“Jon, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Snapping the straps of his overalls, the grandson of a dairy farmer replied, “Why an iconic Ohio State super fan, of course! Think I’ll call myself Big Nut.”

The script didn’t exactly go that way, but that is the happy ending.

When I first saw Big Nut, I was roaming the pre-game venue at Glendale, Arizona’s stadium. Ohio State
was about to face Texas in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. You couldn’t miss him or his walking companion, Buck I Guy. The pair were magnets for attention. Something about guys wearing exaggerated fan gear with their IDs printed on their shirts that makes you want to stare.

My next two encounters with Big Nut were also in my adopted home state, Arizona. Ohio State snagged the Fiesta Bowl honor often—seven times between 2003 and 2019. Dave Hocevar, Brutus 1968-69, knew everyone through his role as President of the Ohio State Alumni Club of Phoenix, having orchestrated festivities for the team, cheer squad, and OSU fans over the years. He introduced me to Jon Paul Peters (as himself) before the Ohio State vs. Notre Dame game on January 1, 2016. The following year, Dave arranged for Big Nut, Buck I Guy and me to meet at the Buckeye Bash before the College Football Playoff semi-final, December 31, 2016—the 31-0 disaster against Clemson I wish I could forget. My memory of Big Nut is his mumbling something about collecting money for student scholarships.

A Star is Born

In 1976, Jon’s grandfather, 1932 Ohio State Agriculture grad, took 15-year-old Jon to The Game in the ’Shoe. Jon, caught up with the electricity of the game, overlooked the 22-0 loss to TTUN, becoming an avid fan thereafter, spending Saturdays listening to Ohio State games on the radio in his grandfather’s dairy barn. His nickname became Pigskin Pete.
L to R: Dave Hocevar, Jon Peters, Sally Lanyon
L to R: Sally Lanyon, Big Nut, Dave Hocevar, Carole Hocevar, Buck I Guy

The precursor to Big Nut was “born” at the local high school in Fremont, Ohio, in 1995, where the person voted Best Fan at the Ohio State Beat Michigan Party was awarded a basket of cookies from Fremont’s Cookie Lady. Based on applause, Pigskin Pete won the coveted cookies. The first year he was costumed, but with a naked face. Year two, facing tough competition, Jon’s wife Terese upped the stakes by painting his face half scarlet, half gray and his legs silver. Jon was delighted to add the prize, a 3-foot Buckeye snowman, to his Man Cave that year. He won the following year, then retired from competition.

Jon was “discovered” by national media at the January 2003 Fiesta Bowl. He and Terese had tickets to the game. They discussed whether Jon should dress as Pigskin Pete. They teeter-tottered between Maybe we’ll do it – Maybe we won’t. They did it. Pigskin Pete was captured on camera during one of the two overtimes.

Romantic Moment at Mirror Lake. Jon Paul and Terese Halbeisen Peters.
Big Nut and First Lady Nut

Apparently drawn to the spotlight, Jon began to assume his counter persona more seriously. At some point he became Big Nut and she, First Lady Nut. On a typical football game day, Jon and Terese rise early to begin the transformation. She paints, he dresses. Tennis shoes, knee high socks, knee length shorts, shirt with BIG NUT on the front and back, necklaces of chains and buckeyes, Ohio State logo gloves, sometimes BIG NUT glasses, bare head or various hats. His face doesn’t change, but his costumes do: flags for 9-11, pink hat for breast cancer awareness month, basketball hoop, helmet topped with fanatics doll, buckeye-leaved pate. 

The Peters drive from their Fremont home to Columbus in time to attend tailgate parties lining the parking lot outside of the ‘Shoe. For a Noon game, this means leaving Fremont at 6 am, visiting tail gates at 8 am, and in their seats right after the gates open at 10 am. His cardinal rule is to be in his seat two hours before kick-off. Now that they have season tickets, security personnel are used to the line of fans eager for photos with Big Nut. His FaceBook pages, Big Nut for Buckeyes and Jon Paul Peters, belie it’s not just the outfit that draws them, it’s the joyful, animated expressions of this super fan. 

In the early years, they would buy only one ticket. Terese would stay at the tailgate or hotel if a road game. Now they enjoy season tickets. Away games are more of a challenge to find two tickets together down low, in sight of television cameras. He relies on ticket re-sale vendors and the Buckeye Club and President’s Club.

Face Paint

The paint job began with water-based paints. Terese struggled with applying the paint with a popsicle stick. Needing to keep the paint wet, she recalls saying, “I can’t do this!” Jon urged, “Yes, you can!” She could, she did. The paint, however, succumbed to heat and sweat. Jon learned to seek out shade to avert a drippy-faced disaster. Terese was curious how actors at a local Haunted House kept their makeup fresh for hours. A local costume shop put them on to theatrical grease paint. Her routine is:  1) Spray, to seal the skin, 2) Paint, 3) Powder to set the paint, 4) finish with Spray. While Terese paints most of Big Nut’s face, he started doing his own eyes and eyelids after she poked an eye. Once painted and costumed, Jon is good for the day. Even rain won’t disturb his look. 

