On Tuesday, March 14, 1950, riding into town like The Lone Ranger, on a “fiery horse with the speed of light on a cloud of dust,” was David Kenneth Moum Lemke, the adored third child of six; oldest son and only cowboy born to Kenneth F. Lemke, P.E. and Lydia Gudrun Moum, R.N. in Shawano, WI.
As a young, blond-haired, blue-eyed, bespectacled boy on the farm, David had a full wardrobe of cowboy decorated clothes, including pajamas and bedroom slippers in case he had to spend the night in Dodge City. Each day he was ready for a new day’s wild west adventure, whatever that entailed and whichever character he thought he was that day. The cowboy, with his shiny, tin sheriff’s badge pinned to his cowboy vest searched for bank robbers, masked bandits that held up the stagecoach, and other up-to-no-good gunslingers. If he were thirsty, with an empty canteen he’d find a forked branch and point it to the ground, waiting for the familiar tug alerting him to fresh underground water, like in the cowboy shows. It was his job to outsmart the outlaws and keep the peace, and he did just that regardless of the circumstance. Like Batt Masterson, he was “a legend in his own time.” Starting from his early years and continuing his entire life, David was drawn to the cowboys like Batt Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Lone Ranger, and Maverick who were mighty brave and used their wit and wisdom guided by a moral compass to right the wrongs and help keep the peace, guns used only as a last resort. A little humor made the show even better; for David, humor made everything better.
David started life in the Lemke Apartments in Shawano, designed by his father and built by the construction crew of his contractor grandfather, Fred C. Lemke. When David was five the family moved a few miles away to the town of Washington, right outside Cecil, WI, to live in the seventy year old, ancestral farmhouse built by his great grandfather, Julius J. Lemke (a carpenter) and extensively remodeled/ redesigned by his father. It was on this five acre farm, when he was with both of his parents, five siblings, and Golden Retriever, Skippy, that life made sense. Those happy times were the bedrock foundation of his childhood, upon which all else was built. David was too young to realize just how lucky he was back then, or how often in the years ahead his mind would drift back to those carefree days on the farm; comforted by reliving every precious detail over and over. The day before David died, as he lie in a sleep-like state with eyes closed and hand held, he quietly listened to childhood memories of the farm. With some effort, he acknowledged that he remembered by saying, “yes,” “yes,” and giving a double squeeze of the storyteller’s hand. It was the power of reliving those precious farm memories that brought comfort to David one last time. The farm is where he learned to ride his bike and ride horses; made forts; played cowboys; collected chicken and goose eggs; explored the woods looking for secret hideouts; dug for buried treasures; caught fireflies and frogs; played catch, tag, and kick-the-can; used the sled, toboggan and attempted to ski on the big hill across the road; climbed trees; found snakes and snapping turtles. It was almost five years of bliss on the farm before his beloved mother, Lydia Gudrun Moum, died in 1960, just four days after David had turned ten years old. Thankfully, David had the resilience to make it through this tremendous, life-altering loss by carrying the precious memory of his mother’s love deep within his heart.
Early in the 1950s in the time of polio, with a surgical nurse-mom well versed in serious illnesses, little David developed a chronic limp. Medical detective work and the pediatrician found nothing. The worrisome mystery remained unsolved until one day, watching David and his elderly Grampa Lemke walk a short distance together, it was very apparent that the old man and the little boy limped the same way, on the same leg, with their hands in their pockets. Diagnosis: Little David was very good at imitating his old grampa. This acting ability helped him sing all the cowboy show theme songs and other well known cowboy song classics in the best cowboy voice he could muster. His singing voice was quite good compared to his attempts at trombone playing. The family cheered when the trombone playing disappeared because there just wasn’t a place far enough away to escape to that his siblings would be allowed to go. David was especially happy to escape the self-inflicted torture as well.
Despite their coaxing, David made his parents wait for his first word; longer than anticipated, longer than his siblings. It wasn’t until one Garbage day that he had something he wanted to talk about and so he finally did...”truck! truck!” From there David grew to be a fluent word-hero fueled by the apparent need to save archaic and obsolete words, buried within an unabridged dictionary, from total extinction. Surrounded by classic literature, science, and history books collected by two bibliophile parents was the perfect environment for David’s curious, creative mind to marinate in and grow. He quoted poetry and Shakespeare with ease, slipping The Bard’s words into everyday, mundane conversations for the sheer fun of it. He was a voracious reader devouring books like popcorn and became a trusted source of facts on seemingly endless topics; why research a topic when it was easier to just ask David. Being smart as a whip and a life-long learner was reflected in his detailed writings. Without extensive annotations, most of us were left clueless in the dust on page one as David galloped merrily on into the literary distance. From elementary school age, he had a natural aptitude for math and won many accolades, but it was just another something he was good at, not a passion. David entertained himself with Crossword puzzles and various other word challenges, but Scrabble was David’s battleground; words were his weapon of choice. Later, it became an online version, “Words With Friends.” For some of us, it became obvious David would win before the game even began; those with high pain tolerance continued playing for the love of David. He never tired of winning, still at the top of his game, one week before he died.
