A woman who’s done it all

At 101 years old, Ohio State donor Zoe Dell Nutter believes supporting research is a crucial step in making progress. She became a Buckeye over 40 years ago, and her love of animals has kept her supporting the university.

Zoe Dell Nutter
Zoe Dell Nutter

People are always told to live life to the fullest, and no one has taken this phrase more to heart than Zoe Dell Nutter. 

As a dancer, model, actress, huntress, aviator, businesswoman and even pirate, Nutter has quite literally done it all. Her jobs have taken her around the world to promote air travel and meet some of the most influential people in history, such as John Glenn and New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. 

However, the one role she takes most seriously is that of a philanthropist.

Nutter recently celebrated her 101st birthday, which also marked her 41st year of partnering with Ohio State and the College of Veterinary Medicine. With support from Nutter’s family, Ohio State researchers performed the first cattle embryo transplant and created of a new breed of cattle on Nutter’s ranch in 1975. Her own love of animals spurred her continued giving to the university and especially the Vet Med school for the past three decades.

“I have always loved Ohio State and working with the school and its representatives. The whole experience was fascinating and productive,” she says.

‘Most Photographed Girl in the World’

Born in 1915 in Oregon, Nutter lived through the worst of the Great Depression, two world wars, the moon landing and countless other noteworthy occurrences.

During a summer in Seattle with her aunt, Nutter developed a love of ballet that would catapult her into a life of adventure. While traveling across the country with the San Francisco Ballet in the late 1930s, a Treasure Island agent approached her after a show to recruit her as a promoter for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

Zoe Nutter

Dressed as a pirate, Nutter flew all over the country by plane to promote the fair and commercial air travel at a time when consumers were skeptical of its safety. She soon logged more than 100,000 passenger miles and was featured by LIFE magazine, which dubbed her the “Most Photographed Girl in the World.”

The time spent flying gave her a love for aviation. Despite society’s disapproval of women pilots at that time, Nutter taught herself how to fly and joined an aircraft business.

“I looked forward to the flights. I also enjoyed promoting the ‘pinch hitter’ courses in which women could learn to land a plane in the event of an emergency,” says Nutter.

On a business trip to Dayton, Ohio, she met Ervin Nutter, the owner of Elano Corp., an aerospace industry company. Although she didn’t buy the planes he was selling, she did marry him and move to his ranch.

Nutter helped her husband with the design of certain airplane components, promoted Elano’s Small Aircraft Division and worked as a company pilot. She also served as an officer in the Ohio Civil Air Patrol, where she flew search and rescue missions.

Partnering with Ohio State  

Outside of the couple’s interest in aviation, the Nutters founded KBJ Ranch, an agricultural business that devoted itself to specialized crop development and sophisticated cattle-breeding methods.

When Ohio State researchers approached the Nutters in 1975 with the idea of building the first cattle research facility east of the Mississippi River, the couple looked forward to the partnership.

KBJ Ranch

Ohio State conducted research at the farm that produced findings such as a record 35 calf embryos from a single conception and approximately 50 state and national champion cattle.

Nutter was amazed by the progress in the quality of life for large animals the partnership had produced. After the experience, she knew funding future research was critical to keep the momentum going. 

“Everything has to progress, and people have to become interested to get things working,” she says.

After working alongside Ohio State faculty and students, as well as attending campus events for many years, Nutter considers herself a Buckeye for Life. She loves the air of enthusiasm every member of the Ohio State community carries.

“Buckeyes are stable, dependable people. They work hard, are loyal and love what they do and where they live.”

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