The aroma of fresh, warm bread fills Richard Dean Shuté’s small apartment as he lifts five loaves out of the hot oven and carefully dumps them out of their pans onto his kitchen counter.
Known as “The Bread Man” to hundreds of young men and women serving their two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this part of Louisiana, Shuté, 75, estimates he’s baked about 37,500 loaves of bread over the past 32 years.
He sorts through the cooling loaves and selects the best one for sacrament at Sunday’s service at the LDS Church and Temple on Highland Road. Then he sorts through five loaves baked earlier that day and gives one each to visiting Elders Christian Lisonbee and Nathan Lyons, both 20, to take with them. The rest along with more loaves he’ll bake throughout the week, he’ll take to Sunday services and give to visitors and friends.
Shuté cuts into another still-warm loaf and the two young missionaries spread butter on the thick slices and savor them as Shuté stands nearby, smiling.
“Brother Shuté is what we call a mission legend,” says Lyons, of Gunnison, Utah, in between bites of the sweet, wheat bread. “All the missionaries know who Brother Shuté is. He’s famous for his bread and famous for the sweaters he makes.”
When he’s not baking bread, Shuté crochets sweaters and sock hats for the young missionaries, many of whom will return to colder climates when their Louisiana stint is completed. A partially finished sweater for Lisonbee, who hails from Park City, Utah, lies on a pile of yarn nearby.
“He’s famous for being such a great guy,” Lyons says. “Brother Shuté invites us once a week to come here and eat with him. His bread is delicious. He puts a little extra sugar into it.”
“His bread is really delicious,” adds Lisonbee between bites.
Shuté smiles at the young men’s hearty appetites and kind words.
“This is just who I am,” he says. “If it were not for God and if it were not for the church, I would not have the talent.”
Baking bread, he says, keeps him active physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“It keeps me moving and lets me know I have my head screwed on straight because I’m doing (things) for other people,” Shuté says. “Spiritually, I just feel like I’m fulfilling and exercising a talent I was given because we all have talents, but if we don’t do anything with them they go away.”
His bread is so famous people from all over want his recipe.
“One man, a baker for 30 years, was passing through town and came to church with us at the Third Ward and I gave him and his wife an extra loaf,” he says. “When they got home they ate some of it, and he called for the recipe because he said it was the best bread he’d ever had.”
Making so many loaves can be expensive, but Shuté says the church and friends help. He was given 120 pounds of flour and 50 pounds of sugar for Christmas, but he buys his own olive oil, kosher salt and yeast.
“Sometimes I make as many as 15 or 20 a day,” he says. “The most was 75 loaves for Thanksgiving two years ago.”
As Shuté sits in his recliner waiting for the next batch to finish baking, he opens a small, leather-bound hymnal to number 219 and reads aloud the second verse of “Because I Have Been Given Much.”
“Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care, I cannot see another’s lack and I not share my glowing fire, my loaf of bread, my roof’s safe shelter overhead, that he too may be comforted,” Shuté reads, adding, “I really love that song. I want it sung at my funeral.”
He shares a tiny, two-bedroom Jefferson Lakes apartment with a nonreligious friend. According to that hymn, he says, he’s been blessed, in spite of living with epilepsy since childhood.
Shuté cannot drive and has lost several jobs due to his condition. On a spectrum of intensity his epilepsy is “about medium,” he says. Seizures can range from mild and brief to losing consciousness and violent convulsions that can last for many minutes.
There is no known cause or cure, he says.
“I’m donating my body to LSU for science. That way, if they can just find out what and why one person has these seizures, it will be worth it,” he says.
Shuté grew up in Alabama, was married briefly and worked in a beauty shop where he accidentally cut his own left wrist with a razor. His left hand doesn’t work very well and most tasks, like kneading the bread, are done with his right hand.
He grew up Southern Baptist and attended the Church of Christ as an adult. But after a visit from some young missionaries, he converted to Mormonism on May 20, 1981.
Was he born again, as evangelical Christians define salvation in Christ?
“Oh, yes! But it didn’t mean anything until I was baptized with the (LDS) authority and with the priesthood I hold,” Shuté says. “My authority actually comes from Jesus Christ through others down to me.
“We do believe in Jesus Christ,” he adds. “We get asked that question all the time. The name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The background I had in Christianity, I would not be a member if they did not believe in Jesus Christ.”
Reed H. Hansen is president of the Louisiana-Baton Rouge Mission and oversees, along with his wife, Mary Anne Hansen, about 200 youthful missionaries.
“Brother Shuté is such a sweet guy,” Hansen says. “The missionaries just love him. He’s always looking for someone who needs cheering up or joy in their life. His bread is special.”
Sara C. Jacobs, one of Shuté’s many friends, says he personifies the scripture of Matthew 25:40, where Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of these, the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.”
“He is truly a disciple of Christ and shows his love for his fellow saints by his actions as ‘The Bread Man,’ ” Jacobs says.