A lost book of beloved poetry turns up in an unexpected place


Anna Tungate looks over the long-lost book of her brother’s poetry with Steve Ward, who found it at the back of an old desk drawer.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY — Anna Tungate has always been proud of her older brother Randy, whom she described as a gifted writer. He was a Vietnam veteran who used his creativity to write a book of poems, “The POW within the Mental Stockade.” The poems helped Randy work through the anxiety associated with his years of service in the 8th Aerial Port Squadron of the U.S. Air Force, Anna said.

Randy Tungate died on April 20, 2019. Anna, who lives in Shelby County, often carried his book of poetry with her. She shared it others, including allowing some to borrow it.

“I always had the book on me because I was always trying to get him published,” Anna said with a smile.

After her brother’s death, she lost track of the book. She didn’t dwell on it until recently, when Louie Koch, the Shelby County sheriff, surprised her one day with a revelation: Brad Burkhart, the sheriff in Hancock County, knew where her brother’s book of poems was. It had apparently ended up in the drawer of a second-hand desk that had made its way from Shelbyville to Greenfield.

In January 2020, Steve Ward, the superintendent of construction for the county’s new jail, went to offices of the Shelbyville News to pick up several desks and chairs to use in the construction trailer while he supervised the project. That’s where he recently found the book tucked away in one of the desk drawers.

The book of poems was sitting safely in the back of the drawer, just waiting for someone to open it, Ward said.

When he stumbled upon it, he knew immediately the book was something special, so he reached out to Burkhart to see if the sheriff could help locate the writer or the book’s owner.

“The book was still in great shape, and I did know it was something special,” Ward said. “My dad is a Navy veteran, and I grew up in a home where we respect all veterans, so if the sheriff could not have located her (Anna) I would have kept this book.”

There was a clue: The book had a sticky note with the name “Anna” on it. And, since the author’s name was on it, Burkhart did a simple Google search looking for writer Randy Tungate. He instead found Randy’s obituary from 2019. The obituary noted that Randy had been a police dispatcher and reserve officer in Shelby County.

“It was really pretty simple after that,” Burkhart said. “I just reached out to my buddy the sheriff in Shelby County, and he helped us find Anna.”

Koch and Anna already were acquainted. The sheriff, teasing her, said she needed to contact Burkhart because he had a warrant out for her. Anna started to realize something good was going on because Koch kept asking her questions about Randy and his book of poems.

“I was so happy when the sheriff finally told me they had the book,” Anna said.

Anna drove to the new Hancock County Jail on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and met Burkhart and Ward, who returned her brother’s book.

“It’s a cool little book and it had all these poems in it and we knew it was important to him (Randy) and that it had to have some meaning to someone still,” Burkhart said.

Ward called the book “a really interesting read,” and told Anna he was thrilled to be able to get the book back to a family member.

“The funny thing is, it’s now 2022, and the copyright on this book is 1995, and this one picture in it is from 1970, so that’s 50 years and that’s how old I am,” Ward said. “This book is my age, my whole life.”

Anna noted her brother, who was 13 years her senior, developed a love of writing from his grandfather and mother, who both wrote poetry. Anna is a writer as well, working for the Addison Times, an online news organization in Shelby County.

In addition to the book of poems, Anna said Randy was always sharing his work and that in 1990 he even finished in second place in one of the Riley Festival writing contests. He had also turned one of his poems into a music video on YouTube honoring veterans.

Before heading back to Shelby County with the book firmly in hand, Anna thanked both Ward and Burkhart for realizing the book was important to someone and taking the time to get it back to her.

“I’m thrilled to death to get my hands back on it because it’s filled with all his work,” Anna said. “Of course I’ll be pushing to get it published again.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here