A month before the first Earth Day was celebrated 50 years ago, a young science professor named Earl Rosenwinkel went on TV to say the environment is “no longer merely a matter of aesthetics but a matter of survival and a matter of quality of life.”

“I wonder what we can do to educate people,” he said.

Through science and spirituality, he spent the rest of his life in that pursuit.

Rosenwinkel died April 7 in Duluth at age 84. He was the second person in the area to die of COVID-19.

Remembered for his curiosity and passion for his work, Rosenwinkel was awarded a doctorate in plant ecology from Rutgers University in 1964 and was for many years a college professor and studied the ecology of Isle Royale National Park. In 1989 he earned a master of divinity from what is now Luther Seminary and was an assisting pastor at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church on the White Earth Reservation, according to his obituary.

When he moved to Duluth he became ecological data manager at Hartley Nature Center, building maps and databases for the sprawling preserve.

“You could talk with Earl about birds, insects, fungi, wildflowers, trees, mammals, etc., and he was knowledgeable about all of it, plants especially,” said Bill Maier, a former director of Hartley.

Maier recalled one night the two of them led a hike through the park to inventory frogs. As they made their way through the wetlands, the kids they were with lit up with excitement and “we kind of forgot about recording any data and just enjoyed the experience.”

“Here was a tangible chance to experience the joy of nature discovery with families, and I could tell he found it truly joyful,” Maier said.

At church, he would teach classes on Genesis that applied the theory of evolution.

“He really was a teacher in many ways,” said the Rev. Kathy Nelson of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth, where Rosenwinkel also assisted with worship playing African drums. “He was a good, quirky guy. We loved him.”

Rosenwinkel was born Feb. 1, 1936, in St. Paul. A graduate of Mechanic Arts High School, he studied at Macalester College in addition to Rutgers and Luther.

He often wrote poems in responses to Psalms that intertwined his passions of ecology and spirituality:

“Let the air around us be shaped by the throat of the loon, thrushes and owls. … Let all that has spirit, wind and breath sing the Creator’s name.”

He was preceded in death by his parents, Adolph and Lydia, his sister, Ruth Eberhart, and brothers Wilbur, Eugene and Howard.