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CU Dental's First Applicant—Where Is He Now?

Robert Lembke is a visionary leader who has helped shape the future of his community.

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Written by Jaidaa Elbezry on July 25, 2023

“As far back as my first filling I have wanted to be a dentist,” Robert Lembke wrote in a 1968 letter to then-dean of the University of Colorado School of Dentistry, Leslie R. Burrows, DDS, PhD. Lembke was 12 years old, in seventh grade and already looking to the future. The dental school wouldn’t open for another five years. 

BobRobert A. Lembke, CU Dental's first applicant.

Burrows took the time to respond to the letter. He wrote back, “Aspiring for a career in the dental profession is a real personal challenge for you. The highest possible academic record is most desirable for any individual who hopes to enter dental school.”

In high school, Lembke was student body president and a National Merit Scholar. He received the 1974 University of Colorado Presidential Scholarship and graduated from the College of Business Administration in 1975. 

So, did he go to dental school?

Lembke did not go to dental school, but he has found countless other ways to serve his local community and the state of Colorado.

He became a councilman, an attorney and a certified public accountant (CPA) with a master’s degree in tax law. In the 1980s, he acquired a fair amount of land and played a large part in developing the East side of Brighton, Colorado. Over the years, he has completed several philanthropic projects, such as donating land for a hospital and charter school in Adams County and financing an indoor playground for Israeli children living near the Gaza strip. 

Today, as founder and president of the United Water and Sanitation District, chairman of the Platte River Metropolitan District, and owner of the historic 70 Ranch, he’s best known as a “water guy.” 


Q&A Header

You've done so many things with your businesses and other endeavors. What advice would you give to students with big dreams?

Read, take courses on whatever you’re interested in, then make long-term plans and work hard toward your goals. Spend less than you make and plan on investing wisely and carefully over time.

What is one of the greatest characteristics you've developed as a leader in your community?

I would say focused empathy; you can't lead unless you care about people and understand their needs. And if you do that in a focused and fundamentally empathetic way, you can lead very effectively.

It seems you’ve always had a desire to help people. Where did that originate?

I've been blessed with a lot of wonderful teachers and counselors throughout my schooling – they would always go above and beyond to help me. My third-grade teacher used to say I was eight years old going on 40. Having that kind of consistent guidance from great role models was something I hoped to pass on.

What in your professional life brings you the most joy?

I love to set up circumstances where somebody can take their energy and efforts and be successful. I take great joy in watching people grow, professionally and personally, and I find that very gratifying.


Lembke is a true embodiment of living within your life’s purpose – even if his wasn’t dentistry. There are many different paths he could have taken and other titles he could have held, but in the end, the goal of helping others was accomplished. It’s important to remember: Be attached to the mission, not the position. 

Lembke Denver Post clipping


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