It’s been more than five decades, but retired Derby teacher Sue Towns, who spent some of her childhood in Lawrence, is trying to track down a Lawrence man she refers to as her hero.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that man,” Towns said.
Towns tells a story about a man who used to give her a nickel every day as she walked to Lincoln Elementary School in 1956 as a second-grader. The man worked at the Union Pacific Railroad, and Towns remembers a small office she would pass near the railroad tracks.
“I just remember standing there with my hand out,” said Towns, now 62.
Towns would take the nickel, shoot over to an area store and buy herself a moon pie.
“It just made me a happy little camper,” she said. “I love moon pies to this day.”
Back then it was a small gesture that the man extended, but looking back, Towns said, the daily gift probably had a larger purpose.
Towns grew up poor, and her home life was tough. She was removed from her family in 1957 and bounced around foster care for a couple of years. Combing through her adoption record, Towns said her listed weight at age 8 was 38 pounds.
The man must have seen that Towns looked thin and was trying to help, Towns said.
“I feel very strongly about that,” she said.
With the passage of time, Towns, whose name was changed from Linda Sue Steele after her adoption, said her memories of the man have faded.
She doesn’t recall a name or what he looked like. She doesn’t know how old he was back then, or if he’s even still alive today. But for the past couple of years, she’s had an urge to track him down.
With little information to go on, Towns has so far been unsuccessful. She recently reached out to Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Amyx.
“It really is an incredible story,” said Amyx, who made some calls but wasn’t able to track down any information.
A spokesman from Union Pacific also wasn’t able to provide any information about the man, citing the decades of time gone by.
Towns taught third and sixth grade in the Derby public school system, and has used the story as an example in her classes for an essay project about heroes.
It was simple act of kindness more than 50 years ago, but Towns said she’s often thought about the man during tough times in her life. And she’s often reflected on his actions when her students struggled like she did so many years ago.
Towns hopes she’ll find the “nice man” and thank him or his family.
“In the eyes of a kid, he was huge,” she said.
If you have information about Towns’ mystery hero, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.