Philanthropist. Political power broker. Mortgage lender magnate. Those were a few of the titles used to describe James B. Nutter, a well-known Kansas City businessman who died last week.
Funeral services for Nutter were held Thursday. He was remembered at a visitation on Wednesday at Unity Temple on the Plaza as a forward-thinking businessman who used his clout to help the campaigns of elected officials across the state.
Former and current employees also shared fond memories of Nutter, who died Friday at the age of 89. Nutter was the founder and chairman of James B. Nutter & Co., a mortgage banking firm headquartered in Kansas City. He founded the company in 1951.
“He treated everyone like family,” said Nicole Kehl, 41, of Lee’s Summit. Kehl worked as a loan processor for James B. Nutter & Co. about 15 years ago. “He was just incredible. Very genius, very kind. He didn’t act like a boss.”
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Joshua Adaire, 28, of Kansas City, has worked for the Nutter family for nearly four years. He agreed with Kehl that Nutter treated everyone like family.
“He always asked me little things about my life or how my girlfriend was doing,” Adaire said. “He treated me like family and not an employee.”
Nutter was known as a political power broker in Kansas City and across the state. He helped form a political reform group in the 1960s that sought to drive out the influence of organized crime in the Democrat-controlled Jackson County government.
The committee helped form a modern, professional form of county government.
“He really is a larger-than-life figure here in Kansas City,” said former Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan.
Russ Carnahan recalled a 1980 visit to Nutter with his father when the younger Carnahan was a student at the University of Missouri. Mel Carnahan was running for statewide office for the first time, and Russ was his driver.
“One of the many stops we made in the state was to Mr. Nutter,” Russ Carnahan said. “He was such a champion for Kansas City and the entire state. He was always looking to back candidates and causes that made our state better.”
James B. Nutter & Co. was among the first mortgage banking companies that helped minority homebuyers obtain mortgages during times when other lenders would not take a chance on disadvantaged communities.
Adaire, one of Nutter’s caretakers, said Nutter shared stories with him about the backlash he received for the practice.
“I heard around the grapevine that he was a very big important figure back then helping minorities get approved for homes,” Adaire said. “According to him, it wasn’t a good time. He was getting death threats and calls.”
Nutter also contributed $300,000 of the $460,000 needed to convert an old building in the Ivanhoe Neighborhood into a community center.
The Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council named a park and a community center after Nutter for his contributions, as noted Wednesday by Kansas City Mayor Sly James.
“He helped them create a neighborhood association that has really become the model for neighborhood associations in the city,” James said.
Nutter was also known for his generous donations to local institutions such as Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.
“If you were in his circle, you were in his family,” Carnahan said. “I think that showed with his employees, neighborhoods and political candidates.”
Nutter is survived by Annabel Fisher Nutter, his wife of 63 years, and his son, James B. Nutter Jr., president and chief executive of James B. Nutter & Co. He was preceded in death by daughter Nancy Ann Moore, who died of breast cancer in 2003.