Wherever Crane Bodine went for a time in the 1970s and ’80s, he drew a crowd of music lovers.
“We have a picture of Dad flying with a group to Mazatlan, Mexico, and you see him in the aisle, having unveiled a portable keyboard, standing there playing it in a sombrero,” recalled his daughter, Suzanne Bolin, of St. Louis Park.
Bodine, whose music business rose to prominence in the Upper Midwest at a flourishing moment for the sale of organs and pianos, died Nov. 13 after a stroke. The Edina resident was 85.
He inherited a music business from his father and built it into a chain that at one time included six stores and a warehouse showroom in the Twin Cities and Rochester.
Bodine was part of a grand keyboard tradition that has dwindled since the 1970s and ’80s, said Michael Barone, host of the long-running Minnesota Public Radio program “Pipedreams,” which is devoted to organ music.
“It was the era of the little electronic organ — something that doesn’t have much of a future,” he said. “No one is buying those little spinet organs any more.”
Back in the day, though, Bodine was a national presence, serving on the board of the National Association of Music Merchants and founding a group called the Amateur Organists Association International that staged more than 60 conventions in hotels across the country featuring major manufacturers.
Locally, it was “an iconic feature of State Fairs for many years for us to have one whole side of the grandstand,” said his daughter. “We had a booth in the beer garden as well, and sales were huge — people were buying grand pianos at the State Fair. You’d have families from Iowa and Wisconsin come, and Bodine’s was there as the exclusive dealer for Yamaha for 25 years.”
Eventually, competition heated up as new dealers and products entered the market, as well as online sales.
“Portable keyboards ate into the organ business,” said Bodine’s son Jeff, of Minneapolis, who worked alongside his father. “Richfield was his last store, and then just the warehouse in Bloomington. Craigslist got to everyone.”
Crane James Bodine was born three years before his father, Elmer, started the business in 1933.
He graduated from St. Paul Academy, Brown University in Providence, R.I., and the University of Minnesota Law School. He was admitted to the bar, family members said, but never practiced law, choosing instead to go into business with his father.
In 1957, he met and married Elizabeth Wahlberg, a Swedish woman who was only supposed to be in Minnesota temporarily, her daughter said. “She was here as an au pair, and never went home,” Bolin said. “My mom was his right hand, the behind-the-scenes joy in his life.”
For years, the Bodines provided an organ to the annual Swedish festival Svenskarnas Dag at Minnehaha Falls, and Crane was once named Swede of the Year.
He also was active in numerous civic organizations, where he often rose to leadership roles. He served two terms as chairman of the Minneapolis Salvation Army’s advisory board, was president of the Evergreen Club for musicians and music educators, and was a coordinator of the Minneapolis Aquatennial’s youth division.
Bodine was preceded in death by his wife and by a son, Eric. In addition to his daughter, Suzanne, and son Jeff, he is survived by another son, Steven, and 11 grandchildren. Services have been held.