Historically speaking

Jacobetti: From miner to legislator

State Rep. Dominic Jacobetti is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Negaunee Historical Society)

NEGAUNEE — In this month of elections and Veterans Day, the Negaunee Historical Society is remembering longtime State Representative Dominic Jacobetti.

Dominic Jacobetti was born to Italian immigrants, Nick and Josephine Jacobetti, on July 20th 1920, in Negaunee. He graduated from the first graduating class of St. Paul High School and was the captain of the basketball team.

The son of Italian immigrant parents, he learned early in life the value of the work ethic. He began his career as a miner for the Athens Mining Company.

He worked for 16 years as a miner, working his way through the leadership ranks and becoming a labor leader of the United Steelworkers of America. Dominic did not have the advantage of a post-secondary education, but thought of his life experiences as his classroom.

Receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree from Northern Michigan University in 1984 was a monumental occasion because this cherished award was granted to him who did not have the advantage of a formal college education. Jacobetti was a business agent for the United steelworkers of America when he went into politics.

Jacobetti, was a Democratic politician and holds the record of the longest serving member of the Michigan House of Representatives, serving from 1955 until his death in 1994. He represented Michigan’s 108th and 109th districts. With term limits now in place, no one will ever serve longer than Jacobetti.

He had many nicknames, but those in Lansing weren’t apt to use them unless they were friends. He was, “The Godfather” we have a vest at the museum inscribed as such. He was known to most as “Jake” or “Dom.”

His fellow miners called him “Puga.” Jake never forgot where he came from, Jake notes that he was born on the other side of the tracks and has a soft spot for poor people and those who have a mental illness. Representative Jacobetti had a history of support for the veterans of Michigan as a result of problems he inherited when he was first elected to office.

At that time the Korean War had just ended but America still had troops in Korea. The average age of the World War l veteran was 60 years of age. The World War ll veterans were just getting readjusted to civilian life.

Jacobetti immediately went to work to help the veterans when he realized they were being treated like third class citizens. As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he was able to increase the budget for veterans. He spearheaded the drive to assist the passage of a bonus for Viet Nam veterans.

Jake supported the veterans in the Grand Rapids Veterans Facilty and he recognized that thousands of World War ll veterans residing in our state were reaching the age of 65 or more.

The fact that the Upper Peninsula had a greater percentage of veterans than most areas of the state, Jacobetti knew that current facilities would have to expand and new facilities opened to meet the needs of veterans. As in the case of many bills before the Legislature, Representative Jacobetti had a key role in the establishment of the veterans facility in Marquette which opened in 1981.

When it came to naming the facility, the board unanimously approved a resolution to name it the, D.J.Jacobetti Veterans Facility. In a tribute to Jacobetti, the Veterans of Foreign Wars had this to say, “A veteran to you was a special citizen, deserving of special consideration.”

Jacobetti was known for his work towards improving the life of his constituents. He made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of the Upper Peninsula. A champion of working men and women in the areas of mining, tourism, hospital services, development of wood products, his slogan was, “full dinner pails, not welfare checks.”

He fought for improving education with job programs at Northern Michigan University’s Jacobetti Skill Center. He was an advocate for preventing the dumping of nuclear waste in the Upper Peninsula, tax limitations, seat belt laws, insurance reform. He fought to make the Upper Peninsula the 51st state. It was through his long tenure as the head of the Appropriations Committee that he had the biggest impact.

This made Jacobetti a powerful politician. Some Detroiters thought Dominic believed that the southern border of the state was the Straits of Mackinac.

Though the population of the Upper Peninsula is low compared to the rest of the state, Jacobetti used his position to direct funding to the Upper Peninsula.One of these projects that drew attention was the Superior Dome.

It was his position and his influence that was pointed to when term limits were initiated. Jacobetti was stripped of his chairmanship after a scandal but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Jacobetti was re-elected to his 21st and final term in office in 1994. He died suddenly at his home in Negaunee, Nov. 28. 1994, at the age of 74, just weeks after election day.

Representative Jacobetti and his wife, Marie, had three children, Judith, Colin and Dominic Jr.


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