Rock of Ages

by Joe Tougas

The stone football

The 27-pound Vetter Stone football that was presented to the Minnesota Vikings during an evening practice on Aug. 1.

Blakeslee Stadium was filled with Vikings fans eager see the team’s evening practice on Saturday, Aug. 1—much as it is every summer during training camp.

But there was something special in the air that night, because the practice was (wait for it) kicked-off with a special presentation commemorating 50 years of Vikings training camp at Minnesota State Mankato.

Two mayors, several business leaders, President Richard Davenport and others were on hand to briefly but formally thank the Vikings and celebrate the milestone. And what better way to honor such a significant anniversary than with a 27-pound football carved from limestone that was quarried by Vetter Stone, a century-old Mankato company headed today by Minnesota State Mankato alum Ron Vetter.

Vetter, who stood with Eric Anderson and Mark Dehen (the mayors of Mankato and North Mankato, respectively), President Davenport and Greater Mankato Growth President Jonathan Zierdt at the presentation, was struck by how much the Vikings mean to so many—and by how long that’s been the case.

“That stadium was really full,” he says. “It’s really neat to see something bringing the community together.”

The stone sculpture’s journey began with a suggestion by Jo Bailey of Radio Mankato that a commemorative football be carved for the team. Vetter knew just the guy to be in charge of that—fellow Minnesota State Mankato alum Dale Schaffer.

Schaffer, in his 19th year as a Vetter employee, ordinarily puts the design flourishes and finishing touches on Vetter Stone projects, such as limestone arches or columns. You can see his work at the historic post office in downtown Mankato, for example.

Not a lot of artistic sculpting takes place in Schaffer’s daily work, as the company’s main product is stone for building and architecture. But once in a while, a request comes in for him

to take on. He had, in fact, just finished up a sculpture of a dolphin doing a tail walk atop a stone block—a piece that was to be displayed by a firm attending the convention for the American Institute of Architects.

“So I just got done with that and I was all primed for doing more sculptures,” Schaffer says.

Schaffer’s interest in using stone to express artistic ideas began after spending 20 years in ministry. “I was looking for something to do that was pretty direct, and there’s nothing more direct than a hammer and chisel in your hands. That’s the part I enjoyed,” he says. “Stone is one of the longest-running professions in the world. If you look at history, well, stone and history are probably the same thing.”

The football sculpture began with some general cutting and shaping by the company’s computer-guided cutters. Then, using a coworker’s regulation NFL football as a model, he carved it down.

“It’s the same kind of thing they’ve been doing for centuries with stone,” Schaffer says. “You come with an outline and you use your models to work against so you know you’re getting in the realm of the depth you want to be in, that kind of thing.”

Schaffer’s goals were to make sure the piece was regulation sized and that it didn’t look like it was carved by a computer. In other words, too perfect.

“I didn’t want it to look like it had been done on a machine—so totally perfect it looks a little fake,” he explains. “I tried to work a little bit of artistry into it. I think I gave it a little bit of wear, like a used ball.

“It came out pretty good.”