Former Sterling resident Mae Zemke, who died Sunday in Cincinnati at the age of 91, led a busy life. Much of it was aimed toward the betterment of her community.
A Rock Falls High School graduate, Zemke raised three sons and a daughter with her husband, Elwood.
She was a homemaker, community volunteer, and community activist. She generously donated her time and talent to groups such as the YWCA, Girl Scouts, United Way, CGH Auxiliary, Chamber Ambassadors, Women’s Club, Bicentennial Committee, and American Diabetes Association.
If anyone could make the argument that she was too busy to be involved in government, it would have been Mae Zemke.
Thankfully, that was not the case.
Zemke served on the school board for District 134.
She was an active member of the League of Women Voters.
She was past president of the Sterling-Rock Falls Republican Women’s Club.
She ran for the Sterling City Council in 1975 as alderwoman at large, won, and became the first woman to serve on the council. Zemke spent more than 17 years in that capacity, retiring in 1993 at age 71.
Two years later, she was back in the public spotlight.
Zemke threw her hat into the ring for Sterling mayor, ran a respectable campaign, and garnered nearly 43 percent of the vote. She lost to Ted Aggen, who went on to serve 12 years.
Over the years, her community repeatedly honored Zemke’s service. Among the awards, she was the first woman to receive the P.W. Dillon Award, bestowed by the Chamber of Commerce.
From our vantage point, we recall Zemke’s passion for government and voting.
When asked in 1995 how to best encourage people to join the political process, Zemke gave the Gazette this response:
“To me, joining the political process means choosing our representative government. It means choosing good candidates, or to be a candidate yourself. It means electing good people.
“Government today is very complex, so we all need to be involved in the selection and election process. ...
“Public service is a noble calling. Local elections that are the closest to us have a profound effect on our lives. We need to find good candidates and then support them. We can’t say, too often, vote every time you can.
“In some countries, the people don’t have voting rights. Remember that in the United States, the ballot box is the most effective tool for good government that the citizens have. Use it, please.”
If Zemke’s legacy serves no other purpose, we would be pleased if it inspires more people to vote. She would be pleased, too.