Stumbling on a pot of gold: The Michiana roots of the Notre Dame Leprechaun

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (WNDU) - The leprechaun has been the official mascot of Notre Dame since the 1960s. Dressed in green and sporting a fierce look on its face, the leprechaun is one of the most notable college mascots in the country.

And the man behind its creation is a Michiana native with a spectacular portfolio.

"We could tell 10 people we have a collection of Ted Drake, and they’d have no idea who it is, but they’ve seen his work, even if he hasn’t been alive in a number of years," said Patrick McGuire, the curator of education at the Elkhart Country Historical Museum.

Behind every great drawing is an artist with a story.

"He was born in Goshen in 1907," McGuire said. "He had no formal training. One of the things we found interesting is in an interview, he said one of the first things he remembers drawing was an Irishman."

It was a small detail that would later play a big role in Drake’s life.

"In 1942, he enlists in the Navy, and that’s when his professional career takes off," McGuire said.

Drake began illustrating for the Navy’s newspaper, the Spindrift. He then began designing football programs, and then came the opportunity of a lifetime.

"When Notre Dame wanted to changeup their mascot, there was a person in the press box that thought of Drake," McGuire said.

The artist and lifelong Fighting Irish fan jumped at the chance and designed the famous Notre Dame Leprechaun.

It first appeared in the pocket schedule, but by 1964, it had graced the cover of Notre Dame’s football programs and Time Magazine.

"I was told he was only paid $50, and you think how many millions of dollars that’s made over time," McGuire said.

The Elkhart County Historical Museum has one of Drake’s early leprechaun sketches and his drawing of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.

Throughout his career, Drake remained in Elkhart and stayed close to the university that meant so much to him.

"He has his fingerprints all over that university," McGuire said.

The leprechaun isn't Drake's only popular mascot. He later designed the logo for the Chicago Bulls, which is still used to this day.

Drake died in 2000 at the age of 92, leaving behind a spectacular career and an imprint on the university he loved so much.

His is a presence that will never be forgotten.