Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault mural honors Heisman Trophy winner & native son Bruce Smith November 3, 2015

ATTEND A FOOTBALL GAME in Faribault, and you’ll cheer from Bruce Smith Field.

Peruse the Rice County Historical Society, a short distance from the football field, and you’ll discover an exhibit about Bruce Smith.

In mid-June, pop over to the Faribault Golf Club for the annual Bruce Smith Golf Classic.

Head downtown to Buckham Memorial Library and you’ll find a locally-produced DVD titled Bruce “Boo” Smith #54: 1941 Heisman trophy winner.

Faribault's newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Faribault’s newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Now Faribault has added one more item to its Bruce Smith list—a mural. Last Friday the Mural Society of Faribault installed a downtown mural honoring Smith, who won the 1941 Heisman Trophy for most outstanding college football player. He was the first Minnesotan to garner that prize from the Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters of America. Smith, a team captain and All-American halfback for the University of Minnesota Gophers, received the award on December 9, 1941, in New York City. That’s two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

After college, Smith would go on to serve his country as a Navy fighter pilot during WW II. He also played football with the Navy.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith, a nice addition to the mural.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith. Click on the image to enlarge.

While researching Smith, born in Faribault in 1920, I learned that he:

  •  played professional football for four years—for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
  •  starred in a 1942 Columbia Pictures movie about himself, Smith of Minnesota.
  •  nearly died of a ruptured kidney during a 1947 football game.
  •  retired from football at age 29.
  •  co-owned a sporting goods store in Northfield and worked in sales for a clothing store and a beer distributor. (Perhaps F-Town Brewing,  Faribault’s new craft brewery, could name a beer after him; makes marketing sense to me.)
  •  died of cancer in August 1967 at the age of 47.
  •  was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
  •  had his number, 54, retired by the Gophers, a first for the U.
The mural honors Faribault's most-renowned athlete.

The mural honors Faribault’s most-renowned athlete.

Probably the most interesting fact I uncovered is Smith’s 1978 nomination for sainthood in the Catholic church. A man of strong faith, he prayed before and after games and also ministered to young cancer patients. I find this nomination especially notable given today’s often less than saintly behavior among many football players. But from all accounts I’ve read, Smith was a wholesome hometown boy, much beloved by his community. And that, in my opinion, holds an honor as great as winning the Heisman Trophy.

The mural is tucked away on the back of an historic downtown building.

The mural, comprised of panels rather than painted directly onto brick, is displayed on the back of a flooring business.

FYI: The Bruce Smith mural is located on the back of Floors by Farmer at the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street Northwest in historic downtown Faribault. The latest mural joins murals of town founder Alexander Faribault (directly across from the Smith mural), Fleck’s Beer, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ice Skating on the Straight River, historic downtown Faribault overview and the annual Pet Parade. Faribault based Brushwork Signs designed, created and installed the murals.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling








18 Responses to “Faribault mural honors Heisman Trophy winner & native son Bruce Smith”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    That is a great looking mural. It is very nice when a community recognizes the people who have put it on the map, so to speak.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    “I find this nomination especially notable given today’s often less than saintly behavior among many football players.”

    Amen to that. There are still a few great role models but the “reality star” personna is becoming dominant.

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    Nice tribute mural. Mural Society – nice! I had no idea such a thing existed.

  4. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Great story! Athletes these days could learn a thing or two

  5. Littlesundog Says:

    Nice mural. We have several around here that tell stories of Native American culture, and a couple of early town history pieces. I often take visiting family to see the murals, and have folks stand as if they are a part of the mural (most murals are not up high but street level). It always makes for a fun time and great memories.

  6. Dee Bjork Says:

    A beautiful tribute to The Smith Family. We will enjoy it along with all the others that Dave does. His work is so beautiful and a gift to downtown Faribault.

  7. Don Says:

    Interesting, one of the 1st things I noticed from the mural is the head gear! From that of a leather head piece that I would assume offered little protection to full helmets made of advanced materials today!

  8. traci Says:

    I was born in Faribault, Minnesota and later returned to Minneapolis to UofM for several years in college. I have been devoted Gopher fan since late 70’s and looking for movie , Smith of Minnesota

    • Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault has a DVD about Bruce Smith. I’m not sure this is the one you are seeking, but you can check. Or some other library may have the movie. My other suggestion would be the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault.

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