Finding Grady Nutt: Panhandle Preacher, Baylor Bear and “Hee Haw’s” Prime Minister of Humor

Grady Nutt's sophomore year photo, from the 1955 "Baylor Round Up"

Grady Nutt’s sophomore year photo, from the 1955 “Baylor Round Up”

 

As new student orientation wrapped up its penultimate sessions this week, an incoming freshman’s father stopped by the Digital Collections table and asked me if I’d ever heard of Grady Nutt. I admitted that the name didn’t ring a bell, and he said, “Didn’t you ever watch Hee Haw?” That led us to a long conversation about a fascinating Baylor connection to one of the show’s popular (and tragically short-lived) players, Rev. Grady Nutt.

Texas Roots, Baylor Graduate

According to Nutt’s Wikpedia entry, he was born in Amarillo and briefly attended another college before transferring to Baylor, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in 1957. He became a licensed Baptist minister by the age of 13 and, following his Baylor graduation, served as youth minister at First Baptist Church of Waco.

Article on Nutt's scheduled Bible study on campus, from the April 3, 1958 "Baylor Lariat"

Article on Nutt’s scheduled Bible study on campus, from the April 3, 1958 “Baylor Lariat”

Nutt’s time at Baylor was spent performing, as both a member of a campus singing group called the Troubadours and as a Yell Leader, a spirit squad that supports Baylor athletics teams.

Nutt (second from right) with fellow Yell Leaders, from the 1957 "Round Up"

Nutt (second from right) with fellow Yell Leaders, from the 1957 “Round Up”

 

A Promising Career Cut Short

Nutt became a sought-after public speaker and entertainer, with early appearances on The Mike Douglas Show, which led to his eventual casting on Hee Haw, beginning in 1979. In his role as Kornfield Kountry’s “Prime Minister of Humor,” Nutt was given 90-120 seconds to tell a humorous routine to a group of listeners gathered around to hear his homespun wisdom. Largely improvised, these sketches drew from Nutt’s life as a pastor and Southern native. Here, he tells a joke about a young boy’s eye-opening visit to a cemetery.

Nutt’s career – and life – ended at the age of 48 when a plane he was riding in crashed shortly after takeoff on November 23, 1982. The Baylor community honored his legacy by establishing the Grady Nutt Memorial Award just two weeks later. The award was created to honor “a student entertainer or student entertainment group that best exemplifies the spirit of the late Grady Nutt.”

Article on Grady Nutt Memorial Award, from the November 20, 1982 "Baylor Lariat"

Article on Grady Nutt Memorial Award, from the November 20, 1982 “Baylor Lariat”

 

Nutt has been remembered as a positive person whose attitude and outlook on life helped people see the good in the world. His story, especially its ties to Baylor, is just one of the countless examples of Baylor Bears who go on to lead lives of positive impact on the world. And while they won’t all go on to perform on the small screen or have an award created in their honor, they share a common commitment to making a difference in the lives of others, a belief we’re sure Rev. Nutt would wholeheartedly endorse.

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For more information on Grady Nutt, visit The Official Page of Grady Nutt

Baylor Couple Had Unique D-Day Connection

On this 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy – D-Day, as it will forever be known – we wanted to take time to present this short but fascinating story from our archives that ties together two college sweethearts, a War Loan Drive and a unique auction. It is related under the headline, ‘Singing Bills’ Return to Baylor Campus; Auction, D-Day among War Experiences, found at the bottom of the front page of the September 28, 1945 edition of the Baylor Lariat.

Singing Sweethearts

The article relates the story of Bill Shriner and his wife, Billie Guynes Shriner, two alums who met during their time at Baylor and who became known on campus due to their singing abilities. They earned a reputation as “Bill and Coo of Baylor U.,” and they were featured in several editions of World War II-era Round Ups as representatives of the romantic scene to be found on campus.

Bill Shriner and Billie Guynes (center) from the 1943 "Round Up"

Bill Shriner and Billie Guynes (center) from the 1943 “Round Up”

 

In 1943, Bill was a Baylor alum who had secretly married Billie before heading off to midshipmen’s school – which did not accept married men – and was in Columbia when he received his commission in October 1943. On June 6, 1944, Bill’s voice was recorded by the National Broadcasting Corporation giving the order to shoot down a German JU-88 (mislabeled as a JN-88 in the article).

Billie Guynes' junior year photo from the 1940 "Round Up"

Billie Guynes’ junior year photo from the 1940 “Round Up”

 

Billie, who was living in Washington, D.C. at the time, heard the recording and recognized Bill’s voice. Per the Lariat article, Billie was quoted as saying, “I could only cry for joy because of Bill’s safety. I wanted to go out and help him finish the enemy.”

Raising Money for the War Effort

At the launch of the fifth War Loan Drive in July of 1944, the recording of Bill’s voice was to be auctioned off by Attorney General Francis Biddle. He opened the bidding, which stayed low, and was about to sell the record for a mere $500 until Billie “leapt into action.” The rest of the story deserves reproduction in full:

She talked, she plead, she wept. […] She told [the audience] how she and Bill had been a couple of school kids down at Baylor two years before, and how they used to walk to chapel hand in hand singing “Sweethearts” and plan how they would have a home together one day. Then Bill went off to war and left Billie with no home to keep and no song to sing.

After telling her story, Billie again sang “Sweethearts.” She vows that she could feel Bill there singing beside her. A Washington dairyman whose son had been killed on D-Day wrote a $100,000 check for the record of Lt. Bill’s firing command.

The Lariat story concludes with the note that the “Bills” were under contract with National Concert Artists and were to begin concerts as soon as Lt. Bill was available. He was scheduled to report to New Orleans for further duty on October 5, 1944.

Throughout Baylor’s long history, she has provided countless young men and women in service to the nation’s armed forces, but this story of college sweethearts, a shared talent and serendipity is surely one of the most fascinating.

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Read the entire Lariat article here. See a listing of additional D-Day related materials here.