Gopher mascot designer dies

Goldy Gopher was born a chipmunk. That's because when George Grooms originally drafted the design in the 1940s that would become the University's mascot, he lived in Iowa, where there were no gophers.
By
  • Amy Olson
February 11, 1999

Goldy Gopher was born a chipmunk.
That's because when George Grooms originally drafted the design in the 1940s that would become the University's mascot, he lived in Iowa, where there were no gophers.
But University Bookstore manager Harold Smith must not have known what gophers looked like either. He approved the chipmunk design anyway, wrote Grooms' grandson, Steve Kuhl, in the Minnesota Alumni Association magazine in 1995.
Grooms died on Saturday of congestive heart failure in Wayzata, Minn. He was 83.
Grooms was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, where he studied art under one of Diego Rivera's students; one of Grooms' murals still graces the wall of a junior high school in Des Moines, Iowa, said his son Steve.
But Grooms got married and needed a job, so after he returned from the fighting in Asia during World War II, he joined Collegiate Manufacturing in Ames, Iowa, which designed sports merchandise, including pennants.
While Grooms worked there, he discovered he had a gift for three dimensional design.
"He was a master," Steve Grooms said, adding that his father created the company's market for mascot toys.
While he worked at the company, Grooms designed the first gopher mascot. At that time, many colleges were opting to use cartoon-like mascots and Grooms designed many of them. Steve Grooms said his father and another designer probably created a majority of the college mascots in the 1940s and '50s.
The gopher mascot was not actually named Goldy until the Alumni Association contracted an alumnus to redesign the mascot in 1979, said Chris Mayr, development officer in Carlson School of Management.
After Grooms left the Iowa business at 45, he started his own company called Animal Fair in the early 1960s in Wayzata. He hired six women who knew how to sew, and he became designer and president.
Paying attention to details, Grooms created stuffed animals with personality. Steve Grooms said his father enjoyed creating dogs because he was able to make them individual. He said his father often brought his working models home with him, and he and his sister, Nancy Edwards, would give him feedback.
One their favorites, a droopy-eyed Bassett hound Grooms named "Cheer Up," was the product of his father's dream of a sad-looking hound who told him to cheer up, Steve Grooms said. The toy became so popular that it was reproduced in several sizes.
Besides being a talented designer, Grooms was a gifted storyteller and outdoorsman. When his mother, Charmion, became ill, Steve Grooms said his father would keep constant vigil, often telling her stories at night to help her go to sleep.
Grooms is survived by his two children; a brother, Donald, of Centerville, Ohio; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at New Thought Church in Long Lake, Minn.

Comment Policy

The Minnesota Daily welcomes thoughtful discussion on all of our stories, but please keep comments civil and on-topic. Read our full guidelines here.
Minnesota Daily Serving the University of Minnesota Community since 1900