LISBON FALLS – Mourners will gather Friday at Conroy-Tully Crawford Funeral Home in Portland to pay tribute to Karen Marks Lemke, a longtime educator, author and historian who died Sunday, her birthday. She was 65.
Lemke was an associate professor of education at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, where she taught for 35 years. In recent years, she taught courses such as foundations of education, human growth and development and social studies methods. She chaired the elementary education department for 21 years and served on numerous committees at the college.
“Karen’s passing has created a deep sadness within the entire college community,” said Dr. James Dlugos, president of Saint Joseph’s College, in a statement released Thursday.
“Her impact on everyone — staff, faculty, students, alumni and others — is made apparent by the outpouring of support and condolences on the college’s social media accounts and elsewhere. It goes without saying that Karen was an intricate part of the academic and social fabric of Saint Joseph’s College.”
Lemke was remembered by educators this week as a respected and dynamic professor who brought lessons to life for her students. When she walked into a classroom, students perked up. She was known for her big laugh, her high-heeled shoes and for filling nearly every inch of the white board with thick black marker.
Lemke’s passion for social studies was infectious. Kathleen Clements, chair of the education department, said she had a particular fondness for women in history, especially Maine women. She emphasized Lemke’s dedication to her students, saying she made time to known each of them.
“Karen has been the education department for all the years she has been here,” Clements said. “She has hundreds and hundreds of students who have gone through and become teachers. She was their mentor, their teacher and their role model.”
Another highlight of Lemke’s career was writing “Down East Detective” in 1987, a novel based on the early days of the Maine State Police. She was inspired to write the book by her father, Capt. Eddie Marks, who had a 50-year career with the Maine State Police. The sequel, “Return of the Down East Detective,” was published several years later.
Her husband, Bill Lemke of Lisbon Falls, said she became an unofficial historian of the Maine State Police and was made an honorary captain in 2002 by then-Gov. Angus King.
“There was a lot of Capt. Eddie in Karen,” said her husband. “There was a life and vitality she identified with and wanted to bring across about the early years of the state police.”
Fueled by her passion for history, Lemke got the opportunity to interview Marshall Drew, the last survivor of the Titanic. In recent years, she gave presentations on the Titanic to numerous groups across Southern Maine.
“She was a tremendous public speaker,” her husband said.
Lemke was also a freelance journalist who contributed many articles to the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Bangor Daily News and the Boston Globe.
She is survived by her husband, a daughter, Larissa Lemke, and her grandson, Collin Lemke.
Her daughter broke down in tears Thursday describing a woman who gave so much and inspired many people, including her.
“She was our rock,” her daughter said. “Whenever I didn’t have the strength, she always had it. She was so giving. She had a great sense of humor. She was just so good to everyone, always.”
Visiting hours will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Conroy-Tully Crawford Funeral Home, 172 State St., Portland. A 1 p.m. service will be held Saturday at the Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St., Portland.
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: