Judge Dennis Challeen was born in rural Chisago County, Minn., in 1936. He was educated in a rural, one-room grade school, and at Braham High School; he worked his way through Stout, the U of M, and graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 1963. He practiced law in Winona and was appointed to the municipal bench in 1964 by Gov. Rolvaag, and thereafter to the county and district court, retiring in 1999 after 35 years of service.
In the early '70s he began the first-in-the-nation concept of sentencing non-violent offenders to community service cleaning up parks and roadways. Considered controversial and without legal precedent, it is now commonplace throughout the nation and in foreign countries. In 1978 he was invited to be on the Faculty of the National Judicial College where he served as guest lecturer and remained on their faculty for 33 years, his name permanently installed in their Hall of Honor. In 1980 he was interviewed for the National Judges Journal, which created the framework for restorative justice (now used nationally).
A popular speaker, he was invited to speak at judicial education seminars in 43 of 50 states and three provinces of Canada. He authored five books on criminal justice, selling over 6,000 copies. During retirement he wrote community columns for the Winona Daily News and Winona Post. Quotes from his books were spoken in British Parliament and his words opened a worldwide conference on corrections held at The Hague, Netherlands, in 2014. He also held morning "Coffee Court" at Schniepp's.
He is survived by his son, Daniel, Stillwater, Minn., and grandchild, Miranda; son, William, Winona; and special friend, Susan Davey, Winona. He is preceded in death by his granddaughter, Marina.
At his request there will be no traditional funeral, only a private burial at Woodlawn. He also wished there to be no contributions or flowers. Instead, he wants those that live on to read a book, look up an old friend, adopt an orphan puppy or kitten, plant a tree, put up a birdhouse, canoe the backwaters, hike the bluffs, and donate your guns to the police department.
I've been a lawyer for 30 years now. I grew up in Winona County and met Judge Challeen when I was in high school. He made a strong impression: Don't make assumptions. Don't buy into the status quo. Ask questions and try to see things from the other guy's perspective. Look for a new and better way to deal with the problem. He did a lot of good, for a lot of people.
Definitely a legend! And yet down to earth man. Enjoyed watching him in court the few times I saw him there, always the best quotes... "Half a bubble off plumb" is one that comes to mind. Nice to see him out socializing too. Very approachable. Rest in peace, Judge Challeen!
RIP Denny, until we meet again!
Jim & Jeanine
Mr. Chaleen left an indelible mark on all of Winona County. A true Winonan with a love for the people of the county.!
Judge Challeen was a friend of my dad's, He was a very fair judge..Always had a smile on his face when I saw him..He had my respect growing up...He will be remembered fondly by many...RIP Judge and say hi to Buck for me....😢
He was always kind and wise in dealing with the mentally ill in his court room. I appreciated his kindness towards our troubled relative that would spar verbally with the judge. The judge was wise and kind. Thank God for the heart and soul of Judge Challeen.
I went to watch court as I was thinking of being a lawyer at one time. Some underage kids were in court for having alcholol.. Judge Challeen asked how the kids got the beer. Judge Challeen said, "Oh, the beer fairy must have brought it.
I admired this man. Found myself in front of his bench as a teenager more than I should have. He was always fair and showed mutual respect. His suggestion is the reason I joined the US Navy. Rest In Peace sir, may your legacy live on.
- Thank you Dennis Challeen for everything you did for all of us! We will miss you, - may you fill the Heavens with all the kindness and care you provided for this planet & humanity.
I sorry for your loss. Dennis help put me on the Good road to life. My family is for every Grateful
A life changer for many! Thanks, Big D!
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