Archive for Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ceremony to remember unique Lawrence figure

April 17, 2013

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Starting at age 50, Leo Beuerman — all 39 inches and 60 pounds of him — would drive his specially rigged tractor downtown, get into a red wooden cart and sell pencils. He was unable to walk, hear or speak clearly, and later lost much of his eyesight, but that didn't prevent him from becoming a fixture of Lawrence in the 1960s. He was even the subject of an Academy-Award-nominated documentary, and, years later, a Christian-based, social-services facility was named after him.

Leo Beuerman sold pencils out of a handmade wooden cart in downtown Lawrence during the mid-20th century.

Leo Beuerman sold pencils out of a handmade wooden cart in downtown Lawrence during the mid-20th century.

After his death in 1974 at the age of 72, a bronze plaque was dedicated in his honor on the sidewalk at the northeast corner of Eighth and Massachusetts streets. Beuerman seemed like a hard guy to forget.

Frank Janzen has spent about 50 years, on and off, in Lawrence. When he returned to the city in 2011, he was discouraged to find that Beuerman's plaque was no longer visible, blocked by the sidewalk seating that had since been installed at Teller's Restaurant, 746 Massachusetts St. Janzen asked some waiters about it; they had no idea what he was talking about.

So he set out to make sure Beuerman wouldn't be forgotten by future Lawrence residents. His efforts have led to a rededication ceremony of the since-refurbished plaque to be held at noon Saturday outside Teller's. Lawrence dignitaries and Beuerman relatives will be on hand to remember the local icon, as the documentary, "Leo Beuerman," plays inside Teller's.

This renewed Leo Beuerman plaque will be rededicated during a noon ceremony Saturday outside Teller's Restaurant, 746 Massachusetts St.

This renewed Leo Beuerman plaque will be rededicated during a noon ceremony Saturday outside Teller's Restaurant, 746 Massachusetts St.

"Leo was an intelligent, resourceful man," Janzen said. Despite his limitations, "he refused to succumb to self-pity or fear."

Beuerman was born in 1902 with a rare genetic condition, osteogenesis imperfecta, that causes sufferers to have extremely brittle bones. Beuerman never grew past 3 feet 3 inches tall or 60 pounds but decided he wasn't going to let his handicap stop him from accomplishing his dreams. So he modified a tractor he could drive from his home in rural Douglas County. Once downtown, he would use a chain-pulley system to lower himself into a handmade wooden cart, from which he would hawk pens, pencils and other items in front of the Woolworth's department store.

"I will show people … how determination can overcome trouble," he said in the movie.

The Leo Beuerman plaque outside Teller's Restaurant, 746 Massachusetts St., seems to have been forgotten about in recent years.

The Leo Beuerman plaque outside Teller's Restaurant, 746 Massachusetts St., seems to have been forgotten about in recent years.

Local sculptor Kim Tefft refurbished the plaque, which was originally designed in 1976 by artist Jim Patti. The Lawrence Public Works Department helped install it in a planter outside Teller's.

Other events are being held in Lawrence this week to remember Beuerman. His red cart is being featured in an exhibit at Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St., and flags are being placed at the grave sites of Beuerman and his family at Oak Hill Cemetery, near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue.

"Remember me," Beuerman's plaque reads. "I'm that little man gone blind. I used to sell pencils on the street corner."

Thanks to the efforts of Janzen and other local residents, Beuerman shouldn't be forgotten again anytime soon.

Comments

buffalo63 2 years, 4 months ago

I'm one of those people honored to have met him on the sidewalk. He is one of those you don't realize what a treasure Lawrence had until they are gone.

eric poncharello 2 years, 4 months ago

I remember him, I was little at the time but I do remember him riding his wagon along downtown Lawrence sidewalks.

cds 2 years, 4 months ago

Yes he's still around. Works at LMH and lives very close by. Very nice guy.

3up3down 2 years, 4 months ago

I grew up next door to Katherine Weinaug on Stratford Road where Leo used to come and stay periodically. It was always fun to talk with Leo as a young boy and teenager growing up. Leo never felt sorry for himself and enjoyed telling me stories of his life. Definitely made me appreciate the full healthy life I have.

frankfussman 2 years, 4 months ago

The City of Lawrence was instrumental in getting this plaque refurbished and restored in the planter outside Teller's. They need not feel any shame at all. In fact, the City of Lawrence should be commended.

LawrenceBorn74 2 years, 4 months ago

I remember my mom and dad telling me about Leo when I saw the plaque outside of (whatever Tellers was before it was Tellers). My mom lived for a time near Leo's family out by Lakeview and my mom would go there from time to time. When I noticed last year that it was gone it was kind of depressing. I'm very glad someone has done something about this. Much like my mom and dad, I grew up in and around Lawrence. It was a real shame to see that somebody had the idea to remove that landmark from Mass. St.

Helen Pendleton Rumbaut 2 years, 4 months ago

Little Leo was a fixture on Massachusetts Street when I was growing up in Lawrence during the 1950s. I never forgot him. A few years ago I bought the very poignant movie about him and respected him even more. I wish I could attend the upcoming ceremony so that I could meet his relatives and express my respect and admiration. He was a true overcomer and strong Christian. Thank you so much, Mr. Janzen, for educating younger Lawrencians about Leo.

