Warren Phillips was a champion of industrial education and established trade schools in countries throughout the world. That was before he served as president of Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, where he bolstered the school’s fundraising and marketing efforts and led the push to diversify enrollment. He brought in women and low-income and minority students to train for careers as electricians, automotive technicians and computer specialists at a time when the private institution was seen as a trade school for men.
“He was proud when Dunwoody became coed,” said Ben Wright, whom Phillips hired as a development and fundraising director and who later became president of the school off Hennepin Avenue and Interstate 94. “He recognized the need to reach a broader population and show that these were careers for them, too. He was a major force behind that.”
Phillips, who served as Dunwoody’s president from 1979 to 1988, died of a brain tumor April 7 at his home in Athens, Ga. He was 90.
He graduated from Excelsior High School and earned a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 1950. After a brief stint in the U.S. Navy, he took the cabinetmaking and woodworking skills that he learned from his father and taught them to students at Minneapolis Vocational High School.
He worked at Dunwoody for 36 years, starting in the school’s international division with a project team that contracted with the Ford Foundation to administer more than $1 million in grants to set up industrial schools in Indonesia.
In 1974 Phillips took over Dunwoody’s Day School programs and became president four years later. He presided over the Upper Midwest’s only private technical college as it responded to the computer revolution and other technological innovations. He launched the Youth Career Awareness Program (YCAP), which helps high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds explore technical fields and prepare for college. It also provides scholarships for those who enroll at Dunwoody. YCAP has assisted more than 1,300 students since its inception.
At the same time, faced with increasing competition from state schools, Phillips hired the school’s first marketing and fundraising director. He led the school’s 75th anniversary campaign, which brought in nearly $8 million.
He was a master at building relationships with both donors and business leaders and with students and faculty members, said his son, Tim, of Sea Island, Ga.
“He was proud of the instructors and the working relations between teachers and students,” his son said. “He knew what industry wanted” and adapted Dunwoody’s programs to meet their needs.
During his tenure, Phillips brought experts to campus to advise faculty on curriculum and industry trends. The school also transitioned from offering certificates to awarding associate degrees, said Provost Jeff Ylinen.
“He brought sophistication to Dunwoody and set the bar high,” said 20-year board member Talla Skogmo, whose mother was Dunwoody’s first female board member. “He kept them a class act.”
Phillips also built many of the cabinets in classrooms and meeting rooms.
“He’s famous for those,” Ylinen said. “Not only did he lead the school, he was home making cabinets for the place.”
Phillips was a lifelong member of Excelsior United Methodist Church, where he was president of the board.
Besides his son, Phillips is survived by daughters, Nancy Leskee and Amy Warber, both of Minnetonka, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.