By Dan Truckey

The end of the Second World War in 1945 marked a turning point in American society and Northern Michigan College was no different. With a promise from the Federal Government of funding, millions of veterans took advantage of their “G.I. Bill” to pay for a collegiate education. Soon the small sleepy, college campus in North Marquette was growing and in need of new facilities and funding from the State of Michigan. 

Vetville, the married housing in the 1950sThe first initial step to alleviate the needs of housing were the new surplus Army barracks that were placed just west of the college’s educational complex.  These barracks were used to house veterans and their families who were not attending the college. The State of Michigan also contributed funds to build Carey Hall, Northern’s first women’s dormitory (since the first was sold in 1918) and a student union (Lee Hall). But this was just the first step in an expansion that would exceed anyone’s expectations a decade later.

Though Michigan’s economy boomed in the post-war era due to growth in manufacturing and the auto industry, funding for the state’s universities was not keeping up with demand. When Edgar L. Harden became Northern’s sixth president in 1956, he found himself battling with a state legislature. The Republicans in Lansing, who had dominated the body for years, not only refusing to increase annual outlays for universities but were pushing for cuts. The economic recession of 1953-54 had hurt Michigan’s employment rates and tax revenues. But at the same time, the growing populous of young people and veterans returning to civilian life after the Korean War only accentuated the need to pay for more instructors, services and facilities at universities.

Just before Harden came into office, there was a change in the state leadership, with Democrats Philip Rahoi (State Senator) and Dominic J. Jacobetti (State Representative) being elected to office. With Michigan’s economy growing, the State Legislature began to expand its funding but Northern still needed added support for its growth from its representatives in Lansing. 

Harden had a very ambitious plan for Northern. Where the previous president Henry Tape had been successful inLee Hall 1949 getting two dormitories, a student union and library built with state funds, Harden knew that demand for higher education was going to soar in the next decade. This was due to the “baby boom” that occurred with the end of WWII, and the huge numbers of young people that would soon be graduating from high schools across Michigan and the Midwest. 

President Tape had put in motion one of Northern’s biggest building projects, a new athletic facility, but the funding would not arrive until after Jacobetti and Rahoi were elected. In 1958, the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center (later dedicated to C.B. Hedgcock) opened on campus. For Jacobetti, a former high school basketball player and sports enthusiast, this was just the beginning of his role in expanding Northern’s athletic facilities. 

Though Jacobetti and Rahoi were great supporters of the U.P.’s colleges, neither of them had attended college. Both were blue collar workers and union men, who worked their way up through the rank and file into positions of power within labor. Both won their seats in Lansing with strong support from union workers and their families, frustrated with the dwindling opportunities in mining, logging, and manufacturing sector. Though both were not college educated, they saw the U.P.’s universities as a place to train the next generation of Yoopers looking for professional careers. In Jacobetti’s case, however, he also envisioned a university that offered vocational training as well.

President HardenWith Jacobetti and Rahoi’s support, Harden pushed quickly to expand Northern’s enrollment and facilities. He instituted a “right to try” policy that would greatly expand Northern’s student base (see section). In addition, the new Job Corps Center on campus brought many minority and 1st generation students to Northern, which would begin to shift its demographics. However, through the late 1950s and into the early 60s, the campus was struggling to accommodate the growing numbers of students in its dormitories and classrooms. 

In some dormitories there were three students to a small room and the need for new residence halls was urgent. The university built new dormitories, West and Gries Hall, to accommodate growth with the idea that room and board fees would pay off the structures. However, Northern’s growth was so big and fast, they were quickly overwhelmed and new dormitories had to be built.  Northern decided to build these new dormitories nearly a mile from the original campus to the northwest, knowing that there were plans to build new academic buildings in the land between. However, for several years in the 1960s, this new Quad 1 complex (Spalding, Grant, Payne and Halverson) was only connected to campus by a muddy track known as “Burma Road.” 

Quad 1 in 1978Still, Northern’s academic structures grew quickly during the 1960s, but unlike the dormitories and the university center, they would not generate the income necessary to pay off their cost. This is where the State of Michigan needed to step up and Jacobetti and Rahoi were at the forefront of this drive. For both of them, the expanding campus meant more than just training opportunities for students. Large construction projects meant union jobs for many laborers, some who had been displaced by the closing of mines across the Upper Peninsula. 

In 1963, the State of Michigan formally changed the name to Northern Michigan University, but even more important was the increase in appropriations won by Jacobetti and Rahoi in Lansing. It received $5,000,000 for self-liquidating projects (dorms and conference facilities) and $5,000,000 to complete the Thomas Fine Arts and Forest Roberts Theatre complex. There was also funds to begin developing what would become Luther West Science Building. 

The University Center in 1966By 1966, Harden’s tenure at Northern was nearing completion but he had accomplished so much during those ten years, including increasing the size of the student body nearly ten-fold and expanding the campus. At a testimonial dinner to Harden’s success by the Marquette Chamber of Commerce, Jacobetti presented Harden with the architectural plans for the planned Learning Resources Center that Jacobetti had helped get approved by the State legislature. Also at the event was the new State Senator for the district, Democrat Joe Mack, who would play a crucial role in supporting the university. Later that year, Northern would receive a record $15,000,000 from the State, to support new dormitories, finish building the University Center, West Science and the Learning Resources Center. 

Over the next 7 years, Northern’s annual appropriation from the State of Michigan would grow by over 50%, due in no small part to Dominic Jacobetti’s growing power in Lansing. In 1969, he was appointed to the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives and would serve as Vice-Chair and then was selected Chairman of the committee in 1975. He would hold this position for the next 17 years, which would coincide with several new projects at NMU.

