Who was Ervin J. Nutter? Meet the namesake of Wright State’s Nutter Center

The Nutter family donated millions of dollars to causes in the Dayton region, including $1.5 million to Wright State University in 1986 to help build the Ervin J. Nutter Center. Nutter was an engineer and wildly successful businessman who started his life in Hamilton and grew into a benefactor of many organizations.

Credit: Wright State University

Credit: Wright State University

The Nutter Center was completed on Dec. 2, 1990. It seats 10,632 for basketball games, 13,000 for major concerts and between 2,200 and 7,500 in varying configurations for other events.

An avid basketball fan, Nutter once worked for famed basketball coach Adolph Rupp at UK.

“My job was to make sure the lights never went out during the games. Afterwards he’s pay me $2 cash. It was the easiest job in the world and I got to watch every game for free,” he once told the Dayton Daily News.

After graduation, Nutter became an engineer in the Air Force Equipment Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Nutter and a friend from WPAFB started a side business called the “Agricultural Aviation Company,” which made agricultural spray nozzles for spraying chemicals on crops from airplanes.

The company developed into a leader in manufacturing precision parts and components for the aerospace industry.

Explaining in a 1982 Dayton Daily News interview why he never joined all his companies under one parent company, Nutter said, “Large companies promote management problems. Managers have much more pride running a company than in running a department or division of a company.”

Nutter was married to Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter, a model, actress, dancer, aviation pioneer and philanthropist. The couple met while she was on a business trip and they married in 1965.

Zoe Dell Nutter lived to be 104 before dying in 2020.

Over the years Nutter was honored for his work with the Boy Scouts, Dayton Air Institute, Leukemia Society of Dayton and the YMCA. He received numerous commendations and awards from the United States Air Force, Navy and the Atomic Energy Commission.

The Nutters also gave significant contributions to the Beavercreek 4-H, Beavercreek Community Athletic Association, The Dayton Foundation, Children’s Medical Center, The Ohio State University, Ohio Republican Party and the J.B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

Elano had 400 employees in 1985 when it sold to General Electric. GE quickly added a second shift and 200 more workers.

Nutter then retired. According to a tribute posted after his death in 2000 by The Engineers Club of Dayton, of which Nutter was a member, “He becoming a world traveler and big game hunter. As a staunch conservationist, he hunted only game that was surplus to the areas he visited. His big game jaunts took him into the jungles of Africa, India, South America, Asia and the Artic.”

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