Florence “Flo” C. Lemke (Blackledge), 87, of Sturgeon Lake, formerly of Kettle River, died May 31, 2022, at St. Lukes Hospital in Duluth due to complications of congestive heart failure. 

She was born Aug. 16, 1934, to Willis and Wilma (Menge) Blackledge in Tara Township, Traverse County, near Graceville. She grew up in Wheaton, working on family farms in the area, and once old enough to have a job in town waitressed at Dunbar’s Café proudly earning 35 cents an hour. Little did she know she would meet her future husband while working at The Powers Produce Company on the chicken processing line in Wheaton. They married Feb. 11, 1953, and had seven children together.

As an Army wife, she lived in North Dakota, Texas, San Francisco, Illinois and overseas in Denmark and Yugoslavia. She had to be very resourceful, homeschooling her children to ensure they didn’t fall behind during her husband’s military career, and she also made some of the family’s clothes, staying up on the fashion trends, making sure the kids were always dressed well. She was tough as nails, taking care of the kids, washing and ironing several changes of uniforms a day, and waitressing wherever they were stationed to earn extra money. She instilled strong values in her children, teaching them to work hard, speak their mind and stand up for themselves. 

She had a competitive spirit and gave her children the love for sports by being active on bowling leagues and softball teams, bowling right up to the week before giving birth to her youngest child. She especially enjoyed watching her kids and grandkids play sports and was known for honking her horn from the parking lot. 

Following her husband’s military discharge in 1971, the couple and their family moved to a farm in Kettle River, where they hunted and fished and grew large gardens, freezing and canning their own vegetables and processing their own meat. She bought mistreated horses and ponies at auctions, nursing them back to health, taming them and breaking them to ride. One horse had a chain ingrown in his neck. She made sure everyone had a horse to ride. She drove the truck pulling the wagon letting us jump in the creek to cool off before getting to the barn to unload the hay. She fried chicken on the hottest day of summer, slapping dad’s hand when he tried to steal a piece.

The cousins loved to come visit the farm; Elmer telling her at one point she was cooking so much food she might as well open a restaurant – so she did. In the early 1980s, she opened Our Place Restaurant & Bar in Kettle River making home cooked meals and baked goods along with running a bar, hiring the hottest, local talent to play. Music was a passion, teaching herself to play guitar, and she loved singing along with her beloved albums of Janis Joplin, Tanya Tucker and Dolly Parton. She was quite the businesswoman, also, selling Avon and Tupperware, earning a top manager award, and became a licensed realtor. They operated the bar restaurant until the early 1990s, before retiring and moving to Sturgeon Lake near Sand Lake to enjoy lake living and endless fishing. 

She loved to wear lots of jewelry, many rings and dangly earrings; loved to play bingo, playing multiple cards and still able to watch your card for numbers you missed; card games; computer games; and always had a knitting project on the needles by her chair. She never forgot anyone’s birthday, sending birthday cards to everyone she knew. 

She was passionate about politics, and being a stout Republican was quick to argue her point whether you wanted to hear it or not. But most of all she loved to brag about her grandkids and lived for her great-grandkids, showing recent pictures and sharing the latest funny thing they did or said. Her sense of humor and smile will be missed by all. “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Florence is survived by her seven children, Anthony (Patti) of Crystal Falls, Michigan, Nathan of Clear Lake, Wisconsin, Tamara (April) Lemke of Carlton, Dallas of Duluth, Jon (Ranee) of Barnum, Holly (Todd) Olson of Esko, and Christina (adopted) of Wyoming; her nine grandchildren, Steven of Pace, Florida, Jessika Custer of South Dakota, Shawn Houston of Texas, Wyatt (Kaylee) of Cloquet, Ethan (Michaela) of Saginaw, Joshua of Duluth, Abigail of Duluth, Heather of Esko, and Aaron of Duluth; her 14 great-grandchildren, Anthony, Mara, Alexis, Natalie, Alessandra, Kaden, Helena, Michaela, Makenzie, Adrianna, Aurelia, Matthias, Dominic and April; her brothers and sisters, Helen Finke of Austin, Lillian Hicks of Hawley,  Jim (Jeri) Blackledge of Omak, Washington, Roy Blackledge of Little Falls, Karen Klindworth of Jordan, and JoAnn Haaland of Moorhead.

She was preceded in death by her husband Elmer Lemke; her daughter, April Oxford (Lemke); her sister, Irene (Klemm); her brothers, Roger, LaVern “Sonny,” LaVoy “Buddy” and Wayne Blackledge; and her parents, Wilma and Willis Blackledge.

At Florence’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. She will be inurned next to her husband Elmer at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery. 

Special thank you to the intensive care unit staff at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth.

In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to your local VFW or American Legion.

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