Victim who died to get service award

October 26, 1999

The environmental group Ohio Citizen Action has announced that it will give its highest public service award to Butch Lemke, an Elmore resident who fought for beryllium disease victims until he died of the illness in August.

"He worked relentlessly as a crusader for victims and workers," said Sarah Ogdahl, program director for Ohio Citizen Action's Toledo office. "He devoted 20 years of his life to finding solutions to the problems at Brush Wellman," the beryllium plant outside Elmore.

Mr. Lemke contracted beryllium disease, a chronic lung illness, while working at Brush and spent the last 15 years of his life unable to breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank. He became a leading victims' advocate, writing to newspapers, complaining to lawmakers, and circulating petitions regarding health concerns at Brush. He was 58 when he died.

The Ohio Citizen Action award is called the Howard Metzenbaum Award, named for the former U.S. senator from Ohio who fought for workers' rights. The annual award is given to the citizen who shows the greatest commitment to Ohio public health and safety, Ms. Ogdahl said.

The award will be presented to the Lemke family at a reception next month.

"It is a great honor," Mr. Lemke's widow, Betty, said yesterday. "I know he would have been very proud to receive that award. It makes me want to cry."

Ohio Citizen Action is the state's largest environmental activist group. The nonprofit has offices in five cities and claims 150,000 members statewide.

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