Children of 50 smiled sadly when they heard, and some sang a special "Happy Birthday" song they remembered from when they and television were small. They thought about going home for a peanut butter sandwich and listening for a train whistle, mournful though it would sound.
Casey is gone.
Roger Awsumb, the amiable TV uncle adored by a broad generation of Minnesota kids as their lunch buddy Casey Jones, died Monday after suffering a heart attack. He was 74.
"He was Casey until the ambulance took him away this morning," said Allen Gray, who gave Awsumb a second career at KLKS Radio in Breezy Point, Minn., where he talked sports, weather and cafe specials and played easy-listening music for retirees.
"He went from entertaining little kids to entertaining older kids," Gray said. "But he never stopped being Casey. He wore his striped overalls and railway cap at every possible opportunity. He was special to the kids, and he realized that."
Steve Iverson, 39, was 7 when his mother drove him from Willmar to Minneapolis to watch "Lunch With Casey" and meet the star.
"It was like going to Disneyland," he said.
The show featured cartoons, animals, special guests and skits with Lynn Dwyer, who played sidekick Roundhouse Rodney. It ran from 1953 through the '60s on Channel 11, then called WTCN. Dwyer died in 1976.
Iverson, a programmer for Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta, has a Web site dedicated to Awsumb: http://www.lunchwithcasey.com .
'Your old buddy'
Awsumb lived in Merrifield, Minn. He died at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. He had had health problems recently, Gray said, but he was in the studio last week, recording commercials for sponsors who insisted on his mashed-potatoes-and-gravy voice.
He was a big man with a friendly, attentive face. On TV, he rode into children's homes on a cardboard locomotive, waving and shouting, "Hi, gang, it's your old buddy, Casey Jones!"
And he sang:
"Happy, happy birthday, to every girl and boy,
"Hope this very special day brings you lots of joy.
"Hope the birthday pres ents you get from mom and dad,
"Will make this very special day the best you ever had."
Awsumb grew up in St. Paul. He studied speech and radio at Macalester College and worked at the campus radio station.