Helen Pendleton Rumbaut Austin, Texas

rockchalker52 2 years, 4 months ago

My dad took me to buy some pencils from Mr. Beuerman when I was a kid. We waited while he hoisted himself down from his tractor. I wish I still had those pencils.

Silly_me 2 years, 4 months ago

What a great story! Leo lived in Lawrence before my time here, so I never had the privilege of meeting him. In my neighborhood, we had a gentlemen who had lost a leg and part of one arm during WWII who would go around the houses regularly selling small kitchen notions out of an old cigarette case that he would strap around his neck. I never knew his full name but we called him "Mr. Jim" and he was a fantastic guy. He always had a sack of penny candy that he would give to the kids he would see as he did his rounds. Always asked us how we were doing and told us to study hard. Between him and the kindly mailman who would make the rounds, they were the first non family adults who I got to know. I do remember he stopped coming around and when I asked my mom, she gently told me he had passed away. Wow, it's amazing how memories sometimes come flooding back.

geoismeo 2 years, 4 months ago

He always scared me as a child. My dad would send me up to him to buy a pencil or something. I'm sure he was a good guy, just scary for me.

Helen Pendleton Rumbaut 2 years, 4 months ago

Me, too! It was only much later that I realized there was nothing to be afraid of.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for this link. Sometimes kindness can be cruelty. The blind college professor was wrong. No one was sitting Leo up as an example of what a blind person is. The man was an individual and it sounds like people saw him that way. Because he treated himself with dignity and respect, others did also.

Anydaynow 2 years, 4 months ago

I was a teenager and worked in Lawrence after highschool and remember Leo very well. He was always out and about on the streets. Our family were close friends of some of his relation. Glad to hear of his recognition.

bearded_gnome 2 years, 4 months ago

I am so glad this is happening! thank you.

this truly great man's tall character casts a long legacy down the decades of Lawrence life. he sets a high example for people with disabilities. determination can overcome trouble, indeed he is so right.

due to my caregiver responsibilities, I can't be there.

I am so sad I cannot attend.

Clark Coan 2 years, 4 months ago

He was a good Christian man who plowed gardens for people in East Lawrence. He was also a self-reliant man who wasn't dependent upon others or government despite his disabilities.

kerryaltenbernd 2 years, 4 months ago

This story is a sad commentary on how history has been treated in a town that is supposedly so interested in history. Why was the plaque allowed to be engulfed by the sidewalk cafe at Tellers? Shouldn't the City have included having the plaque treated with respect when it allowed Tellers to build the railing and put out the tables and chairs? Obviously, it did not. And just as obviously, Tellers didn't care either. It's about time that Leo Beuerman's plaque is restored to its rightful place of honor.

frankfussman 2 years, 4 months ago

I have been part of this process of getting Leo's plaque in a better position. A year ago, when I was walking past Teller's, I met two men outside who happened to be the managers of Teller's, Robert and Tom Wilson. They agreed with me that the plaque needed to be better placed outside their railing, and they assisted in that process which culminates this Saturday. So please don't disparage Teller's. They knew this was a problem and they were part of the solution.And the Lawrence City offices were not negligent either. They had no say in what was a private property issue at Teller's, and they assisted in this process to move the plaque.

bearded_gnome 2 years, 4 months ago

how is this a private property issue? while the managers of Tellers are doing the right thing, good on them, I'm indeed wondering about the city and the process of allowing the seating in the beginning! doesn't seem entirely private property to me.

bearded_gnome 2 years, 4 months ago

^^Frankie8 6 hours, 20 minutes ago

Thank you for this link. Sometimes kindness can be cruelty. The blind college professor was wrong. No one was sitting Leo up as an example of what a blind person is. The man was an individual and it sounds like people saw him that way. Because he treated himself with dignity and respect, others did also.

---Frankie8, it's just not that simple. selling pencils on the street corner has been a stereotypical place to just stick the blind, and more generally people with disabilities, in our history. so, this hits a bit of a sore spot.

yes, many here treated Mr. Beuerman and his legacy rightly with the honor he deserved, noting his determinationand overcoming. (I came to lawrence in the 80's so never met him myself) I can tell you for a fact though that some, including ablebodied faculty at KU, took his legacy in the wrong direction. that is as oh look we';re doing so much for these people, they're okay, or that people with disabilities didn't face discrimination.

having a visible disability means you're just as likely to face discrimination as if you are a member of a racial group like being black, only the stereotypes are different.

that prof, whom I studied under, was right that some people were holding up Leo as all that could be attained. ca you understand that this is in fact very harmful if you consider somebody who's capable of going to college, and or otherwise achieving a higher level of economic achievement?

thisiknow 2 years, 4 months ago

Leo was a fixture in Lawrence as I grew up here. Although he didn't know it, he taught me acceptance.I used to set on the pavement and watch parents approach Leo's wagon with their kids and have their kids pick a pencil and hand Leo the money. Sometimes the eyes on the little ones were huge and you could tell they were frightened. As the sale took place, the parent would prompt the kid and the kid would reluctantly hand the money and accept the pencil and as they walked away the kid would look back time and time again. Time and time again , the kid would smile at one last glance. Those kids,without a doubt, would buy another pencil from Leo without their parents urging. It was beautiful to watch.

ceveritt4402 2 years, 4 months ago

Leo is my Great Grand Uncle.... My family and I love hearing all the stories people have when they find out that we are related to him....Thanks for the love and support that everyone still shows for him.

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