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Photo by Meg Mantia

Behind the Buckeye Makeup

When John Chubb speaks, the rest of the world stops. He speaks with unbridled passion, his voice bellowing throughout the century old stadium towering behind us. The questions I prepared are immediately proven worthless and I can only stand back and receive his sermon. His gloved hands flay wildly. He stares at me behind signature white sunglasses, that in this moment I believe he is actually wearing for my protection. It might be too much if I could see the whites of his eyes.

I’m standing with Chubb, known widely in the world of sports fandom as Buck I Guy, in front of the famed Ohio Stadium, and I momentarily wonder if I’ve made a mistake meeting him on his own territory. Jon “Big Nut” Peters and Larry “Buckeyeman” Lokai join us on a rainy afternoon and I am the only one not wearing face paint. The three of them are recognized as the most intense OSU fans in the land, and throughout our interview fellow fans and families clamor for a quick photo op. But even if they weren’t in full regalia, they could draw a crowd. Chubb, for one, has the sort of oratory skills that can spell real trouble when bestowed on the wrong human. Luckily, Buck I Guy and company use their powers only for good—very good, in fact.

“It’s bigger than that,” he says, brushing off my softball question about the upcoming Ohio State football season. Picking up a series of poster boards adorned with dozens of photos of him at an array of charitable events, Chubb begins listing off the groups he has donated his boundless energy to.

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“Look at what’s really important. That’s Children’s Hospital, Firefighters For Tots,” he says, pointing at the respective photos. “Every year I take the entire Ohio School for the Deaf to the Spring Game, 250 kids. There’s hospitals, there’s the homeless,” he continues, noting the thousands of dollars in toys and clothes he helps raise every year for underprivileged kids.

Chubb has been attending games since the ’70s, although his persona didn’t make its debut until a dramatic event in 2005 convinced him to dedicate his life to a greater cause. Buck I Guy was born, his wild personality leading to features in major media outlets like NBC and the Wall Street Journal, and even landing him a spot in ESPN’s Fan Hall of Fame, of which there are just 10 total inductees. For the man behind the paint, however, those accolades are just minor steps he has taken on a greater journey to help those less fortunate.

“That’s more important than any game I have ever been to in my life,” he says. “That’s real.”

The man known as Big Nut, who makes the journey from his home in Fremont for games, is driven by a similar need to give back to his community. Jon Peters has been coming to OSU Football games since 1976 when he attended the Michigan game with his grandpa, although he didn’t bring his character to life until the Buckeyes’ 2002 Championship Game in Tempe, AZ. He noticed the way his makeup and over-the-top personality made the eyes of fellow Buckeyes light up (a prominent feature in that year’s Championship DVD helped as well) and decided never to turn back. In 2011, with his faithful wife “First Lady Nut” by his side, founded the Big Nut Scholarship to help high school seniors make their dreams of becoming an Ohio State student come true.

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“To date, we’ve given out 30 scholarships for $15,000 to high school students that want to attend the Ohio State University,” Peters explains, “This year alone we gave out nine scholarships worth $4,500.”

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must submit academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, and most importantly a 500-word essay about why the student wishes to be a Buckeye, and how they will in turn give back to those in need. The first two recipients graduated in 2016 and now Big Nut looks forward to seeing their real world success.

His life mission is all about “paying it forward,” a phrase he uses frequently in conversation, and something he learned from the great Woody Hayes.

“That’s something he talked about a lot, and it’s one thing we stress to them: what are you going to do as a Buckeye to pay it forward? You can pay it forward by being an organ donor, by visiting with the elderly, by visiting children at the hospital—anything.”

Peters is a living embodiment of this mentality, and just in the next few weeks he can be found volunteering at Wounded Warriors and Special Olympics events, as well as a softball game for amputees. The First Lady notes that they turn down nearly twice as many appearance requests as he is able to make, though he does don the outfit at least 100 times a year.

Then there are the necklaces. Every weekend tens of thousands of chunky buckeye necklaces pass  through the gates at Ohio Stadium, and there’s a good chance that the majority were crafted in the Peters’ residence. They’ll hand out at least 100 per game for no charge, as they have done for years, and their generosity showed itself at our interview when they presented me with two personalized necklaces just moments into our meeting. I immediately draped them over my neck, and of course and I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel a bit of that infectious Big Nut spirit.

“That’s what it’s all about, putting smiles on people’s faces—it’s priceless,” Peters says. “It’s just about passion for the university, for the fans, and for the Buckeye Nation.”

For Buckeyeman Lokai, a native of Urbana, who first introduced his alter ego at the 1998 OSU-Michigan game, it’s his deep-rooted love and appreciation for the university that drives his fandom.

“I have two degrees from Ohio State; my family has 21. I have five grandchildren who are students right now, so we’ll have 26 degrees out of here by 2018,” he says. Lokai earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from OSU in 1967, before continuing on to earn a 1973 master’s in science, and in 2016 earned a Distinguished Alumni Award from the university. He now serves as a member of six different OSU Alumni Clubs, dedicating his life to sharing his love of the school.

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“My education from Ohio State gave me so much; it allowed me to retire at 54. Being involved in so many clubs now, I do a lot of events, a lot of meet-and-greets. Homecoming week is very busy for me,” he laughs, “But the Michigan game is my favorite. That’s my anniversary.”

In 2000, Lokai entered the “Loudest College Football Fan” contest, a one-time event conveniently sponsored by Hall’s Throat Lozenges. He won the local competition and was flown to the College Football Hall of Fame to compete in the finals. Buckeyeman took home third in the national event, a good enough showing to earn him a permanent spot in the “Screaming Fans HALLS of Fame.”

It’s obvious these three will be found on the sidelines of every game for as long as time will allow, and their contagious enthusiasm will unquestionably keep the spirit alive in future generations of Buckeyes. I’m curious if they’ve noticed any young standout fans who may be a potential Buckeyeman in years to come, but I’m reminded once again how selfless these men truly are.

“I am just a fan,” Lokai emphasizes. “You can’t get any kind of ego thing. It’s what you represent. People shouldn’t walk away thinking about you as a fan—they should be thinking about Ohio State.”

“I’m just one of millions. I learned from the master, Neutron Man,” Chubb adds, referencing Orlas King, an Ohio State megafan who attended games and threw enormous tailgates, dancing to the Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance for 30 years before passing away in 2004. “That’s one thing I learned from him: we’re just a link in the chain. You’ve got to treat all the fans right.”

Buck I Guy, a walking sound bite if there ever was one, sums up the attitude present in all of these amazing individuals:

“I’m just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things.” 

Chubb (buckiguy.com), Peters (facebook.com/Big-Nut-for-Buckeyes), and Lokai (facebook.com/OSUBUCKEYEMAN) can be found through their own personal websites.

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