Elmer Joseph Digneo
1919 - 2007
Elmer Digneo, organist and school administrator, was one of the first organists to play for the Voice of Prophecy, playing in the program's first coast-to-coast broadcast on Sunday evening, January 4, 1942. Although most of his career was subsequently spent serving as principal and teacher at three academies, music still remained an important activity in his life.
Digneo was born in Los Angeles and raised in Loma Linda, California, the adopted child of Joseph C. and Hannah Johnson Digneo. He started his music study at age five with lessons on piano and then organ in his early teenage years.
He particularly enjoyed playing the organ and would serve as organist for the Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist church at Loma Linda University for many years, beginning while still a teenager. He took organ lessons with teachers in the area and at Redlands University, where he studied with Leslie Spelman, and was a member and officer in the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Following graduation from Loma Linda Academy in 1937, Digneo entered Southern California Junior College, now La Sierra University, where he completed a two-year program in 1940 and a degree in science in 1945. Beginning in the fall of 1940, he taught part-time at La Sierra Preparatory School, now La Sierra Academy, teaching science courses and giving music lessons and directing the choir.
It was during this time that he commuted to Glendale two or three times weekly to rehearse and then play for the VOP broadcasts. The commute and his teaching commitments led to a decision to end that participation.
In 1944 he married Joyce Craw, a nursing student at the College of Medical Evangelists, now the Loma Linda School of Medicine. Three years later, he became principal of La Sierra Preparatory School, now La Sierra Academy. Digneo served in that position until 1953, when he accepted the principal's position at Hawaiian Mission Academy in Honolulu, where he also taught science classes and directed the choir. Joyce served as registrar and taught typing and shorthand classes as well as English as a second language for foreign students.
While he was in Hawaii, he learned Hawaii Aloha and the story associated with it. He was entranced with its origin and message, originally a hymn titled I Left It All With Jesus, which spoke of gratitude for the blessings from heaven. When serving as organist for a church service, Digneo always played it as the postlude. It became known as his signature song.
In 1959 the Digneos returned to Southern California, where he served as principal at Loma Linda Academy and she worked as registrar. In 1967 he took a leave of absence for a year so he could complete an M.Ed. degree at Loma Linda University, La Sierra Campus, now La Sierra University.
In 1968, following completion of the degree, Elmer resumed teaching at La Sierra Academy, and Joyce continued her work as registrar and secretarial science teacher at LSA, having started a year earlier, when her husband had enrolled at the university. He also served as coordinator of the Instructional Materials Center at the academy from 1968 to 1984, when he retired.
As an administrator, Digneo enjoyed a reputation as a fair, wise, and thoughtful leader. These same attributes, along with his friendliness, characterized his extensive involvement in community affairs. He was a charter councilman for the city of Loma Linda, where he served from 1970 to 1994, acting as mayor for five of those years, during which he served as a member and chair of numerous state and community committees.
Digneo was the Loma Linda University Church Tour Director, planning and directing monthly local and regional trips for LLUC members and others from the area. He also planned one or two trips annually to visit sites in Canada and the U.S.
In addition he also worked as a volunteer fireman for the city. The city's clock tower located at the fire station marks the passage of time on chimes with music played and recorded by Digneo.
The College of Arts and Sciences at LSU honored Digneo as an alumnus of the year in 2001, and a park in Loma Linda is named after him.
Sources: Interview with and information provided by Joyce Digneo, August and September 2008; Robert Edwards, Hello America! 20 Years of Victory, 1961, 10, 11; Jim Miller, "Loma Linda Loses One of its Pioneers," City News, 13 September 2007; La Sierra Academy Alumni-Scope, Fall 2007; La Sierra University Website, News and Events; Jesse B. Gill, "Former mayor Elmer Digneo remembered for his kind service." Redlands Daily Facts, 24 September 2007.