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Walter John Lemke (1891–1968)

Walter John Lemke established the department of journalism at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1928 and served as the head of the department until his retirement in 1959. The university named the department the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism in his honor in 1988. In addition, he founded several historical and journalistic organizations.

Walter Lemke was born on January 6, 1891, in Wausau, Wisconsin, to Carl Lemke and Ulrika Block Lemke. Lemke attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Indiana. He received his AB degree from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, which is near Cleveland, in 1911. The college later awarded him an honorary doctor of letters degree in 1962. He earned his MS in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He married Marie Hamp, and they had two children.

In 1928, after having worked at several Midwestern newspapers, Lemke was hired by UA to direct the UA news bureau; cover all university publicity, including sports; and establish a department of journalism. In the 1930s, Lemke, a self-taught cartoonist, created weekly cartoons focusing on Arkansas history.

To keep in touch with his students, and to help them keep in touch with each other, during World War II, Lemke compiled a newsletter from the mail that his students-turned-soldiers sent him. He mimeographed and mailed “Uncle Walt’s Newsletter” to hundreds of Arkansas military personnel overseas. Copies of this newsletter, along with the aforementioned cartoons, are in UA Special Collections.

Lemke founded the Arkansas High School Press Association and edited its bulletin for twenty-seven years. With Roberta Fulbright, Lemke was one of the founders of Arkansas Press Women in 1949.

Lemke helped organize the Washington County Historical Society in 1951. He served as the first editor of Flashback, the society’s journal, until 1968, and wrote many historical booklets on genealogy and early Washington County history, including Cane Hill, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Battle of Prairie Grove, and the Tebbetts House. He served on the advisory board of the Prairie Grove Battlefield Commission when it was founded in 1958. Lemke also helped organize the Arkansas Genealogical Society and edited its bulletin for a few years, beginning in 1962.

Lemke retired from the university in 1959. He died on December 4, 1968, of a heart attack. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville.

In 2001, the university’s journalism department started an annual eight-week journalism workshop for minority high school students in Lemke’s honor. About twenty high school students attend the workshop, where they learn how to report, write, and publish their newspaper, The Multicultural News.

For additional information:
Deane, Ernie.“The Passing of Professor Lemke.” Flashback 19 (February 1969): 1–10.

“Walter John Lemke dies; founded UA journalism school.” Arkansas Democrat. December 5, 1968, p. 6B.

Walter John Lemke Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Julanne S. Allison
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Last Updated 4/7/2014

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