Obituary: Dick Stebbins, creative force behind Weatherball

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2013 - 9:32 PM

The color-changing orb was one of downtown Minneapolis’ most iconic images for decades.

Dick Stebbins

 

It was a storm -- a brainstorm, more accurately -- from Dick Stebbins that contributed to the creation of one of downtown Minneapolis’ most endearing and enduring images.

The Weatherball stood atop the Northwestern National Bank Building on Marquette Avenue and from 1949 to 1982 glowed a specific color depending on climate conditions.

Stebbins, who while working for the bank in public relations was among a handful who dreamed up the idea for the chameleon-esque orb, died of natural causes on Aug. 10 at Lake Minnetonka Shores Presbyterian Home in Spring Park. He was 95.

Stebbins’ daughter, Cathryn Stoller, said, “My dad wrote the jingle, and I grew up singing the jingle. He took us there all the time, and we got to go up and see the Weatherball.”

When the Weatherball is white,

Colder weather is in sight.

When the Weatherball is red,

Warmer weather is ahead.

When the Weatherball is green,

No change in weather is foreseen.

When it blinks by night or day,

Precipitation’s on the way!

Stoller said the 78-ton structure, which added 12 stories of height to the 17-story building, was “such an iconic figure. My dad never lost his notoriety. That’s the first thing people would say to him.”

By the early 1980s, the attention-grabbing tower had proved so popular for what is now Wells Fargo that bank officials added versions of the Weatherball to more than 30 branches in the Twin Cities area.

But as Northwest became Norwest in the early 1980s, a bank spokesman said at the time that the Weatherball “would be a hindrance to achieving a common identity” as variously named divisions came under a single name.

The ball, having ceased to operate after a huge fire in the building on Thanksgiving Day 1982 and aging none too gracefully, was lowered and given to the State Fair in early 1983 in the hopes of it being refurbished.

Fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette said this week that she consistently fields questions about the Weatherball, “more frequently than you’d think” and then outlined its eventual destruction.

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