Northwestern National Bank's Weatherball.
Obituary: Dick Stebbins, creative force behind Weatherball
- Article by: Paul Walsh
- Star Tribune
- August 20, 2013 - 9:32 PM
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.
When the orb was given to the fair, it was “in extreme disrepair,” Schuette said.
She said that fair officials looking into restoring it, which would have involved sandblasting and repainting all of the steel and replacing the fiberglass at a cost of $116,000.
“Being it was too costly to repair, we stored it in our [Department of Transportation] building on the fairgrounds from 1983 to 2000,” Schuette added. “ In 2000, we tore down the DOT building and asked the bank if they wanted the Weatherball back. Some bank marketing execs came out to the fairgrounds and decided they didn’t want it. Then, it went to sheet metal recycling, hazardous waste, etc.”
Stoller believes her father was unaware of the Weatherball’s destruction. “I’m glad he never knew that,” she said.
Richard H. Stebbins was born in Minneapolis in 1918 and graduated from Southwest High School. He enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., in 1937, put his education on hold to serve in the Navy and returned to marry Mildred Malmin in 1945 and graduate in 1946. He majored in speech at Gustavus, was Senate and Class president his senior year, and competed as a swimmer and gymnast.
Stebbins started his own financial ad agency after working at Northwestern National Bank. In 1980, the Stebbinses moved to Casper, Wyo., where continued his advertising career for Wells Fargo and then the Casper Star Tribune.
Dick and Mickey Stebbins moved back to the Twin Cities, and he started a career in real estate at age 81. After his wife died, Dick Stebbins moved in 2005 into the Lake Minnetonka Shores Presbyterian Home in Spring Park, where he logged thousands of volunteer hours, even past his 94th birthday.
“He was volunteering up till close to a year ago,” son Rich Stebbins said. “They knew him well there.”
Along with his wife, Stebbins also was preceded in death by his sister, Fran, and son Joel. Along with son Rich and daughter Cathryn, Stebbins is also survived by sons Jerry and Jeff. Funeral services are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Lake Minnetonka Shores Presbyterian Home, 4515 Shoreline Drive, Spring Park, with visitation starting one hour before.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
© 2013 Star Tribune