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Archive for Thursday, June 11, 1998

THE LIFE OF A SPECIAL LAWRENCE RESIDENT IS RETOLD.

June 11, 1998

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Although he died more than two decades ago, Leo Beuerman is still encouraging others with his life story.

A fixture on downtown Lawrence streets for decades, Beuerman supported himself by selling handcrafted wares to passersby. His story is notable in that to do so he overcame extreme disabilities, including dwarfism, deafness and eventual blindness.

In 1969, Lawrence-based Centron Films produced a 14-minute documentary on Beuerman. Hailed as inspirational, the film has gone on to win a number of awards, including an Academy Award nomination for best short documentary.

As part of a new family series, Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass., is showing ``Leo Beuerman'' Saturday afternoon.

``We were looking for children's programs which offered a variety of topics appealing to children, but also of interest to adults,'' museum director Steve Jansen said.

As part of the program, screenwriter Trudy Travis, a former Centron employee, will be on hand to discuss the film and Beuerman. Her own 16mm print is the version being shown.

Some of Beuerman's personal memorabilia, from the tiny shoes he wore to the cart he designed, built and propelled himself with, will also be displayed.

For Beuerman supporters, the adversities he conquered made him one of the city's most noteworthy citizens, and the film wins raves from them.

``It is truly an exceptional film, it is so well done,'' Marsha Goff, a member of the Douglas County Historical Society board of directors, said.

The key to the film's success, Goff said, is the inspiration its subject created by his determination to succeed as a businessman despite his handicaps.

``It could have been a `bummer,''' Goff said. ``But he makes it a triumph. The way he overcame adversity is pretty impressive.''

Beuerman was born in 1902. He was hard of hearing until his mid-20s when he became totally deaf. He was blind in one eye, and in his latter years was completely blind.

Added to this was his stature. He grew to be slightly over 3 feet tall.

During his early years he lived in seclusion, but upon his mother's death he determined he would earn a living for himself. He sold pencils by day and repaired watches by night.

Beuerman traveled to Lawrence by tractor, and would stay in town all week, sleeping under the canopy of an auto parts store on New Hampshire Street. Twice he was beaten and robbed, but he persevered.

He wheeled about downtown in a cart he designed and built himself. He brought it in on the tractor, and using a pulley system of his own design, he would lower and raise both himself and the cart from the tractor to the street.

Beuerman communicated through writing or typing notes to others. Before he died in 1974 he managed to pound out an autobiography, which Goff has a copy of.

In it his attitude reflects the same optimism of the movie. He writes: ``I did all this, and I am going to do even more.''

The movie has been extremely popular with business and civic groups because of Beuerman's optimistic outlook, and even Reagan White House staff members once called to request a copy of the film.

The Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., and Kansas University's Kenneth Spencer Research Library retain copies of the film.

Goff said Beuerman was enthusiastic about his documentary.

``He loved it,'' she said. ``He received letters from others who were disabled telling him how the film inspired them. He felt maybe he was here to inspire people, and he was glad the film did that.''

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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