About 60 people attended a memorial service April 11 in Atlanta for Constanze Flindt Lemke, a woman from Czechoslovakia who spoke four languages fluently, had a flair for interior decorating and gourmet cooking - and established Battenfeld of America in 1964.
Working with her husband, Bob Lemke, she ran the U.S. operation of the German injection press maker until the early 1980s, before leaving to join his machinery sales firm, ABC Lemke Inc. of Spartanburg, S.C.
She died April 3 from cancer at age 75.
``In order to enjoy the color of a rainbow, you have rain and you have light,'' her husband said. ``And this is life.''
Her life was full of light. Lemke broke new ground as a woman running a plastics machinery operation - still a rarity nearly 40 years after she became Battenfeld of America's first president. Born in Czechoslovakia, she studied in Germany, Switzerland and England. She had a master's degree in fashion design. She studied literature.
Her language skills, especially her expertise in translating from English into German, helped her make contacts in the machinery world, her husband said. That's how they met in 1963. Bob Lemke will never forget it.
He had built Battenfeld's U.K. service organization. He got a call asking him to fly to Chicago. At the airport, he met a delegation including company owner Werner Battenfeld and a recently hired Constanze Flindt. They had come from the National Plastics Exposition and were en route to Canada on a business trip.
Bob Lemke's job was to investigate the U.S. market and report back to Werner Battenfeld in Germany. On Jan. 4, 1964, Lemke and Flindt flew back to the United States and set up Battenfeld of America in Skokie, Ill. ``We were a very good team,'' he said.
Flindt was named president. Lemke, a German with a background in engineering and plastics processing, handled the technical side. They worked seven days a week for five months to get the business started. They married in 1967.
Known to business associates as Mrs. Flindt, she earned a reputation as a dynamic leader. ``She was intelligent, she was tough, realistic and fair. They could call her the iron plastic lady,'' her husband said. ``She had a big heart when it came to people, but when it came to business and finances, she was outstanding. She put a lot of men in a corner.''
In addition to running Battenfeld of America, she became the first woman, and first foreigner, elected to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s national board of directors, according to her husband. She also served on the board of the Plastics Institute of America.
Werner Battenfeld died in 1973 and the company was sold. Bob Lemke said he began to think about leaving to start his own company. He founded ABC Lemke in 1979. His wife continued to run the machinery maker a short time, then she also joined ABC Lemke.
They both became naturalized U.S. citizens three years ago.
``We grew together, we worked together and we were a team,'' he said.
Today, Battenfeld of America is based in West Warwick, R.I. As an early German company to have a major U.S. presence, the company, and Constanze Lemke, helped foster the careers of some major machinery leaders in North America.
``She was a terrific boss and mentor. She was very inspirational,'' said Martin Stark, one of the first employees of Battenfeld of America.
Stark worked in shipping and receiving, then moved up to plant manager in Skokie. Today Stark is president of Bekum America Corp.
He spoke during the memorial service, recalling how me met Mrs. Flindt in 1969.
``I had just barely stepped off the boat in New York coming from Germany with my family and two small children, hardly speaking any English,'' he said.
She actually hired Stark's wife, who had worked as a legal secretary in Germany. Then she hired Stark. ``That day in September of 1969 was the beginning of a new life for me,'' he said.
Before starting Engel Canada in 1975, Karl Pieper ran Battenfeld's operation in Canada. Even after he left Battenfeld, he stayed with the Lemkes at their home while on business in Atlanta. Pieper said it was an enjoyable experience, staying in a beautifully trimmed home and enjoying gourmet meals. ``She was a tremendous host,'' he said.
Her final request was that friends and family, in lieu of flowers, make donations in her name to the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass.
Mrs. Flindt was cremated. Her remains are at rest at the Lemke's house in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, near the flower gardens and trees she loved so much.