Richard Resch and his MIT crewmates didn’t know whether they could beat their Harvard counterparts, but had a message for their rivals from up the river in case the Tech boat did pull ahead.

“The night before the race, we made up tags to put on our backs,” he notes, “and they had just four letters: G-U-T-S.”

As it happened, the MIT team did beat Harvard. “We didn’t have much style, and the weather was lousy, but we gutted it out,” says Wisconsinite Resch, a 1961 graduate.

The episode was a highlight of his crew career. That career, in turn, was one of the things Resch liked best about MIT. Indeed, despite his never having observed an actual eight-man shell before he came east — “I would see them once in a while in the old newsreels they used to show in theaters,” he says — crew was what brought him to MIT.

A transfer applicant from a Midwestern college, he was accepted by two eastern schools with a technology focus: MIT, which offered crew, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which didn’t. A self-described watersports fanatic, Resch was sure he’d like crew: “It looked as though it would be a lot of fun.”

Fun it was — so much so he rowed throughout his MIT career. Moreover, once Resch went on to Harvard Business School, he served as part-time coach of the MIT freshman lightweight crew.

Now, Resch’s involvement with MIT crew has taken a new turn. He’s made a $1 million challenge contribution that will permit the hiring of four full-time freshman coaches. (Currently, such coaches are not only part-time but ineligible for benefits, making it tough to retain them.).

Resch, president and CEO of KI, a manufacturer of contract furniture and wall systems in Green Bay, says one aim was to help MIT upgrade the quality of its crew program. He also wanted to acknowledge what the Institute did for him: “I owe MIT a lot, both academically and for the crew experience.”

Jack Frailey, MIT Crew Alumni Association head, says a big benefit of Resch’s gift is that freshmen coaches will have the time to identify bright high school oarsmen and women who are drawn to MIT but unsure about its crew program. “We’ll now be able to encourage these high school competitors to come to MIT rather than choosing somewhere else,” he says.