MINNEAPOLIS — Ted Krebsbach was charged at that moment with supervising the grinding of spare granite into turkey grit for Cold Spring Granite Company. He was called into the office early in the 1960s and asked if he was interested in a more intricate task.
The University of Notre Dame was completing a new, 14-story library and its president, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, decided a dramatic mosaic would be required to put life into the windowless structure.
Hesburgh was 96 and retired for a quarter-century when he said to author Bill Schmitt in 2013: "We needed something spectacular to take this enormous building in the middle of a prairie in northern Indiana and not have it look like a grain elevator.''
The mosaic was designed by California artist Millard Sheets. Jesus Christ would be the centerpiece, surrounded by figures that were not specific people. The name "The Word of Life" was attached to the mural.
Ellerbe and Co., a St. Paul architectural firm, had a history of projects with Notre Dame. It designed this new library to house Notre Dame's hundreds of thousands of books, art galleries and collections of famed people such as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.
Perhaps it was someone with Ellerbe who offered this advice to Hesburgh, Sheets and others:
"The best place to find the variety and expertise you'll need with granite and other stone to pull this off to perfection is in Cold Spring, Minnesota."
Whatever led to this contract, Krebsbach was summoned by a boss at the granite company and asked: "Would you like to oversee the huge task of matching stone to the design for an 11-story mosaic in Indiana?"
Ted Jr., now 85 and living in Cold Spring, said: "My dad said he would take it on. I remember him saying there was stone from 30 different quarries to match the colors. He had to be thrilled when he saw it finished at Notre Dame."
Notre Dame Stadium held only 50,000 back then. The mosaic was clearly visible to fans on those six or seven home Saturdays. And eventually, as more note was taken of this Christ's pose, the raised arms went from a gesture of peace and welcome as "The Word of Life," to a gesture of celebration as "Touchdown Jesus."
Mike Gresser, 89, and still a regular on the monthly driving road trips with the Viper Owners Gang in the Twin Cities area, was married to Ted Sr.'s daughter Joan. She died in 2017.
Mike and Joan started the Gresser concrete company in the basement of their home in the late 1960s. "Joan was the brains of the operation, and also the boss," he said.
The Gressers bought the property after Raceway Park shut down in Shakopee and built a facility there. Son Michael bought the company two decades ago and has upgraded a successful specialty concrete and masonry operation to enormously successful.
"Ted Krebsbach was the greatest father-in-law in the world," Gresser said. "If you gave him a job, he would be relentless to complete it.
"He had done everything for Cold Spring Granite, including some layout work. He was a detail guy, and the Notre Dame project … that required extreme detail."
The design imagined by Sheets was sent to Cold Spring on 10-foot sheets of paper. The company commandeered the gymnasium at the high school, St. Boniface, and laid out the sheets in sections.
Then, Krebsbach and his crew started matching the drawings to granite and stone, down to the smallest dash of color.
There would be 324 panels. Once approved by Sheets and his assistants, a panel would be fabricated at Cold Spring Granite and shipped by pallet to South Bend.
The mosaic would be 132 high and 65 feet wide. There were 81 materials. Cold Spring Granite used its quarries, but also found the precise granite and stone it required from around the world and 10 other states.
Krebsbach ordered the fabrications and then went to South Bend to oversee the installation. It's amazing that in the early '60s, the world-famous mural could be done at the cost at $200,000.
The new $8 million library opened for students in the fall of 1963. The $1 million cost of the entrance level was picked up by I.A. O'Shaughnessy, St. Paul's go-to contributor for Catholic education.
What's now the Hesburgh Library was dedicated on May 7, 1964. Among the guests was Ted Krebsbach Sr., a working man from Cold Spring.
It was not until 1968 when the first references to "Touchdown Jesus" started to appear in the media. Maybe it took four years because Irish fans saw no need to look upward for holy intervention when they already had the saintly figure of Ara Parseghian on the home sideline.
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