Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lloyd Rigler, Philanthropist


Lloyd Rigler, an entrepreneur and avid arts philanthropist, passed away one year ago in his home in California at the age of 88. He made his fortune with a recipe for a meat condiment.

Rigler was born in Lehr in 1915; when he was four, the family moved to Wishek, about 70 miles southwest of Jamestown. He learned about the business world in his parents’ general store; he started running his own counter, selling gift items and greeting cards, when he was only eleven.

Rigler packed four years of high school into three so that he could go to work to earn college tuition. In 1933, he headed for Chicago and stayed with relatives while he sold irons for the Edison Co. and shoes for Marshall Fields. Within two years, he had enough money saved up to go to the University of Illinois in Champaign.

After college, Rigler worked in market research, product demonstration, and sales. Then, he went into partnership with Lawrence Deutsch, conducting business as Rigler & Deutsch Food Brokers. In 1948, they happened upon a remarkable entree at a Santa Barbara restaurant owned by the chef, Adolph Rempp. When they learned their meat had been tenderized with Rempp’s personal concoction, they asked about the recipe and ended up paying Rempp $10,000 for it. They made payments of $100 per month and named it Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer.

Over the next 25 years, Rigler and Deutsch acquired fortunes worth millions of dollars and jointly decided to develop the Lloyd E. Rigler – Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation, which supports social programs and the arts. They were among the founders of the Los Angeles Music Center and the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. They also supported the Jofrey Ballet, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the City Center of Music and Drama in New York and many more. At the time of his death, Rigler was the vice chairman of the New York City Opera.

Rigler and Deutsch sold their business in 1974, and in 1977, Deutsch died of lung cancer, leaving his estate to the foundation. Rigler now dedicated himself, full time, to supporting the arts. He launched perhaps one of his farthest-reaching legacies in 1994, when he created the Classic Arts Showcase, an eclectic television service that distributes performing arts films to public television stations free of charge.

Rigler and Deutsch also established a legendary collection of rare music, including manuscripts signed by Beethoven, letters by Wagner and a first edition of a Mozart opera; these were tragically lost in a fire that gutted the foundation’s Burbank headquarters in 1992.

Rigler was proud of his North Dakota roots and often talked of how good life had been to him during his early years. And, he didn’t forget it when he was spending his money.

Of the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, he said, “Such quality. I can’t believe this kind of quality exists in the arts in North Dakota. I want to support the North Dakota Museum of Art.” And he did. Two weeks before he died, he issued a challenge grant of $12,500 to help the museum gain new donors.

Rigler also gave more than $100,000 in matching grants to the Northern Plains’ Ballet in Bismarck. In his hometown of Wishek, he donated money toward the city hospital and a golf course named for him.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm