A small, wooden Block O sits just beyond the wrought-iron gate leading to Dick and Connie Tressel's German Village home.
The sign, tucked in a bed of ivy along the brick walkway, is a subtle tribute to the dream that uprooted the couple from Minnesota and lured them back to Ohio, their native state. Leaving St. Paul for Columbus offered Dick, a longtime coach, and his wife, a photojournalist, a new perspective on the world of football at Ohio State University.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Dick said.
In 2000, Dick retired as head football coach at Hamline University in Minnesota, where he'd spent 23 years and also worked as athletics director. Meanwhile, his youngest brother, Jim, was settling into a new head coaching job at OSU and was seeking an advisor to monitor student athletes' academic work and community outreach.
Dick applied for and landed the job as associate director of football operations.
The timing was perfect. "It was at a transition in our life," Dick said. "I'd been a long ways from my brothers for a long time. All those things added up to a unique, special experience."
A decade later, Dick remains at OSU as running backs coach, and Connie works as the photographer for her brother-in-law's official website, www.CoachTressel.com.
"It's been a dream," Connie said.
Columbus was the Tressels' first big move without their sons, who are now grown with families of their own.
The boys-Mike, Ben and Luke-were born in three different states early in Dick's career as new coaching opportunities continually required relocating.
When they came to Central Ohio, Dick and Connie, both 62, knew they wanted to live near the city- "I haven't figured out the value of commuting time," Dick explained-and instantly liked German Village's walkable streets.
"We looked around a little bit in other areas, and kept getting drawn back here," Connie said.
After touring at least 15 houses, the Tressels settled on a renovated two-story with an open floor plan. The Italianate structure, built around 1870, came with plenty of historic touches: exposed brick walls, well-preserved woodwork and three wood-burning fireplaces.
Those details create a fitting backdrop for the Tressels' collections of American folk art (they own several paintings by Columbus artists Grandpa Smoky Brown and Levent Isik) and vintage treasures found during trips to flea markets and farm auctions.
"I really love finding the art in everyday objects," Connie said. "I'm an old art history major. We are both drawn to kind of primitive stuff."
The Tressels have personalized nearly every inch of their 2,300-square-foot home with thoughtfully placed accessories. Some are whimsical-a framed rendering of the Minnesota State Fair, a marionette souvenir from Greece-while others are nostalgic.
A mantle crafted from old barn beams serves as both a living-room centerpiece and remnant of the farm owned by Dick's grandfather. An old Army foot locker that belonged to Connie's father during World War II has a second life as an end table. Shelves and tabletops display black-and-white photos of children, weddings, grandchildren and other family milestones, most of them taken with Connie behind the lens.
Though he does value old things, Dick doesn't take much of the decorating credit.
"I'm very opinionated, but my style is whatever Connie chooses," he jokes.
During his little downtime from work, Dick said he's usually crafting something with his hands. Even while watching TV, he's not one to just sit idle. He makes intricately carved wooden picture frames inspired by the "tramp art" genre of the 1920s and is a self-taught bottle cap artist.
Dick's talents are behind one of the most eye-catching items in their home-a wooden arrow sign adorned with brightly-colored metal bottle caps. The sign dangles from the living room's wood ceiling beams and beckons visitors to explore the rest of the house.
"As you can see," Connie said, "we like to mix and match."