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Memorial services set for longtime USA Wrestling leader Fred Lehrke, 89, who passed away this week

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Fred Lehrke, longtime USA Wrestling leader from Wisconsin. (Photo by Lehrke family)

USA Wrestling is saddened by the passing earlier this week of one of its longtime leaders, Fred Lehrke, 89, who passed away in Wisconsin on Sunday.


Lehrke served as a board member of USA Wrestling, and a state chairperson for the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation, the USA Wrestling state association in Wisconsin. As a grassroots leader, he was instrumental in the development and growth of USA Wrestling on the national and regional levels, in addition to his major impact within Wisconsin.


Lehrke was named USA Wrestling State Chairperson of the Year in 1997. He was also a highly successful wrestling coach at the high school level, as well as with USA Wrestling state-level teams. He coached two different high schools to state titles, D.C. Everest and Monroe. He was also a wrestling parent, with two of his boys competing at the Div. I level in college, Eric at Minnesota and Fritz at Michigan.


Dave Black, who was the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation chairman from 1998-2021, and a longtime USA Wrestling Board member, had this to say about Fred Lehrke:


“Fred Lehrke was a kind, considerate man with a passion for kids and wrestling. In 1990, a group in my and neighboring communities developed a folkstyle state tournament for grades 3-8. Fred was chairman of the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation and chose to support our mission. He encouraged me to be patient and persistent and he agreed that he would use his position as the current state chairman and his influence to get a USA Wrestling sanction in place at a time when many in USA Wrestling only focused on the Olympic styles. We accomplished that and the tournament flourished. Fred's grandsons, my sons and grandchildren were all able to participate. It was a win for all of us and the state of Wisconsin. I replaced Fred as chairman and he mentored me and offered advice in the transition, I always felt indebted to Fred and admired and respected him for many years,” said Black.


A memorial service will take place on Thursday, December 14, at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Weston, Pastor Lance will officiate.  A visitation will run from 4:00 pm until 8:00 pm, on Wednesday, December 13, 2023, at Brainard Funeral Home in Weston.  A second visitation will run from 10:00 am until the time of services, at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. A private family burial will take place at a later date.  In lieu of flowers the family would appreciate memorials to a scholarship fund in Fred's name for D.C. Everest High School. 


"The USA Wrestling Family is deeply saddened by the loss of Fred Lehrke. Fred has had a very significant impact on wrestling across our country and the world. His lifetime of support to wrestling has left a lasting legacy on our sport and in particular USA Wrestling. Fred served in many leadership roles within our sport, always working to make differences that improved wrestling. Our sport and organization are better today due to Fred Lehrke’s involvement and passion. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time." said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender.


Fred Lehrke: Wisconsin chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame biography


WSAW-TV: Former D.C. Everest wrestling coach Fred Lehrke dies at 89


MSN: Remembering D.C. Everest coaching legend Fred Lehrke


Family Obituary

Frederick R. Lehrke

October 22, 1934 — December 3, 2023


Frederick R. Lehrke, age 89, passed away on December 3, 2023 at home in Rothschild.  Born October 22, 1934 to Gustave and Dorothy (Worthman) Lehrke in La Crosse, WI.  Fred grew up learning to love hunting and fishing on the Mississippi river and the bluffs of La Crosse.  Fred was a competitive athlete growing up and played football and threw the discus and shotput at La Crosse Central High School and also played football for UW-LA Crosse.  He received his Bachelors of Science from UW-La Crosse and a Masters of Science from UW-Whitewater.


Fred's greatest achievement came with marrying his wife of 65 years Sally (Ranger) on December 20, 1958.  Together they raised five children.  He loved his family and his joy was spending time with them. Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day are sacred times at the cottage for the entire family.  He enjoyed watching all his kids and grandkids in sports and their activities.


He served in the Navy, stationed in Pearl Harbor serving as a submariner and playing on the Pacific Fleet football team.  Fred wanted to be a teacher and football coach. At one school he was told he would have to coach wrestling if he wanted to coach football and coached the first wrestling match he ever saw.  He finished his career with state wrestling championships at Monroe in 1973 and D.C. Everest in 1978, 1982 and 1986.


Fred received numerous awards and recognition including membership in the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.


Fred's coaching legacy though is his positive impact on countless athletes and coaches throughout the state, not just those at the schools he coached at. As a member of the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association, the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation and USA Wrestling he was instrumental in providing wrestling opportunities for wrestlers across the state. 


He was preceded in death by his father, mother, brother Roderick and sister-in-law Linda.  He is survived by his wife Sally, children Gretchen (Tom) Wetzel, Adams, WI, Heidi (Mark) Bukowski, Milwaukee, WI, Jennifer (Peters) Lehrke, Wausau, WI, Eric Lehrke, Wausau, WI and Fritz (Carolyn) Lehrke, Wausau, WI., 15 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.


In lieu of flowers the family would appreciate memorials to a scholarship fund in Fred's name for D.C. Everest High School. 


A memorial service will take place on Thursday, December 14, at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Weston, Pastor Lance will officiate.  A visitation will run from 4:00 pm until 8:00 pm, on Wednesday, December 13, 2023, at Brainard Funeral Home in Weston.  A second visitation will run from 10:00 am until the time of services, at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. A private family burial will take place at a later date. 

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