Advertisement

Archive for Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ceremony to remember unique Lawrence figure

April 17, 2013

Advertisement

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

ceveritt4402 1 year 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.

0

thisiknow 1 year 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.

1

bearded_gnome 1 year 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?

0

bearded_gnome 1 year 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.

0

kerryaltenbernd 1 year 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.

0

Clark Coan 1 year 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.

0

bearded_gnome 1 year 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.

0

Anydaynow 1 year 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.

0

Benjamin Roberts 1 year ago

The first time the plaque was placed it created a "political correctness" controversy. It is an interesting story wherein the PC police try to get Leo's quote removed from the plaque. However, Sally Jenkins slams the PC police, "You don't want to be cruel, but when you get right down to it I feel like it's too bad they weren't interested when we really needed someone to care. They weren't around then, but they are now when it doesn't matter."

Blind Dwarf Remembered in Death

1

none2 1 year ago

What a wonderful, touching story. Thank you ljworld.com!

I wish I had know about him years ago. I didn't come to Lawrence until 1980, so I never would have known him, but I'm surprised that just eight years after his death, his story wasn't better shared around town -- especially KU. I think that is one of the drawbacks to the area: Because of the constant turnover of KU students, things that need to be retold, don't get retold. As someone pointed out, they asked about Tan Man. He was a fixture at KU at least during the 80's, but probably later arrivals probably never heard of him.

0

geoismeo 1 year 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.

0

Silly_me 1 year 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.

1

rockchalker52 1 year 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.

2

Helen Pendleton Rumbaut 1 year 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

2

LawrenceBorn74 1 year 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.

0

cheeseburger 1 year ago

Thank you, Frank Janzen. Thank you, Kim Tefft. Shame on you, City of Lawrence.

Long live the memory of Leo Beuerman.

0

3up3down 1 year 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.

2

lawrenceloser 1 year ago

I would like to know where Johnny Tan Man is or if he is still alive.

0

eric poncharello 1 year ago

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

1

Hawkanator 1 year ago

How beautiful. Lovely story.

1

buffalo63 1 year 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.

6

Commenting has been disabled for this item.