touch over the years with many of the musicians from the old days. But both Senn and Oostdyk said they would periodically cross paths with him and revisit the past.

Indeed, in Nutt's mind, the past wasn't really past. He would routinely discuss with Dr. Yau his dream of taking The Eagles on a 30-city tour of the People's Republic of China. When he and Yau would see each other at church, they would give each other a sign reflecting the number "30."

"That became our private joke," Yau said.

Oostdyk and Senn were among a number of Nutt's friends from the Blytham days to attend Nutt's memorial service.

Senn recalled that the memorial "was bigger and longer than I expected." Speakers representing all aspects of Nutt's life told stories.

Reflecting on the hard times at the end of Nutt's life, Senn said he took solace in the mutual embrace between Nutt and church members.

"I was comforted by the fact that Bob was so involved in the church," he said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.