Actress, pilot and philanthropist Zoe Dell Nutter dies

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Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter, a model, actress, dancer, aviation pioneer and philanthropist, died Wednesday.

She was 104.

She was known as an icon throughout a life chronicled in magazine photos and stories and by the words of people who knew her.

Former First Lady Laura Bush presented Zoe Dell with the Ford’s Theater Lincoln Medal in the White House in 2006.

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Said Bush: “Few women can claim to be a dancer, a model, a huntress, an aviator, a philanthropist and a pirate … Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter is one of them.”

Zoe Dell (Lantis) Nutter traveled the country as Pirate Girl in promotion of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. She was dubbed the “most photographed girl in the world." Image from the Wright State University Special Collections and Archives photographed by Amelia Robinson.
Zoe Dell (Lantis) Nutter traveled the country as Pirate Girl in promotion of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. She was dubbed the “most photographed girl in the world." Image from the Wright State University Special Collections and Archives photographed by Amelia Robinson.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

She was the widow of Ervin J. Nutter, who died in 2000.

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.

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Merle Wilberding, Nutter’s attorney, said every moment spent with her was “special.”

“She was kind. She was talented,” he said. “She was glamour … When she came into a room, everything sparkled and she sparkled.”

At age 20, the model and Medford, Ore., native was featured in a 1939 “LIFE” magazine article about the Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

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A former nightclub dancer who also worked with the San Francisco ballet, Nutter once was called the “most photographed girl in the world” after then-New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia told her to cover the skimpy outfit she was wearing with a coat before he would be photographed with her, according to records from the Dayton Engineers Club.

She had a brief acting career and was part of the USO during World War II.

Nutter and her first husband became pilots after her dancing career ended, and she became a spokesperson for Piper Aviation in the 1960s.

She received her commercial, multi-engine instrument rating at Chicago’s Midway Airport.

“I figured if you could get your instrument rating in Chicago with the weather they have, you could fly anywhere,”she recalled in 2015.

Zoe Dell Nutter, local philanthropist and widow of Ervin J. Nutter, will be celebrating her 100th birthday with a big party on June 20 and a fundraiser for the Wright Image Group, the organization hoping to build a 270-foot-tall Wright Flyer replica at the intersection of I-70 and I-75. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Zoe Dell Nutter, local philanthropist and widow of Ervin J. Nutter, will be celebrating her 100th birthday with a big party on June 20 and a fundraiser for the Wright Image Group, the organization hoping to build a 270-foot-tall Wright Flyer replica at the intersection of I-70 and I-75. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

She was also California’s representative at the World’s Fair in Brussels, which led to her becoming the “Flying Ambassador” to the Century 21 Exposition at Seattle and the New York World’s Fair.

She met Ervin Nutter, the owner of Elano Corporation — an aerospace industry company — during a business trip to Dayton. The couple married in 1965.

At Elano, she headed the Small Aircraft Division and became one of the company’s pilots. The development of a new manifold came when she urged more performance to power planes over mountains, according to her Dayton Walk of Fame biography.

Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, called Nutter a friend and a pioneer for women in aviation.

“Few people approach life with the passion and energy that Zoe Dell did,” Turner said. “She was a blessing to our community and leaves behind a legacy of greatness.”

She remained dazzling, attending the Dayton Art Institute’s Art Ball on her 99th birthday as Turner’s guest.

“We’re having a ball,” Nutter told the Dayton Daily News. “I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

Zoe Dell Nutter celebrates her 100th birthday during a fund raising event to construct a monument horning the Wright Brothers, which would be erected at the crossroads to I-70 and I-75 on Saturday evening 6/20/2015 where hundreds attend the event at the Commanders Aero�s hanger located at the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport located in Miami Twp. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CHARLES CAPERTON
Zoe Dell Nutter celebrates her 100th birthday during a fund raising event to construct a monument horning the Wright Brothers, which would be erected at the crossroads to I-70 and I-75 on Saturday evening 6/20/2015 where hundreds attend the event at the Commanders Aero�s hanger located at the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport located in Miami Twp. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CHARLES CAPERTON

Credit: charles caperton

Credit: charles caperton

Nutter died peacefully at her longtime family home in Beavercreek Twp., according to Wilberding. She had no children.

Wilberding said Nutter’s love of aviation inspired a lasting legacy to the region: the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

“If you were to ask her, that’s what she would say,” he said. “She was a promoter of aviation history forever. In the last 20 or 30 years, she was the biggest proponent of the Aviation Hall of Fame.”

She was the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s first female president and served on the board for years. In 2008, she was inducted as a Living Legend of Aviation, according to an account by Wright State University where the arena is named after her late husband and she funded dance scholarships.

Zoe Dell (Lantis) Nutter traveled the country as Pirate Girl in promotion of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. She was dubbed the “most photographed girl in the world." Image from the Wright State University Special Collections and Archives photographed by Amelia Robinson.
Zoe Dell (Lantis) Nutter traveled the country as Pirate Girl in promotion of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. She was dubbed the “most photographed girl in the world." Image from the Wright State University Special Collections and Archives photographed by Amelia Robinson.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Nutter was interviewed just a year ago by the university.

“I did all the things I wanted to do. You have a certain amount of time you’re going to be here; you might as well do it right,” she said.

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