After the farm, the family moved to Manitowoc, WI, and then on to Oshkosh, where David graduated from Oshkosh High school in 1969. He met his life’s special love, Donna Maier, while students at UW-O. Their personalities complemented each other and she (mostly) understood his humor, a rare characteristic and their love blossomed. They shared the type of deep, forever love that others envy. They were married in Madison at Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Jul 28, 1973, and several years later had their precious son, Erik David. At one point David tried to devote himself completely to writing, but the economic realities of helping support his family soon led him down a different path. He managed a few restaurants and then worked for the State of WI Dept. of Corrections, retiring as Associate Warden at Oakhill Correctional Facility. David and Donna lived a number of their retired years as snowbirds in their RV visiting points of interest all across this beautiful country. They enjoyed the small-town food and culture and the camaraderie of their fellow snowbirds and townsfolk they met along the way. David’s Packers hat was a conversation piece, and he was surprised just how many WI snowbirds they’d meet as a result. For a number of years, he chronicled their on-the-road adventures in his travel blog. The feelings of joy, surrounded by nature that he found on the farm, was replicated in his love for camping that he passed on to his beloved son and grandchildren. This is where he found peace, in the quiet of a star-filled night sky and the sight of a crackling campfire dancing in the dark, surrounded by loved ones. Being a devoted, loving husband, proud father, and grandfather to three active grandchildren was the real focus of David’s life. He cherished them and realized how lucky he was to be surrounded by such devotion. It was their love that gave his life meaning and helped him weather life’s challenges to the very end. He was a warm, honest, loving, sensitive person, who lived his life with integrity and devotion. He loved sports of all kinds and was a cheering fan of all of his family’s many athletic competitions. David had a full, wonderful life filled with travel adventures, strawberry ice cream, belly laughs, hearty breakfasts, old TV westerns, salmon on the grill, special times with his grandkids, connecting with his son, birthday pie on “Pi Day,” making his special corned beef, enjoying simple comforts with Donna and most of all, the deep love of his family. He truly was a lucky man.
David was mighty brave with wit and wisdom, guided by a moral compass but found he had no other option but to fight a furious battle with all his strength and resolve. Powerful reinforcements came in droves to help but cancer was an unrelenting foe not restricted by any guiding principles; it jumped devilishly from place to place, taunting him until David was surrounded. On Sunday, July 26, 2020, he knew it was time to get out of Dodge. As trumpets played Rossini’s “William Tell’s Overture Finale”, galloping hoofs sped away in a cloud of dust and in the distance, “Hi-Yo Silver, away!” A short time later, the rising dust from the galloping hooves combined with water vapor high in the clouds created rain; a little sunshine was added followed by the most vibrant, brilliant rainbow, painted across the wide-open sky, bringing a sense of comfort and peace to David’s loved ones. David was deeply loved. His absence leaves a large hole in our hearts; to say he will be missed is an understatement.
David is lovingly survived by his wife, Donna (Maier) Lemke; son, Erik (Becky) Lemke; grandchildren, Kiley, Chezney, and Easton David; siblings, Mark (Charko) Lemke, Kathy (Jeff) Western; stepsister, Karen (John) Binkowski; many other nieces and nephews and their families; in-laws, Vernon (Ellen) Maier, Judy (John) Kiselis, Roman (Linda) Maier, Dan Maier, Marvin (Mary Lou) Maier, Roger (Heidi) Maier, Virgil (Bonnie) Maier, Ruth Ann Maier; many nieces and nephews and their families.
David was preceded in death by his parents; sisters, Susan Knapp, Mary Lemke and Diane Jungwirth; in laws, Peter and Margaret (Meffert) Maier, Dianne (Maier) and Gene Haug, Paul Maier, and Linus Maier.
Per David’s wishes, cremation has taken place. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, a private family memorial will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations, if desired, would be appreciated to Agrace Hospice (agrace.org). David’s family is very thankful to Agrace for the loving, compassionate support given David and his family during his final weeks. A special thank you to Marn Stern and Ruth Ellickson who were there when they were needed most.
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