Selecting the face colors was never a question for the couple. Ohio State team colors = scarlet and gray. The split face is his signature look. Left side: scarlet with a green 5-pronged Buckeye leaf. Right side: gray with a red Block O. Only once did Terese paint the colors on the opposite sides. Must have been an early game. 

Ready for Tail Gate Parties.

Buckeye Necklaces

Big Nut carries an armful of buckeye necklaces. When you see him giving them away, this is your first hint of his generous nature, but you might not reckon that these are handmade by Jon and Terese. The couple gathers the nuts fallen from Buckeye trees. This year totaled about 80,000 nuts. After the nuts have dried for 9 to 11 months in their barn on 11 stacked 4 foot by 8 foot plywood sheets, the work begins. Jon drills a hole through each buckeye; Terese strings eight buckeyes interspersed with scarlet and gray beads and beads that spell B-I-G N-U-T on each necklace. There is one buckeye nut per National Championship in each necklace. Jon is hoping to have to add a ninth nut soon. 

The State of Ohio adopted the Buckeye tree as their state tree in 1953. Jon knows of at least eight varieties of the tree. He’s seen them as far away as California and a fan brought him one from Serbia. The California variety has only one nut to a shell, whereas he’s found as many as eight to a shell in Ohio. Though inedible, the nuts are given to others as a token of friendship.

Scholarships

Big Nut started by giving necklaces away (50-100 per game), but recipients insisted on paying for them. When he wouldn’t take cash, they gave him checks. He opened a special bank account, soon deciding to “spend” his “earnings” on scholarships. Starting with one $500 scholarship in one school near their home in Fremont, the couple established a 501(c)3 in 2012 when they added a second scholarship. Plans are to expand to 14 high schools and 16 scholarships in 2024. Over the years, the couple have added sales from BIG NUT popcorn, pickles, and BBQ sauce available in local stores in northwest and north central Ohio. One hundred percent of profit goes to the scholarships. Jon says, “It’s our way of paying it forward, like the great Woody Hayes always talked about.”

100% of proceeds go to scholarships

For local scholarships, a committee of eight (predominantly teachers) reviews the applications, which have name and gender blocked out. Potential awardees are judged on grade point average, community involvement and a 500-word essay, “Why I want to be a Buckeye.” Terese loves reading the essays; she is touched by how people’s lives are impacted by the work they are doing. In addition to scholarship efforts in Sandusky County and Ottawa County, the Peters have endowed the Big Nut-Jon Paul Peters Scholarship for students who have completed their freshman year at Ohio State. Big Nut fans may add to that endowment (#640462) by going to www.osu.edu and selecting the Buckeye Give tab. To date, his combined scholarships (Sandusky County, Ottawa County and OSU endowment) have distributed $285,000. Jon’s goal is to reach $1,000,000. To that end, he speaks at events to bring awareness to the need for scholarships, inspiring audiences to follow his example.

It’s not just about football
Two icons are better than one

The Man Behind the Curtain

It takes a lot of effort to be Big Nut: make-up, costumes, travel arrangements, game tickets, revenue producing products, bookkeeping, selection committees, speeches, interviews, autographs, photos, being “on” at all times in public. He has a steady job with Whirlpool. He has a loving family—two children and four grands. Why does he take on extra activity? 

Jon says, “It’s a form of healing.” He claims, “I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Instead of attending his beloved Ohio State, he opted for technical school. He recalls being “freaked out on days of tests.” His internal story is, “If I can’t get a college degree, I’m living my life through others.” He was touched by the movie, Schindler’s List, the true story of Oskar Schindler who saved the lives of more than 1,000 Holocaust refugees. 

Jon’s life principles are: “God, family, and Buckeyes—in that order.” Jon witnessed how his mother and stepfather volunteered in their church and community. He notes that his mother wouldn’t make just one pie for a bake sale, but multiple pies. An over-achiever? Like her son? Jon is concerned that today’s parents aren’t always able to give guidance and discipline to their children. He feels that college education can help provide a solid foundation for life. 

Awarding scholarships is clearly Jon’s life purpose. He thrills at making an impact on students’ lives. Yes, it is that, and perhaps more. Like Brutus Buckeye, the adored Ohio State mascot, Jon in his Big Nut persona brings joy to the world. People are drawn to him. It’s not just the costume, it’s the heart of the man wearing the costume. They love his energy, his upbeatness, his playfulness. He won’t accept checks for himself, but don’t you suspect that his personal “paychecks” are the smiles on the faces of his fans?

Bringing out the best in everyone

Photo credits and permissions: Jon Paul and Terese Halbeisen Peters, Dave and Carole Hocevar, Sally Lanyon