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Monday, July 27, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Florence M. Burke, 89, Helped Shape The History Of Fremont

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Florence M. Burke was not content with her 15 minutes of fame as Miss Green Lake 1932, when she cut the banner to open the Aurora Bridge.

She subsequently became a dedicated storyteller-historian, passionate gardener, and partner with her husband in the Burke Industrial Center in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood.

In fact Mrs. Burke's stories and family photos are a centerpiece of Fremont's History House, opening in September at 790 N. 34th St., Seattle.

Mrs. Burke died of heart failure Thursday (July 23). She was 89.

"She was definitely a character of historical interest," said Mrs. Burke's friend Jeanne Muir, who bought the Green Lake house Mrs. Burke lived in as a young adult.

Born in Seattle, Mrs. Burke spent her first 10 years near Ione, Pend Oreille County. Her parents homesteaded a farm in that dry climate after her mother contracted diphtheria.

"They raised everything, and went to the grocery store twice a year," said Suzie Burke, her daughter. "Mom saw her first light bulb at age 10 1/2 when they moved to Seattle."

Mrs. Burke graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1927, then worked as a teller at Green Lake Bank, where her future husband, J.R. Burke, was a client.

The marriage lasted two weeks shy of 60 years. Mr. Burke died in 1994.

"She married him because she thought he owned the (Guarantee) Mill," joked her daughter. "He married her because he thought she owned the bank."

Mrs. Burke became a partner in the mill, which they bought, and in Burke Millwork, which they founded in Fremont. Burke Millwork became Burke Industrial Center in 1955, which made way for Quadrant Lake Union Center and Adobe Systems.

"Mom did everything she could to support Dad," said Burke. "Dad did everything he could to keep her in gardens. She loved gardening and kept the business supplied with plants. Most people thought a professional had done it, but Mom wouldn't trust a professional.

"They had 106 acres in Shorewood south of White Center, most of it a canyon. She had 6 acres in flowers. She mowed the 4-acre lawn herself, and had hundreds of rhododendrons. Every time she finished mowing the lawn, she'd `pay herself' by buying a rhododendron."

Mrs. Burke also busied herself at bazaars for her children's parochial schools. In 1984, she moved to Ballard but continued to garden and to relish life.

"Only a week ago we were at the St. John Catholic Church Country Fair and it was the first year they didn't have a beer garden," said Suzie Burke. "Mom said, `Where's my Redhook?' She was an official taster for Redhook (Ale Brewery). She has the pin. We're burying her with it."

Other survivors include her children Joe Burke and Gerry Burke, and sister, Dorothea Nordstrand, all of Seattle; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Services have been held. Remembrances may go to the Burke Family Foundation, 3301 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103.

Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: cbee-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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