DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — For the second time in a week, one Central Illinois city has lost someone who poured their heart and soul into the community. Nate or “Bobo” Smalls died Tuesday afternoon at 72.
Smalls was a pitcher in the Negro American League for 21 years. He was also a member of the Three Kings of Peace in Danville, a group that has been outspoken against violence in the city for years. City leaders and family members are grieving his loss, but also celebrating the great things he left behind.
“We’re gonna miss him, and you know, he just had a great impact on our lives,” said and fellow Three Kings of Peace member Ed Butler.
“He was known as a clown, and somehow he would put that clown act there, and you would fall in love with him,” said Three Kings of Peace member Frank McCullough.
That’s what made the name “Bobo” fit him so well. Not only did it match his personality, But Smalls was also a former pitcher for the Negro American League baseball team, the Indianapolis Clowns.
“He can hold about five balls in his hand, and he can throw those five balls to five different people at the same time,” said Butler.
Smalls’ widow, Juanita Smalls, says she met him when she went to watch one of his games. She said he instantly fell for her.
“He told me that he was in love, and I thought to myself… I’m not out here for that,” said Juanita. But Juanita eventually came around. She still has only great things to say about him 49 years later. “This man treated me like royalty.”
Smalls used his huge heart throughout the Danville community after moving there in 1969.
“I remember when all that shooting got started here in Danville about 5 years ago. Him and Reverend McCullough got together, and… and said, ‘Man we got to do something, you know, about our city,'” said Butler.
From there, they became the Three Kings of Peace. They advocated all over the city, speaking in schools and planning events to keep kids out of violence.
“Bobo would sometimes sit out in the park from 12 o’clock noon to midnight at night just sit down and talk to the kids and try to steer them in the right direction,” said McCullough.
Those who loved Smalls will keep him forever in their memory, and they want his mission to stay alive.
“We don’t want his living to be in vain, and we certainly want our young people to respect what he’s done to our community and put it to use,” said McCullough.
Danville Mayor Rickey Williams made the following post on Facebook about Smalls:
“Two in one week; this is hard. I’ve known Nate ‘Bobo’ Smalls almost my entire life. He and my father played on the same team in the Twilight League for much of my childhood. I really got to know Bobo when I returned home as an adult. When I started at the Boys & Girls Club in 2006, we were so short-staffed & underfunded that I had no one to oversee the gym. Bobo faithfully volunteered every day, 5 days a week for nearly 3 months until I could raise the money to hire someone. When we started the Basketball League, he was a faithful coach and volunteer referee, and moved the league to Garfield Park when we could no longer sponsor it. He raised the money and faithfully served for more than a decade, providing a safe and positive outlet for hundreds of youth each summer. He mentored hundreds more young people as one of the Three Kings of Peace & outdid himself in every arena pertaining to youth. We can only pray that God raises up another like him because we sure need it now more than ever! My heart goes out to and prayers go up for the Smalls family; you are loved and we thank you for sharing Bobo with us for all these years!”
Service arrangements for Smalls aren’t set in stone yet, but they are tentatively scheduled starting at 11 a.m. Saturday with a visitation at Leek & Sons Funeral Home in Danville. The funeral will likely start afterward at noon.