1954 to 1972
“Lunch with Casey Jones (Roger Awsumb) becomes a noontime tradition for Twin Cities youngsters—and later for their children.
Casey and his cast of regulars—including Joe the Cook, Roundhouse Rodney, Carmen the Nurse, and Clancy the Cop—will entertain kids with skits, songs, guests, and cartoons until 1972.” *
Maybe the first thing you notice about Casey Jones is his big, resonant, but always friendly voice. Roger’s interests began with a love of radio. (Strike that, he was known to be an entertainer as a kid during the Depression making shows and programs with and for his neighborhood friends.) He began in “show business” as an announcer on WBOM at Macalester College of Saint Paul, Minnesota about 1948, and went on to become the station’s program director and manager. **
From there, he branched out into the exciting new world (then) of television: first at WCCO as a floor director, and then at WMIN in 1953 also as “floor man” and announcer. He got wind that the station was hunting for talent for kids programming. Hearkening back to childhood neighborhood shows, he pitched the idea for “Lunch with Casey”; inviting boys and girls to “join him for lunch, skits, songs and cartoons.” ***
Always one to include others, both on and off the air, some of Casey Jones TV friends were real life buddies of Awsumb’s. The first character of import to join the host, “Joe the Cook”, was played by Chris Wedes. Wedes also graduated from Macalester, and went on host his own shows: “Cartoon Carnival” and later J.P.Patches. This real life friendship and natural chemistry fueled the careers of both men. ****
Similarly, the show would not be the same without the physical gags and antics of Lynn Dwyer a.k.a. “Roundhouse Rodney”. This manic and fun character, physically fit from years as a professional skater in the Ice Capades, often played the comic to Jones role as the “straight man”. Rodney would not back down from a challenge, and the breadth of his side character’s prooves it playing: Lippy Lois, Jimmy Durante, Grandma Lumpit, and comical spoofs of Superman and Tarzan. ***
To personalize the impact of “Lunch with Casey”, I rarely missed an opportunity to watch as a child. Sometimes, I would even be allowed to eat my lunch in front of the TV!? (in those days, this was a “privilege” and not a “right”.) I think I could feel the heart of Roger Awsumb to provide local Minnesota kids with an opportunity to learn something, laugh with someone, and sing-long with a kind grown-up who cared.
So, we turn to You, and remember the impact of this moment in Minnesota’s history. We start with acknowledging that You, first and foremost, model this heart of fathering and joy! You invite us each day into discovery and adventure, and look forward to meeting with us each day! You are a generous friend who gladly introduces us to others, and enlarges the circle of our relationships! Blessed are You, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe!
Roger Awsumb was a reflection of this aspect of Your heart. Through his life, You molded into him the desire to be a loyal friend, connect with others, and bring joy to the world. We commend these moments to You; both the advent of kids television, and “Lunch with Casey Jones”.
We thank You that people like him envisioned using the new medium for the benefit of our young. We thank You that he had already caught Your wisdom that an ordinary day in an ordinary job can be an adventure if one looks for it! We thank You that Roger modeled friendship, both on and off the screen, and his genuine enthusiasm for others was contagious. We thank You for the years he actually worked shoveling coal in a rail yard as a teen. *** Somehow, he learned that hard work can be a lot of fun!
Will You honor the way this man, and the pioneers at WCIM, (now KARE 11) extended right relationship to kids through TV? Will You bless their portrayal of the importance of meeting with kids daily, and somehow making that sack lunch into a feast? We ask that You bless the future of Children’s programming in Minnesota. We ask that You perpetuate in our actors, directors, storytellers, TV networks the soul-deep revelations of Casey Jones: our children know what we believe by our daily habits, by sharing our lunch with them, by singing and laughing with them, and by showing them what friendship looks like!
“As oil and fragrances give joy to the heart, so is he that is sweet to his neighbor in the counsel of his soul.” Proverbs 27:9 Aramaic Bible *****
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
****** Listen to one “I Love Onions”; one of the songs made famous through this show?
******* The “Happy Birthday Song” was a staple of this show. Listen and hear the fun!