COLUMBIA — On a weekend like this one, Nate Bentley’s friends probably would have been hanging out at his place, a duplex in southeast Columbia.
He was a steadfast friend and a core figure in the lives of those who knew him well.
“Instead,” Tony Shaw, a close friend of Nate’s, said, “we’re sitting here talking about him.”
Nathaniel JaRoe “Nate” Bentley, 22, died Tuesday, June 10, 2008, from a gunshot wound to the head.
Late Friday night, a small cluster of Nate’s close friends gathered to talk about him.
“He was the center,” Shaw said. “He wasn’t the most popular kid,” he added, but when the weekend arrived and friends were trying to find out what was going on, Nate was the man to call.
“If you were in house, he trusted you,” Shaw said. “He was that type of person. He had an open heart and wore his heart on his sleeve.”
That’s why three of Nate’s closest friends, all pallbearers at his funeral — Shaw, 22, and brothers Anthony Johnson, 22, and Michael Johnson, 19 — have had a tough time understanding their friend’s death.
They said he wasn’t the kind of guy who should have died young. He wasn’t involved with illicit activities that would have led to a violent death, they said, and he certainly wasn’t a drug dealer.
Nate was a man of simple needs. He was a hard worker — the kind of guy who always had a job and a car, friends recalled — who was content to spend his free time relaxing with those close to him.
“He worked more than I do, and I work from 8 to 8,” Michael Johnson said.
Friends said Nate worked as a chef at a local fraternity and had started a landscaping job this summer.
They recalled his daily routine: waking up, working all day, “kickin’ it” with friends and family and repeating the cycle all over again the next day.
“He could do that and be happy forever,” Shaw said.
“That’s sorta how he was, simple,” Anthony Johnson added. “He was always happy, never had to have this or that to be happy.”
One of his simple pleasures was rap music. He was always frugal, so Shaw was surprised when Nate spent an entire $20 on a rap beat book during a recent visit to Barnes & Noble.
“It was a slow process, but he really wanted to do music,” Shaw said. Nate was interested in a career as a recording engineer.
Nate briefly attended Moberly Area Community College but left after deciding the school didn’t offer any programs that suited his interests— chiefly music, art and cooking. But he was planning to give college another try.
Even if Nate hadn’t gone back to college, “LaQueta (his mother) would have made him,” Shaw said, laughing. The friends recalled Nate’s strong relationship with his mother.
“He was a hard worker and a good man,” LaQueta Smith-Bentley told the Missourian in a brief phone interview.
Shaw said that while he was at Bentley’s duplex, Nate had spoken to his mother on the phone the night he died. He had a cold, and she reminded him to take his medicine.
Nate wasn’t as close to his father but maintained a good relationship, saw him about once a year and occasionally talked with him on the phone, friends said.
He never chased the latest fads, friends remembered. His favorite musicians, Tupac and Biggie Smalls, were part of a throwback to his favored ’90s R&B and rap, He “sorta had an old-school feel,” Anthony Johnson said.
“He loved Robert DeNiro, all the way back to the Raging Bull movies,” Shaw added.
In keeping with his retro style, Nate was always the last to upgrade, his friends said. He owned a CD player that hadn’t been able to play CDs since Nate was in grade school. The radio worked, and he kept it around because he liked the way it looked.
Michael Johnson had been planning on fixing that broken CD player for the last two weeks. After all, Nate’s place had always been the hub — the spot everyone gathered to “kick it.” A functioning CD player was a necessity.
Johnson had planned to fix the CD player last Sunday, when everyone gathered at Nate’s for game two of the NBA finals, but forgot.
Even before he moved out of his mom’s house, Nate’s place was his friends’ “hot spot.” There were always games and good food. Nate’s mom made the best chicken, and the Bentleys had a small basketball hoop downstairs.
The friends would always start quietly, but the next thing they knew, they were playing “real ball.”
“We would play until LaQueta stopped us or someone started bleeding,” Anthony Johnson said.
The Johnsons, who knew the Bentley family since they were in preschool, moved closer to the Bentleys when they were in elementary school because the boys were inseparable, and their moms got tired of paying for gas to shuttle them between houses.
Shaw, who met Nate at swimming lessons in fourth grade, said no friendship would replace the one he had with Nate. It had history.
When Nate graduated in Hickman High School’s class of 2004, the friends stayed close even when they lived in different cities.
Shaw said he knew Nate was his best friend when Nate came from Columbia nearly every weekend to see him in Moberly after he moved there halfway through high school.
“Between me, Anthony and Nate, out of that triangle, we trust each other,” Shaw said.
They were brothers, they said, and they had loud fights to prove it.
“We could always argue, but I would call him the next day and ask what we were doing,” Shaw said.
Nate is survived by his parents, Floyd Nathaniel Bentley of Kansas City and LaQueta S. Smith-Bentley of Columbia; two brothers, Ise’ah D. Bentley of Columbia and Jamal Brown of Sedalia; two half-sisters, Deandra Weeder and Chante Weeder, both of Kansas City; his maternal grandparents, Ruth Yancey, Charles Smith and wife Marva Smith of Sedalia; his paternal grandmother, Sadie Turner of Sedalia; his maternal great-grandmother, Hazel Clark of Sedalia; and several aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
His paternal grandfather, Tommy L. Hawkins, and his paternal great-grandmother, Margaret Hollis, died earlier.
A funeral was held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ward Memorial Baptist Church in Sedalia, where much of Nate’s family came from. The Rev. Lawrence Morganfield conducted services. He was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Sedalia.
Missourian reporters Kelli Rogers and Chad Day contributed to this report.