Steve Grooms and his family have long known that Goldy Gopher is a bit of a fraud.
The buried truth is part of their family lore that surfaced yet again this week after a Star Tribune story documenting the tale of how Minnesota became known as the Gopher State.
In telling that story, rodent experts noted that the striped tails on the mascots for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Fair were dead giveaways that what U sports fans and fairgoers were seeing was no true Minnesota gopher.
Turns out, gophers don’t have stripes.
But Grooms said his father, George, didn’t know that when he was commissioned to draw the first Goldy Gopher mascot for the U. In fact, George Grooms, an artist working for Collegiate Manufacturing in Ames, Iowa, had no idea what a gopher looked like when the University of Minnesota asked him in the 1940s to draw the first official Goldy Gopher mascot.
“A lot of colleges at that time were asking for comic mascots to be designed,” Steve Grooms said.
The inspiration for his Goldy Gopher came when a small rodent scampered near his wife while they were stopped at a Minnesota wayside rest area. She fed it; he sketched it, said grandson Steve Kuhl, who was a U student in the 1990s when his grandfather recounted the story.
“He said: ‘That’s our gopher,’ ” Kuhl recalled.
Soon Goldy the Gopher was born — a furry, striped rodent with big ears, bucktooth grin and a Minnesota beanie atop its head.
Trouble was, it was a case of rodent misidentification.
Grooms eventually learned he had modeled the mascot after a chipmunk, not Minnesota’s native pocket gopher.
“He figured no harm, no foul,” Kuhl said. “This will be a fun family secret.”
Throughout the decades, Goldy has taken on new looks drawn by other artists.
In 1985, the grinning gopher took on a beefier, tough-guy look. But when fans balked, a more friendly-faced but still brawny Goldy returned.
No matter the look, the gopher mascot has served the university well, evoking school pride and spirit, stated a 2013 proclamation issued by then-Gov. Mark Dayton. In fact, Goldy Gopher was the National Mascot Champion at the 2011 and 2013 Universal Cheerleaders Association National Championships.
A statue honoring the U mascot eventually was erected near Coffman Memorial Union.
Today’s Goldy isn’t exactly what its original creator had in mind, Kuhl said.
“I don’t think he liked the new design of the gopher on steroids,” Kuhl said. “He just shrugged his shoulders.”