Cliff Digre just wanted to do something nice for his wife and fix that scratchy radio.
From that marital gesture of kindness decades ago grew a multimillion-dollar Minneapolis company whose products help millions of people navigate through their everyday lives at work, on the go or at play.
Digre, a World War II combat veteran and author whose speakers have been used everywhere from drive-in theaters to commercial airliners to drop ceilings in the Mall of America, died Sunday of complications from emphysema and lung cancer. He was 89.
Digre's Minneapolis Speaker Co. (MISCO), founded soon after the war in a modest storefront, now sits at 2637 32nd Av. S., just north of the Midtown Greenway, and churns out a million or more speakers annually.
"MISCO has touched the ears of nearly everybody in the United States," said Dan Digre, the company's president and one of Digre's four children.
Cliff Digre grew up in Hendricks, a small town tucked in southwestern Minnesota.
He served in the Army Air Corps at the height of World War II as a B-17 ball-turret gunner and radio operator in Britain.
After the war, he returned to Minnesota, married and attended the National Radio School in Minneapolis.
One day in 1949, Digre brought wife Bernice's new radio to class. The sound was terrible, and he wanted to know how it could be fixed.
"He was told there's nothing wrong with this radio," Dan Digre said. "It's the speaker that's bad."
After sending the radio off to be repaired only to have it sound no better, Cliff Digre fixed it himself. From there, he and another student "set up their own repair shop" in little more than a shed and called it Vet's Radio, Dan Digre said. It soon grew into the Minneapolis Reconing Co.
Among his earliest clients were drive-in theaters in the Twin Cities.
"He drove around to all the theaters," Dan Digre said. "And there were a lot of them. He'd pick up the speakers that were bad, repair them and clean them up."
Minneapolis Reconing grew into what is now MISCO and operated for years at 38th Street and Grand Avenue until moving 11 years ago to its 20,000-square-foot location in the Seward neighborhood.
"He took out no debt on the building and took the money [to pay for it] out of his own savings," Dan Digre said. "It was built by a local contractor, and their deal was a handshake. ... There were no lawyers, there was no contract. And that was just 11 years ago."
Cliff Digre not only resisted moving his business to the suburbs but lived his entire postwar life in the city until retiring to a cottage on Prior Lake.
"My dad was very committed to the city," said Dan Digre, who recalled his father having "me take apart this and unscrew that" at age 5. He believed that "if we can stay in Minneapolis, it's better for everybody," the son added.
Digre was also a writer, penning and self-publishing his wartime memoirs, "Into Life's School: My World War II Memories."
"It started with a small diary that I kept of my combat experiences," he explained upon the book's release. "I decided to rewrite the diary to preserve this bit of personal history for my grandchildren and descendants."
Digre was preceded in death by sisters Gurine, Clara and Pearl. Along with son Daniel and his wife, Bernice, he is survived by daughters Kathleen Digre and Carrie Murphy and son Rolland Digre. Memorial services are scheduled for Friday at noon at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 4100 Lyndale Av. S., Minneapolis, with visitation one hour prior at the church. Interment will be at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482