Construction worker Mark Wallen once spotted a 1960s RC Cola can sitting on an I-beam in the ceiling of Good Samaritan Hospital during a renovation project.
But when he stumbled upon a yellowed, brittle envelope covered with sawdust during the renovation of Founders Hall, he immediately knew he had discovered something far more intriguing.
“I took my pocket knife and carefully opened the envelope. I thought it was cool because it was like finding a little time capsule,” said the plumber with Wat-Kem Mechanical.
The letter, scribbled in cursive, was dated Feb. 23, 1956: “I, John Beckman, have secretly slipped this note into the inner wall of this partition when it was being constructed,” wrote the first-year student from Ottawa, Ohio, who was studying pre-optometry. “Let this note be kept for ages in the silent walls of this chapel.”
And it was for more than half a century — until Danis Construction embarked on a $10 million renovation of the 400-bed residence hall in May.
The surprising find didn’t surprise John Beckman’s family. “He was an ornery guy. He sometimes did the unthinkable,” said Midge Lause, 74, of her older brother who was known for his dry sense of humor.
Beckman, of Toledo, died of Parkinson’s disease on Sept. 13, 2010, at the age of 74. He only attended the University of Dayton for a year before briefly entering the seminary.
He was not destined to be either an optometrist, like his grandfather, or a priest. He managed Doebel Flower and Greenhouses for 15 years before opening his own flower shop, Parc Fleurs, in Toledo. He and his partner, Erwin Heer, also owned and operated three Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries stores.
None of that popped up in the University’s records. Relatives, friends — and even strangers — filled in the blanks when the University posted a photo of the note on its Facebook page and asked for help locating John Beckman. Nearly 400 people shared the request; dozens more wrote in.
2009 grad Louis Guzzo’s aunt tracked Beckman down through genealogy software. Eileen Richmond, of Belmont, Mass., went a step further and reached out to nephew Stan Beckman, who operates the 126-year-old family-owned Beckman Jewelers in Ottawa, and Beckman’s sister, Midge. Richmond even posted a link to Beckman’s obit on UD’s Facebook page.
What would Beckman think of the discovery of his secret letter?
Niece Rebecca Krouse posted on Facebook, “I know he is smiling in heaven knowing this was found.”
His brother Pete thinks differently: “He’d laugh and say, ‘I never thought they’d find that.’”