“Johnny Kay” was the on air name of Richard Kutan, a long time resident of Youngstown, Ohio. I learned last night that he passed away on Friday December 5, 2014 in Marysville, Ohio, living near family. This is a loss that touches me personally. He was a mentor to me during my high school years and one who played a profound influence in shaping my faith.
I first heard of “Johnny Kay” in my middle school years. I would listen to him in the mornings on WHOT, our local rock music station while I washed up for school. In between songs by the Beatles or the Monkees, he would read the lunch menus for different schools in the area. At some point around then, he began attending our church. His sister, Louise Schenk had long been a member and was a woman of faith. I still have, and treasure, a copy of My Utmost for His Highest inscribed by her.
In the summer of 1970, he began hosting Bible studies at his home for teenagers searching for faith. I started going along with several friends. A few months before, I had made a commitment to follow Christ at a retreat but I was still pretty clueless as to what that meant. Those weekly discussions taught me what it meant to trust Christ in daily life and also the radical kind of love that was to be the mark of Christ’s followers.
Out of these weekly gatherings, the idea was hatched to hold an outdoor rally on the lawn of our church. Phil Keaggy, a musician with Glass Harp and several other local musicians who had come to faith played. Others were invited to speak about their faith. I was one who stood up–kind of my “coming out” day as a Christian in front of some of my high school friends. Johnny Kay was among those who spoke about what it meant to trust in Christ and how this could fill the place in our lives we were trying to fill with music, drugs, or sex. Many responded that day and the Bible studies moved out of Johnny’s den into the church.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves swept up in an awakening that was going on around the country, known as the “Jesus Movement.” Many of us would pile into cars and vans and do rallies at a number of the local high schools. Because I didn’t have a car, Johnny Kay often picked me up in his green VW Beetle enroute to these rallies and what I remember was his willingness to talk, listen, or pray with me about all the things I was wrestling with as a teen and a beginning follower of Christ. I remember how he listened when I talked about the pain of a break-up. He also challenged me to take steps of faith, most often in terms of being willing to speak up about my faith in school settings as well as at rallies. I’m still doing that and I think I owe that largely to him.
Our lives only intersected closely for about two and a half years. But I will always be grateful that he “had time” and challenged me in my faith. And what he did for me, I know he did for countless others over many years. I learned that he received the Victory Star Medal for his service as a radio operator in the Pacific theater during World War 2. He was buried with military honors. In later years he moved over to another local radio station. He was beloved in the community. Even in his retirement years he was the Director of Lay Ministry at the church where I grew up overseeing a food pantry and helping with efforts to create a community center in the church.
At one time, I think the DJs at WHOT were known as “The Good Guys.” There could not be a more fitting description for Johnny Kay. A member of “The Greatest Generation” who served with distinction, a voice that brought a smile to our faces as we were waking up each morning, a caring follower of Christ who took time with a rather “nerdy” teenager, and one who lived for others as long as he could. Johnny Kay was all that and more. I thank God for Richard “Johnny Kay” Kutan. Rest in Peace my friend. I will always remember you.