Obituary: David Lilja, founder of Lowell Inc.

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 11:01 AM

 

Parts made in a Brooklyn Park manufacturing plant have kept former Vice President Dick Cheney alive. They also have kept airplanes in the sky and some of the nation’s biggest companies rolling.

They have even landed on the moon.

David S. Lilja founded Lowell Inc. in 1964, and for nearly 50 years the small contract manufacturing firm has been a big player in the computer, aerospace and medical device industries by making individual components for scores of companies across the nation, including Honeywell, Control Data and General Electric.

Lilja, of Edina, was in a care center for the past year and died Nov. 30 of an undetermined cause, said his son Mike of Dayton, Minn. He was 85.

A graduate of Edison High School, where he lettered in tennis, David Lilja attended the University of Minnesota for two years before entering the workforce at the former Champion Outboard in Minneapolis. He later took a job at a machine shop in St. Louis Park, where he met Lowell Thorud. The two became fast friends and branched out on their own to form Lowell Inc. Thorud made the parts. Lilja sold them.

“You still had to make a quality product at a competitive price,” Mike said. But “my dad did get to know people. That is what he got to be known for.”

Lilja eventually bought out Thorud and moved the company to Brooklyn Park. He kept the Lowell Inc. name to maintain the identity because the company had become well known.

Over the years Lilja expanded Lowell from a single machine to a multifaceted plant that now employs more than 75 people. The firm has made everything from screws, caps, rods and hooks to fuel nozzles, air caps and heat shields. Its parts have been used on aircraft fuel metering and guidance systems.

The firm also made parts for the Heartmate II, a mechanical pump that helps the heart’s left ventricle push blood through the body. Cheney had the device implanted in his chest to assist his failing heart in 2010 after his fifth heart attack. He later had a heart transplant.

Lilja “was always very interested in society doing better as a whole,” his son said.

While running the business took much of his time, Lilja used his free time to coach youth hockey in Edina. He also served as a league commissioner, his son said.

Lilja also was a pilot who liked to get away, especially on hunting trips out west.

“He lived an adventurous life,” Mike said.

Besides his son Mike, Lilja is survived by his wife of 58 years, Dorothy, of Edina; two other sons, John, of Brooklyn Center, and Pat, of Golden Valley; a daughter, Elizabeth, of Elk River; a brother, Richard, of Van Nuys, Calif.; daughter-in law, Beth, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel, 5000 W. 50th St., Edina. A reception will follow.

 

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

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