Archive for Sunday, April 8, 2012

Woman searches for mysterious Lawrence hero from childhood

Sue Towns, who grew up in Lawrence, has been looking for a man she calls her hero for decades.

Sue Towns, who grew up in Lawrence, has been looking for a man she calls her hero for decades.

April 8, 2012


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


g_rock 2 years ago

I bet there are UP retiree groups in the area...or KC or Topeka that could help track down the man. Railroaders are an amazing family of people. Good luck!


verity 2 years ago

This story is a reminder to me that even a small thing might make a difference in someone's life.


Cynthia Schott 2 years ago

I would suggest that Ms. Towns contact a group on Facebook called "North Lawrence Sandrats." They surely could answer your question. There are almost 700 members, and have mentioned Lincoln or Woodlawn reunions as well. Cindy


FlintlockRifle 2 years ago

I am guessing this was on 4th street between Perry and Locust, I can remember the guy in the little shack, Mr. Jinanez?? might be the person she is looking for, the old computer chip is not as good as it used to be.


jellybeanies 2 years ago

She looks to be about 8 in the picture and appears healthy and not gaunt. She may have just been a very petite girl. I wouldn't assume the man was giving her a nickel to buy moon pies because she appeared malnourished or neglected. He was probably a nice old man that had a lot of empathy for children and their struggles and was showing some kindness.


oneeye_wilbur 2 years ago

The man may have had no daughter and Sue Towns captured his idea of what he might have had.

We had a hostess cupcake truck driver always stop in our neighborhood, park in the shade near my house in the summer time when the kids were around. We got free cupcakes almost daily. Now the parents would sue the driver.

Now the parents would sue the Union Pacific employee for talking to the child.

Look at that smile of Sue Towns, young and older. She knew she was going to do something and the confidence beams. Congrats to her.


pagan_idolator 2 years ago

Just goes to show you - even doing a small, nice thing for someone can have a lasting positive effect. Nice story.


LawrenceTownie 2 years ago

My sister and I walked to school along those same tracks everyday on the way to Woodlawn and Lincoln Schools too. We were also greeted at the depot by a very nice gentleman in his Union Pacific suit. He would say hello to us with a big smile every morning. I always felt safe when I saw him waiting there. I have good memories of those daily walks. The small neighborhood grocery store is also a good memory, straws filled with loose treats. I hope you find your hero.


crazyredneckmomma4 2 years ago

Sorry but I was born in 1977 and went to school in north lawrence. Where was lincoln elementry? I may have information on her hero.


Jane 2 years ago

The hero may or may not have passed on. When you are eight, everyone over fifteen years old looks old! :) Great story! Good luck finding him or his family.


KU79 2 years ago

Nice story. I'm sure you've thought about anything I could come up with, but working for Union Pacific, he was probably part of a union. I know union members who get together with their old buddies on occasion, after retirement. Have you contacted the union to try and reach older folks that might remember who this guy is? He's probably passed on, but it would still be great to reach out to his family/friends. It's a long shot, but I hope you can find him, or at least who he was.


Noweigh 2 years ago

Great story. Unfortunately, in today's environment of distrust, a news story about an older man offering a little girl money would be construed by most to be a "dangerous thing".
Thanks to this man for making a little girls life more enjoyable! Good luck in your search!


Scattered 2 years ago

That is a precious story. I wish you the very best in discovering the identity of your Moon Pie Angel. Good heavens...38 pounds at 8 years of age. My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter weighs 32# and she isn't even chubby. Thank God you were adopted and now have such a beautiful testament to the incredible and lasting power of human kindness.


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