Forgotten keepsakes returned: Couple receive anniversary surprise

Published: January 10, 2007 | 5270th good news item since 2003

Mouse droppings and rats’ nests covered a trunk Bob Kincheloe discovered in McLouth this past week.

Kincheloe didn’t think much of the trunk he found in an old barn that he was dismantling for his friend Melody Barnes.

On Saturday, Barnes and Kincheloe decided to open the trunk. As they scraped away the layers of muck, they discovered a treasure trove. Inside were photos, letters, stock certificates and a marriage license.

The papers were makings of the story of a couple’s life together.

Kincheloe and Barnes found two last names on documents in the trunk and headed toward the local phone book. When they got to Bud and Betty Lukens, of Lawrence, they’d found the owners.

Kincheloe and Barnes made a trip to Lawrence to return what they had found. That was Sunday, two days before the Lukens were to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.

Appropriately, among the papers that were found was the letter Bud had written to Betty’s parents, informing them of his intention to marry their daughter. Their marriage certificate also was in the trunk.

The trunk had been lost when, two years ago, the Lukens sold their farm, which included the barn, because Bud’s eyesight had deteriorated to the point that he could hardly see the road to make the drive from his home in Lawrence. Macular degeneration has degraded Bud’s sight to the point that he can’t even read the long-lost letter he wrote to his wife’s parents.

Monday night, as Betty, 84, read the letter aloud, she couldn’t help but get emotional at the words her husband, now 86, wrote. She thought the letter was lost to time.

“I’m sure your greatest concern is essentially mine: her future happiness,” she read. She paused and insisted she couldn’t read any more, but she pressed on.

The letter, which covered the front and back of two pages, was written on Dec. 7, 1941. Bud was sure the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor meant he’d be in the Army soon. He wanted to marry Betty before that happened. They married Jan. 9, 1942, in California.

Bud served in the Army from 1945 to 1947, and afterward the couple returned to Kansas. They bought the farm and lived in McLouth until moving to Lawrence so their two daughters could go to high school here. Bud, however, made the daily half-hour drive to McLouth to take care of his livelihood.

By the time Bud sold the farm, he couldn’t see well enough to make sure they’d taken everything they wanted.

The Lukens sold the farm “as is.” From the clothes to the cattle, if it was at the farm, the Lukens left it behind. They didn’t realize they’d left those keepsakes there, too.

Barnes bought the barn from the person who purchased — and still owns — the farm from the Lukens. When Barnes and Kincheloe discovered what was in the box, they knew someone would want to get the items back.

“We organized it for them. We were just so happy to get their family history back to them,” Barnes said.

“We figured their grandkids would want these photos and letters. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Kincheloe said.

The Lukens have four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The photos and letters and other memories couldn’t have been returned at a better time. Though they sold the barn only two years ago, the trunk had been in the barn, and unseen, much longer.

As the couple celebrated their anniversary, the two couldn’t quite agree on why their marriage had been so successful.

Bud, with a laugh, said their time apart made their time together better.

Betty, however, had a more romantic opinion.

“We’re terribly attracted to each other, and we always have been,” Betty said. “That’s what’s kept us together.”

Published in Found, Life, Love
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