Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mark Lemke, RIP

The obituary in the Estes Park [Colorado] Trail Gazette:
Mark “Gonzo” Lemke, 51, died May 14, 2007, in Albuquerque, New Mexico five days after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage. His brother John and sister-in-law D’Anne, along with his Terlingua, Texas, friends Janet Sullivan and Elizabeth Thompson were at his bedside during his final days. Gonzo participated in the ultimate recycling, as donations were made of most of his physical self to people all over the United States.
He was born Jan. 5, 1956. He was raised in Nebraska. Gonzo left after high school for Estes Park where he got interested in rock climbing and river guiding. He was a river guide for many companies, on many rivers, all over the western United States and logged thousands of hours rowing through all classes of water. He competed in Project Raft in Costa Rica and Turkey, which focused on international goodwill. For many years, he boated for Far Flung in Terlingua, rafting the Rio Grande. He also worked in search and rescue in Antarctica for four summers seasons and two winter seasons. He worked as a River Ranger and a back country ranger for the National Forest Service during the last several years and spent a season or two as a forest wildfire fighter.
There will be a celebration for his life on Oct. 28, 2007. His ashes will be buried in the Ghostown cemetery.
An excerpt from the obituary in the Terlingua [Texas] City Limits:
... raised in Nebraska, Gonzo left after high school for Estes Park, Colorado, where he got interested in rock climbing and river guiding. He actually roughnecked some —- as he said, "A hippie was a strange sight in the Oil Patch!" He also refinished and sold antiques in California and Alaska.
He was a river guide for many companies, on many rivers, all over the western United States and logged thousands of hours rowing through all classes of water. As Janet found out a couple of years ago when she stopped at the Nantahala River in North Carolina, the eastern river guides all knew Gonzo too. ...
Having lived in Terlingua during most of his time since 1991, he built a yurt (complete with hot tub) on property that he bought out in the desert. During one of his times of work on "The Ice" it seemed that coming up with road names was imminent in Brewster County. Gonzo and Janet were talking on the phone and since they were the only ones living in the particular valley at the time, she explained the situation and asked what he would like to name the road. He quickly said "Patchouli Gulch." The nickname stuck and it is now the official 911 address!
Gonzo's real name was Mark Lemke. I asked Elizabeth where he got the name Gonzo, and she explained, " In his early 20's he freeclimbed 1000 feet with no ropes or climbing gear whatsoever, and when he returned down to his comrades, who were so impressed with his ability, that they said "Wow, you're really Gonzo." And he's been called that since.
Elizabeth Thompson said of her friend,"He was an enormously loyal friend, a character and a land of character. His wild crazy hair, smart as the dickens, well read, and was well traveled". Janet reflected that he stood for joy and peace and being mellow with everyone and everything —- "Life is Large" was one of his favorite sayings.
The following was written by Mark's brother, John Lemke:
... In May [2007], d'Anne was en route to Croatia for two weeks of bike riding with a friend and had made it as far as Minneapolis when she received an emergency phone call regarding my brother Mark. He was en route from Terlingua, TX, his winter home to Oregon (for a summer of river guiding) via his place near Steamboat Springs. He had an episode while driving which caused him to swerve off the road and into a field, where a sheriff found him wandering around his truck. Shortly thereafter an ambulance arrived, Mark went into cardiac arrest, and was rushed to Carlsbad and then air-lifted to El Paso in a coma.
While going through Mark's things d'Anne's cell phone number was discovered and she was contacted. She in turn contacted me and we both headed to El Paso, where we were joined by Mark's Terlinqua neighbors and good friends Janet and Elizabeth. Mark was in an induced coma while they attempted to pinpoint the problem. This lasted for two days and many tests, when it was discovered that he had suffered a ruptured vessel in the back of his head (sort of an almost-aneurysm). A specialist at the U of NM hospital in Albuquerque agreed to operate on Mark and he was airlifted there.
Following a successful stint surgery they were able to let the induced coma dissipate. Unfortunately, Mark remained in a coma and further tests indicated that he was more or less brain dead at the time of the original incident. Of course we couldn't be certain until they could let him out of the induced coma, so it was Saturday before we knew for sure (the incident was Wednesday morning). All that remained at that point was to manage his formal death to maximize organ donor potential, so official time of death was not until the following Tuesday.
The fact that Mark died in a fashion similar to that of our mom meant I had to get a CT angiogram to determine whether or not it might be hereditary and putting me at risk. Fortunately for me the test returned negative.
The following was written by Mark's childhood friend John [Seikai] Luebke:
As you probably remember, Mark and I were next door neighbors and close friends growing up. We shared a cabin in Estes Park during the winter of 1977, but I hadn't seen him since then, although I did get a couple letters from him.
I had inexplicably been thinking of Mark for a few weeks, and then found out that he had died. Even though it's been 30 years, Mark still has a place in my heart, given all the time we spent together as kids. I also remember a time when Koe's brother David -- who was affectionately known as Iddo -- showed up at our cabin in Esters Park along with another Seward guy named Steve Kraft. They were, at the time, pretty countrified and pretty funny.
Mark Lemke. The picture was scanned from the fourth-grade pages of the 1965-1966 annual of St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska.
An appreciation written by my brother Steve:
Some of you might recall that John Lemke was my childhood best friend, and that I lived at his home when I visited in Seward as a teenager. John had one sibling, his brother Mark. Mark was in Tricia's grade, along with Dave Heinicke and John Luebke and others, though I am not sure just what if anything Tricia remembers about those days.
I knew Mark in the "sort of" sense. He was quiet around me, and he lived a very different life than anyone I have ever known. To Koe's [Steve's wife Koe Heinicke's] and my thinking, Mark lived the life that his father R.J. Lemke wanted to live -- and actually might have lived if RJ had not met Mark's mother and had somehow gotten married. I believe in marriage, but some people really should not get married; their destiny almost forbids it. Well, RJ married, but Mark never did.
If Mark had lived in the early 1800s, he most certainly would have been a mountain man / fur trapper and trader /friend of the Indians / solo explorer / expedition guide / wagon train leader / cowboy on Texas to Montana cattle drives / Texas Ranger / saloon gambler. He would have done all of that on a "feel like it", "sometimes" basis -- and he would have never married, no way! He would have been well-liked, and would have treated strangers kindly. And his helpful manner would have earned the trust and admiration of most people.
The characters in Lonesome Dove come to mind: decent men who loved life more than they could ever love just one woman, and whose lives were Big and Adventuresome in every remarkable sense of those words.
When others were playing team sports while growing up in Seward, Mark was setting traps for beavers and raccoons down at Plum Creek. Mostly, he worked his traps alone, but was never lonely doing it. Occasionally, Koe's brother Dave went along, and maybe others did too at times. After Mark graduated from high school, he split for the Great Big World and the life he was destined to live. I cannot imagine that he ever spent even one day in college, or that he even thought to do such a thing; his life was "out there."
The world is a better place because people like Mark Lemke can still find a place to live in it. Woe to us when that is no longer the case. And, as sad as it is, it is probably a better thing that people like Mark Lemke leave us while they are still able to "get up and go." R.I.P.

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