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Remembering Wisconsin legend Carole Lemke

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2020 8:00 am
Remembering Wisconsin legend Carole Lemke
Carole Lemke. Photo courtesy Lemke family.

When I was a young bowler making the 90-minute drive from Madison to Milwaukee on a regular basis to cut my teeth bowling with Wisconsin’s best in the Bowling With the Champs, State Match Games, Wisconsin Non-Pro Bowlers Alliance and more, I met many legends.

One was Carole Lemke, who already was one of Wisconsin’s all-time greats when I was getting started. I remember her simply as one of those women I looked at as Wisconsin’s best.

Lemke, a member of the Milwaukee and Wisconsin Bowling Halls of Fame, moved to Florida in the late 1980s and continued her stellar bowling there.

She died last month at 83.

Because I do 11thFrame.com in my limited free time, I almost never do obit stories. The lone exception has been a notable Madison Area USBC Hall of Famer or exceptional national Hall of Famer. If I did others, I would be setting a precedent that I couldn’t possibly maintain and I’ve tried to stick to a set of “rules” in my coverage that ensures as much fairness as possible in my coverage.

However, I’ve also historically allowed guest columns/stories so when Carole’s son Jon Lemke contacted me to ask if he could write something about his mother, I agreed.

This is the story, with just some slight editing to fit my style rules at 11thFrame.com. The story is set free for all to read because it is not my work.


Carole Lemke, who passed away last month, will be remembered as one of the most accomplished women bowlers of all time in the state of Wisconsin.

Her mother and father Helen and Erwin Wardius encouraged her to take up bowling at an early age. She loved the sport and bowling was integral in her quest to be the best she could be after a bout with polio in her early teens.

In her late teens, she was approached by Esther Ryan to bowl in the Milwaukee Women’s Classic League, the premier league for the best women bowlers in the state.

Carole excelled and won a number of titles including six WWBA State Tournament team event championships as a member of Pinky’s, Strachota’s and Nino’s teams in 1963, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1972 and 1986.

Carole won the State Tournament doubles with Val Costa in 1969 and with Jackie Rector in 1974.

She also won the State Tournament singles in 1972 and a record three all -events titles in 1962, 1970 and 1972.

Carole was part of four Milwaukee City Tournament team champions in 1958, 1963, 1968 and 1973; the Milwaukee City doubles twice.

She also won several Wisconsin State Match Games titles, including the 1970 singles, 1974 doubles with Vicki Vukovich, and 1981 all-events in 1981.

Carole also won three 700 Club championships and was the Wisconsin Women’s Non-Pro Tournament champion in 1970.

Carole Lemke was a regular on the popular and prestigious Bowling with the Champs television show, winning in 1977 and shooting a 717 series, her career high on the show, in 1983.

“I was host of the Bowling with the Champs show for 30 years,” said Hank Stoddard, who also was the Sports Director at WTMJ 4 in Milwaukee. “Carole Lemke was among the top two or three female bowlers. She won the championship and qualified to be on the show several other times.”

Carole was named by the Milwaukee Journal as Wisconsin Women Bowler of the Year for 1970 and was named a member of the women’s “Bowling Team of the Decade” from 1970-80 along with Jean Bopp, Carol Miller, Doris Hollweck and Elaine Rebatzke.

She had a career high average of 198 and high game of 298.

Carole was inducted into the Milwaukee Women’s Bowling Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Wisconsin State Bowling Hall of Fame in 1992.

Over her 50-year bowling career she was fortunate to bowl with and compete against many of the most talented lady keglers ever to bowl in the state.

Carole relocated to southwest Florida in the late 1980s and continued to bowl and win many titles in Florida, including the Florida Queens in 1991.

Over the many years of her bowling career, Carole was able to overcome many heath related issues with her strong faith and support of family and close friends.

“She accomplished more in a short period of time than anyone given the circumstances,” Jon Lemke said “My mother was very strong and resilient and known for her class and grace in bowling competition for over 50 years. But she also was one of the most gracious, genuine and nice people anyone could know.”