Michael Pohlen, 71, wide-ranging executive

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 24, 2008 - 8:51 PM

The Chanhassen man worked in the aerospace industry, then turned to investing. He also led Catholic groups and served as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

Michael Pohlen of Chanhassen, who once worked for a major contractor of the nation's Apollo space program and who later became an executive in investment companies in the Twin Cities, died of a heart attack Oct. 19 at his home in St. Croix Falls, Wis.

The Morgan Stanley executive and retired Air Force Reserve colonel was 71.

The Iowa native graduated in 1958 from what is now the University of St. Thomas with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. While at St. Thomas, he was a top student and an ROTC cadet.

After serving on active duty in the Air Force, he joined what is now Rockwell International in Los Angeles in the 1960s. There he applied his math skills to the making of flotation devices for space capsules returning to Earth.

Vern Heath of Edina, a founder and former CEO of Rosemount Engineering, now based in Chanhassen, lured Pohlen back to the Twin Cities. He worked on some of Rosemount's aerospace projects, but rose to vice president of sales, marketing the first plastic alpine ski boots.

Heath, his former boss, an investment client and a friend, said Pohlen was a talented professional. "He was not only very intelligent, but he was a great person who cared about people," said Heath.

Pohlen served in the Air Force Reserve for 26 years.

He also served as a leader in a dozen Catholic groups and schools, including the Knights of Columbus and the USA Council of Serra International, where he once led a multistate region.

Norma Swanson of Fridley, a Serra leader, said she was grateful for his support when she became the first woman member in the region.

He was also a leader in a youth program where young adults hold retreats for high school students, Swanson said.

In 1970, he became a financial adviser for the former Dain, Kalman & Quail and in the 1990s worked for Piper Jaffray.

He moved to Morgan Stanley in 2000, rising to senior vice president, the post he held when he died.

Lee Kopp, a former longtime Dain broker and now chairman of Edina's Kopp Investment Advisers, hired him at Dain in 1970.

"He had people skills. He could connect with anybody. You looked him in the eye, and you could see how strong he was," said Kopp.

His son Larry, of Eden Prairie, worked with him in the investment business.

"I could never ask for a better mentor" in life or business, said his son.

He got things done, paying attention to details, and would respond to big challenges with: "We can do that," said the younger Pohlen. He also described his father as passionate golfer and someone who "loved Notre Dame football."

A daughter, Mary, died in infancy in 1958.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 50 years, Laurie of Chanhassen; daughters Maureen Gallucci of Phoenix and Cathy Bergen of Chicago; four other sons, David of Chaska, Steve of St. Louis Park, Bill of Minnetonka, and Tony of Indiana; brothers Jerry of Destin, Fla., and Joe of Denver, Colo.; a sister, Sue Zenk of Greeley, Colo., and 16 grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Hubert Catholic Community Church, 8201 Main St., Chanhassen.

Visitation will be held at 10 a.m. in the church.

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