Obituary: Erwin Mickelberg, Augsburg College biology professor

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Erwin Mickelberg loved to teach, and that is what he did for 38 years as a biology professor at Augsburg College and a Bible study leader at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

“He was born to teach,” said Mickelberg’s wife of 65 years, Carolyn. “That is what he was made to do.”

From 1956 to 1994, Mickelberg taught anatomy, physiology, human biology, botany and nutrition courses to traditional undergraduate students during the day and to adults who enrolled in Augsburg’s weekend and weeknight programs. His passion for the sciences, his ability to connect it with faith, and a sense of humor that never stopped made him a favorite of students at the Lutheran college in Minneapolis.

“He was one of the best teachers I ever had,” said Jerry Peterson, a 1967 Augsburg graduate who credited Mickelberg with getting him to major in biology along with physical education. “He didn’t just teach you the facts. He created an excitement in students that they wanted to learn. That is the key of teaching. He was a good teacher and even a better man.”

Mickelberg died May 3 from Alzheimer’s disease in a care facility in Eagan. He was 87.

Mickelberg graduated from high school in his native La Crosse, Wis., in the mid-1940s. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before enrolling at Augsburg to study biology. He left school shortly after to be closer to Carolyn, and they married in 1948. He returned to Augsburg in 1951 and earned his degree in three years, she said.

He taught high school biology in Atwater, Minn., for two years before joining the Augsburg faculty. While there, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

Mickelson created some of the textbooks and lab workbooks he used in his classroom. He also wrote some unpublished manuscripts, including one in 1972 called “It’s All About Ripples.” In the text, Mickelson reflected on the New Testament verse I Corinthians 13 and wrote, “Even when the ripples fade away, they change the shore line permanently, a little at a time.”

“He was an excellent teacher and mentor who cared deeply for his students,” said Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow. “In many ways, Erwin lived that quote. He has forever changed our community through his commitment to students, through his belief in the links between learning and faith, and through his generosity toward the college.”

His daughter, Susan Mickelberg Siegfried, of Chaska, recently published “Ripples.” Proceeds from the sale will go toward Augsburg’s new Center for Science, Business and Religion, a building her father long championed. The center, which will bring several disciplines under one roof, will open in 2015.

Mickelson volunteered in the Minneapolis public schools, teaching elementary school students about the human body. He also served as an athletic adviser to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, of which Augsburg is a member.

At Bethlehem Baptist Church, Mickelberg served on the church’s board of elders, led Sunday morning Bible studies and visited senior citizens who could not make it to services.

“He was a great teacher because he was a great student,” said Keith Anderson, the church coordinator for senior ministries. “He studied the Bible and was able to explain it and get students excited. It was easy to have a belly laugh with Erwin.”

Besides his wife and daughter, Mickelberg is survived by another daughter, Sonja Fowler, of St. Paul, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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