By T.S. O’Connell
Robert “Bob” Lemke, 65, a pioneering figure in the baseball card and sports collectibles arena and a noted author and editor, died of congestive heart failure on Jan. 3 at a hospital near his home in Alexandria, Pa. Lemke also lived part of the year in Iola, Wis., where he had worked for nearly four decades at Krause Publications (now F+W Media). During his many years at KP, Lemke was editor of Old Cars (now Old Cars Weekly) from 1978-’79.
Lemke courageously confronted each and every challenge with an indomitable spirit and resilience that left family and friends in awe.
Born in Fond du Lac, Wis., Lemke graduated from L.P. Goodrich High School and then attended the University of Wisconsin/Oshkosh School of Journalism, graduating in 1973. After a brief stint at the Wautoma Argus, he moved to Iola and joined Krause Publications, starting in the coins and later Old Cars divisions before moving into sports where he made his most famous contributions. He helped to orchestrate the launch of Baseball Cards Magazine in the spring of 1981, the first such periodical to appear on national newsstands and a revolutionary event in a fledgling hobby/industry. Only months later he would lobby for the company’s acquisition of Sports Collectors Digest, a move that played a pivotal role in the dramatic expansion of Krause Publications over the next two decades. Over that span he would serve as editor, publisher and ultimately vice president of the sports division, affixing his name to literally dozens of books as author and/or editor, perhaps most notably as a creative force behind the “Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards,” one of the most highly respected journals in the industry.
After retiring from the company in 2006, he continued to work on “The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards” until completely turning over the reigns in 2011. While ostensibly retired, he continued working in the hobby he loved, creating homemade baseball cards featuring many of his favorite players from the postwar era and producing heavily researched articles for his long-running blog, the eponymous “Bob Lemke’s Blog.”
He is survived by his wife Mary Ann (Henkel) Lemke, whom he married in 1973; their daughter, Crystal Gearhart; and brothers and sister Jim, Tom, Dan and Carol. He was preceded in death by his parents, Orv and Lou Lemke, and his brother David.
Memorial contributions can be directed to: Hemophilia Outreach Center, 2060 Bellvue St., Green Bay, WI 54311.
OCW staffers recall Bob Lemke
“Working for Bob Lemke was like going to a party every day,” recalled retired OCW Editor and Publisher John Gunnell. “Of course, I thought I was in heaven because work was fun and we always got things done as a team.
“His taste in cars — Marlins and VW Things and later PT Cruisers — was always ahead of the curve. He was extremely intelligent and I believe he could see into the future. That helped him in his creation of the sports card department, which turned out to be a real winner…. I think back on all the things he did… and you can’t come to any other conclusion, except that he had genius in him.”
“I have a lot of fond memories about Bob, and plenty of stories,” recalled Bob Lichty, president of Motorcar Portfolio in Canton, Ohio, and former OCW advertising manager. “I especially remember helping him paint the one VW Thing red in the KP garage. He and I went to Canada to do an article for 4×4 Magazine on Russian Lada SUVs and most of all, [when] he went along to Minnesota in February with Kenny [Buttolph] and I when we put our money together to buy a pair of open-cab Seagrave fire engines. A 250-mile adventure at 7 degrees out.”
“Bob Lemke was a terrific friend, and by far the best journalist I ever worked with (and for),” said Tony Hossain, creative director at Commonwealth McCann and former associate editor at OCW. “As editor of Old Cars Weekly, Bob was the classic, seasoned newspaper man. Will always remember how he went after the crooked Dean Kruse auction company in front-page stories when nobody else in the car hobby had the guts to say anything. Cost lots of ad dollars, but Chet [Krause] backed Bob up completely. Was not an easy thing to do — stand up and do the right thing. Then of course Bob went on to make a fortune for Chet [Krause] in the sports/baseball card field.
“I keep thinking about the hilarious conversation and the laughter when Bob was holding court. He was brilliant and not a politically correct thing about him.
“Bob’s taste in cars was unconventional and always interesting. He loved his black ’66 Marlin, he had two VW Things and he had great fun driving a 500-cubic-inch 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham in the midst of the ‘gas crisis.’
“It is strange, but just before I heard the sad news [of his passing], I had been reading one of Bob’s excellent blogs. It was from some years ago, talking about his nostalgia for the years he worked in the Fond du Lac McDonalds. No one could tell a story like Bob. And, yes, the way he lived life to the max despite the challenges, well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”