Robert 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 (later F & W Media). He 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. 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. His authorship also extended to Krause titles in coin collecting, paper money, detecting counterfeit cards and even a volume on Prison Money, The Media of Exchange of Our Penal Institutions. After retiring from the company he later worked for Whitman Publishing and stepped away from F & W Media more completely in 2011, turning over the reins of the Standard Catalog. While ostensibly retired, he continued working in the hobby he loved, creating stunning “homemade” baseball cards of 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, who 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.