Howard Rosenwinkel launched first-of-their-kind career training programs from a desk made out of a door propped on filing cabinets.

A passionate champion of career and technical education decades before its recent surge in prestige, Rosenwinkel founded what is now Anoka Technical College.

The St. Paul native dispensed with formality and chafed against convention, including the 1960s notion that men and married women were not cut out to train as nurses.

Rosenwinkel died earlier in March. He was 88.

“Howard was a visionary, and he didn’t want to stand in the way of innovation,” said Gen Olson, the longtime former state senator who worked under Rosenwinkel at the college.

Rosenwinkel grew up in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood and attended the now defunct Mechanic Arts High School. When he graduated in 1944, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in Italy and later in Korea. After wrapping up his military service, he attended the University of Minnesota, where he eventually earned a master’s degree in vocational technical education.

He later traveled the state to consult on high school vocational programs with the Minnesota Department of Education. In 1967, he left to start what was then the Anoka Area Vocational Technical Institute in a sprawling former warehouse.

In the following years, he helped launch a number of innovative programs in international trade, child development, optical technology and more. He was keenly attuned to technology and marketplace shifts that created openings for new education programs.

“He was serving students who didn’t fit into the regular mold of education,” said Rosenwinkel’s son, Mark. “Vocational education was their lifeline.”

After reading that Minnesota had thousands of horses but offered no formal training in how to shoe them, he launched a farrier program. Licensed practical nursing programs at the time generally did not accept men, married women or candidates older than 35. Rosenwinkel and Caroline Rosdahl, whom he hired to start the institute’s nursing program, agreed the restrictions were “really dumb” and did away with them, Rosdahl recalls. The inaugural class featured a man and a woman in her 60s.

“Any kind of red tape — he just ignored it,” said Rosdahl, who became the institute’s vice president.

In launching new programs, Rosenwinkel took on an often involved accreditation process as well as the era’s dismissive attitudes toward career and technical education.

He was known for his unassuming, improvisational leadership style. When he set out to recruit Olson, he invited her to lunch and jotted down a job description on the back of a napkin.

“He set such positive, gentle expectations, you never wanted to let him down,” Olson said.

When Rosenwinkel retired in 1985, then-Gov. Rudy Perpich signed a proclamation in his honor. A lifelong outdoorsman who loved fly-fishing and skiing, Rosenwinkel later studied urban forestry at the U and for a time ran a small Christmas tree farm.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dorothy, four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Roseville, followed by the funeral at 11.