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Richard Winkelmann

, Star Tribune

Richard Winkelmann was pioneer in skin research

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER
  • Star Tribune
  • August 27, 2012 - 8:48 PM

Richard Winkelmann, a Mayo Clinic physician and researcher who helped meld the disciplines of dermatology and pathology, died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 16 at his home in Rochester, Minn. He was 88.

"Dad was at the cusp of modernizing dermatology, taking it to a real clinical science," said his son Rich Winkelmann, of Marine on St. Croix. "He was a giant in a fresh new field."

Winkelmann was born in Akron, Ohio, where his father was a research chemist in the rubber industry, his son said. In 1943, during his second year at the University of Akron, he was drafted into the Army, which soon recognized his scientific acumen and pulled him out of basic training for medical training. He was sent to the University of Michigan for premed, then to Marquette University Medical School in Milwaukee. By the time he was finished, the war was over, so he spent his service time at public health centers in Knoxville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala.

In the early 1950s, he was working as a resident at the Mayo Clinic and toward his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. "Dermatology interested him greatly; he felt the skin was an underappreciated and understudied organ," his son said. "At the time, microscopes were being used more, and he was always working with one. That's where dermatology and pathology intersected."

Winkelmann became an early researcher in that area, "studying skin diseases under the microscope and creating the taxonomy of dermatology in English and three other languages," his son said. In 1956, his Ph.D. completed, he joined the Mayo staff and chaired its department of dermatology from 1970 to 1975. He wrote six books and more than 800 scholarly articles.

Dr. Jennifer McNiff, president of the American Society of Dermatopathology, wrote that Winkelmann was "a leader and visionary ... [who] was instrumental in describing the diagnosis and treatment of innumerable unique conditions, including cutaneous extravascular necrotizing granuloma," a condition commonly called Winkelmann granuloma.

He and Anne Robertson, an artist from South St. Paul whom he met in Rochester, were married in 1952 and raised four children. He was ever industrious, his son said. "Once I saw Dad mowing the lawn in a suit and tie" before a party or work, he said. "He said, 'I have a half an hour, might as well not waste it.'"

In 1994, Winkelmann retired from the Mayo Clinic and began spending winters in Fountain Hills, Ariz., and summers on the St. Croix. He took up doing research at Mayo Clinic Scottsdale and teaching at Arizona State University.

Even during the summers, his scientific curiosity took precedence over leisure. With his microscope ever present, he set to work developing a digital atlas of algae in the St. Croix River, said Sharon Mallman, assistant director of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station at the Science Museum of Minnesota. From 1995 to 2009, his work "greatly enhanced our knowledge of the ecology and water quality of the river," Mallman said.

He took time for fun, too, listening to opera and jazz, working crossword puzzles and concocting a secret recipe for a drink called "the Winkeltini." And "he was a voracious reader -- devouring magazines such as Scientific American, reading four to six books every week, from histories to novels, books in French for fun," his son said. "He never forgot what he read -- he could quote Dickens he read in high school and dermatology studies from the 1950s."

He said his dad was "one of the most charming, upbeat, likable people you'd ever met, not shy with his opinions, but always very interested in the opinions of others, too."

Four years ago, he and Anne moved to Charter House, an assisted-living facility in Rochester.

In addition to his wife and Rich, he is survived by another son, John of Cincinnati; two daughters, Lisa Speltz of Guilford, Conn., and Susan Winkelmann of Minneapolis, and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 6 at Charter House in Rochester.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290

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