Peter White Hall of Science & Kaye Hall before and after demo



One of the most challenging of these projects was the replacement of Kaye Hall, Peter White Science and the Lydia M. Olson Library with a new administration building. With the construction of West Science, the Instructional Facility (later named Jamrich Hall) and the Learning Resources Center, the university no longer needed these buildings to serve their original purpose.  What they needed was administrative offices for the university and the board of trustees and much of the administration felt that tearing those buildings down and building something new was the best idea. 

Yet there were many alumni and community members deeply frustrated by the idea of Northern tearing down such historic structures in favor of a new administration building. Though Jacobetti was the vice-chair of the Appropriations committee, Northern was not able to get the necessary funds from the State to renovate these buildings. However, the state would give funds for the building of a new structure. Though Jacobetti and Mack were receiving political pressure to save Kaye Hall, neither put much effort to find the funds to do so. The truth was that tearing down an existing structure and building a new one would create more jobs (union and labor) than a renovation of the current structure. This would bring more dollars into the community and, therefore, there was little impetus to save the buildings by the U.P.’s legislators. 

AThe new administration building during and after constructiont the same time, the university was looking to expand its health and physical education programs and recreational facilities. When Hedgecock Fieldhouse was built in 1958, Northern was a much smaller university and there simply were not enough facilities to house the athletic teams, competitions, physical education courses or general recreation. Jacobetti was able to get an earmark appropriation for a new facility that would be called the Physical Educational Instructional Facility. 

Jacobetti’s patronage of Northern extended far beyond the big ticket building projects.  During chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, he also earmarked funds for several operational improvements at Northern including funds for the Olympic Training Center, academic computing, nursing education, an industrial development incubator, heating plant operations and dozens of smaller projects.

With new academic classroom buildings, the PEIF, and the Cohodas Administration Building complete, Jacobetti set his sights on two different pet-projects. The first was the creation of a vocational skills center at NMU. Where his efforts had helped expand the facilities for athletics and academic departments, Jacobetti felt that they only served a portion of the populous in achieving their educational goals. Just as important to him was the development of education for trades such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and any number of vocational skills. The Marquette region lacked such an institution and so he worked with President John Jamrich to develop such a facility at NMU. In 1978, he was able to secure an appropriation for what would become the Jacobetti Vocational Skills Center. This center fulfilled many dreams for Jacobetti in that it created new opportunities for a region hurt by the downturn in mining.

United States Olympic Committee makes NMU Olympic Training siteJacobetti’s last act was his most audacious and controversial. Beginning in the 1960s, there was talk of Northern becoming an Olympic Training site. In addition, due to the region’s challenging weather patterns, there was discussion of building a large indoor stadium for football, basketball and other events. There were many reasons why it was a popular idea. Playing football outdoors in the early winter some felt was a liability for Northern’s ability to attract not only fans but also top talent. In addition, some longtime athletic supporters wanted Northern to make the jump to Division 1 football (like many of its opponents were doing) and felt the Dome would make that a reality.

Jacobetti latched onto the concept for the next decade and it became one of his biggest funding priorities for the university. President Jamrich did not necessarily agree and for many years, placed the idea of a “Dome” stadium at the bottom of his capitol projects list. Part of the reason that Jacobetti was a fan of the idea was because for years he had seen U.P. basketball and football teams travel long distances to play tournament games in lower Michigan. He felt that it should be only fair to have some of those games in the U.P. Hedgecock was already spilling over its capacity for the state tourney games that were played there and “Jake” felt a bigger stadium was key. However, he also knew that such a project would create a significant number of labor jobs for a few years and add a great deal to the region’s economy. 

State representative Dominic JacobettiThough there were many Wildcat supporters, alumni and community members who supported the idea, the project was not universally embraced. This is especially true in Lansing where many legislators saw no benefit to the project. Many in Lansing and the media saw it as pure vanity on Jacobetti’s part, and an egregious example of the power he held over the State’s coffers. Considering how much opposition there was, it is a testament to Jacobetti’s negotiation tactics that it became a reality. One example is the desire by some Southeastern Michigan legislators who wanted to expand the State’s subsidy of the Pontiac Silverdome. Jacobetti was not in favor of the subsidy and had become a brick wall to the funding. However, he inevitably supported the subsidy, but more than likely received support in Lansing for Northern’s dome in the process.

In the end, Jacobetti secured $21 million for the Dome project, which began construction in 1989 and opened in 1991. But after it was built, the battle was not over since the facility needed additional funding from the State to operate. Jacobetti was at the end of his tenure as the chair of appropriations but was successful in getting the necessary funds for the newly named “Superior Dome” to open and function properly. While there are many who questioned the logic behind the project, one cannot deny that the Dome has been an important addition to not only Northern but the Upper Peninsula in general. 

Jacobetti and Mack’s patronage of the Upper Peninsula’s communities, educational institutions and industry wasThe superior dome in construction instrumental in preparing the Upper Peninsula for the post-mining boom world. Their methods for achieving those goals in many ways reflected the Yooper character; fiercely independent, stubborn and tough, but ultimately with good cheer and humor. However, they both had very long terms in Lansing (Jacobetti – 39 years; Mack – 29 years), and became “poster children” for the movement towards term-limits in Lansing. After Jacobetti’s death in 1994, the U.P. lost much of its ability to raise funds on the same level it did during his time in Lansing, and there were even those in the State government who felt that Northern should receive less funds due to the disproportionate amount it received during his tenure. 

In the end, the long-term relationships that Northern has nurtured in Lansing have kept the State’s support for Northern’s budget and future plans on par with other universities. But the passage of Michigan’s Term Limit Ballot initiative in November 1992, has meant that there may never be the same kind of political patronage that the region saw with “Jake” and “Joe.”