Car owners often know exactly when and where the odometer on their cherished auto rolls past the 100,000-mile mark; it’s a milestone worth noting… and celebrating.
Much rarer in today’s workplace is documenting the time and place your employment odometer passes 100,000 hours – the equivalent of nearly 48 years of service. It's an accomplishment few employees will ever see.
Terry Jacobsen watched the six digits come and go in September, on an otherwise routine day in the District 5 materials testing lab.
Most state employees view the “rule of 90” (age plus years of service) as a retirement plateau. Jacobsen left that junction long ago on his employment journey. He’s steadily creeping up on a combined 118 years, a point he will reach on the 48th anniversary of his hire date, April 14, 1959.
By state of Idaho measures, Jacobsen could have retired 14 years ago. But leaving the job he loves was not, and still is not, one of his highest aspirations. In fact, work is partly responsible (along with clean living) for continued excellent health.
“I’m so used to getting up and coming out here to work… I haven’t really thought about retiring. My father hammered a work ethic into me. I just keep thinking about that. I think working keeps me alive.
“(Work) gives me a sense or responsibility. It’s like a load on an engine… you have to have a load on it for it to run like it’s supposed to. I have to use my mind and it keeps my body in shape. I have as much energy today as I had 40 years ago, so I’ve never had an inclination to quit.”
Jacobsen exercises his mind away from the materials lab as well, counting among his hobbies the study of mathematics principles and casual reading of history from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, especially Roman history.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship between the mind and body… if your mind fails, it’s not too long before your body goes, and if your body goes your mind probably will start failing.”
For the record, he carries an accumulation of about 2,600 hours of sick leave and regularly donates annual leave to colleagues who need it more than he does.
Not bad for a guy who has no formal education beyond high school.
He began working for the transportation department as dust began to swirl on southeast Idaho interstate construction projects. Jacobsen’s early assignments included surveying, running section lines and staking pipes under the watchful eyes of Jim Welch. He was part of the early construction of Interstate 15 from the Utah border through Pocatello.
Among the I-15 segments Jacobsen experienced first-hand were Utah state line to Malad, Malad to Downey, Almo to Inkom, to Portneuf Gap and eventually to the Idaho State University exit in Pocatello.
“If I had it do over again, I would have tried quite a bit harder to reach the stature of (longtime ITD employees) Clayton Sullivan, Leif Erickson and Roy Jump. But I didn’t have as much schooling as it required.”
He eventually earned an engineering certificate through a correspondence school, and has spent the last half of his ITD career in the district’s materials lab where he tests plant mix to assure that it meets industry and state standards.
When he started surveying, the slide rule was the only instrument used for field calculations; “The pocket calculators were unheard of,” he admits. Slide rules allowed measurements to be rounded to the nearest tenth of an inch, which was sufficient. But the arrival of calculators extended the figures out several decimal places.
Pocket calculators were a major technological advancement.
He greeted other technology with less enthusiasm, however.
“It was something I resisted… myself and another old-hand. We felt we could get by without computers. But I was informed that this lab was going to become more and more computerized and that I needed to avail myself of computers.
“Now, once I’ve started entering things into a computer instead of entering everything into a log… well, I’d rather use the computer now.
“They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and it’s a little hard sometimes. I go with the flow and adjust to the changes. I’ve found a way to get around them, but as time moved on, it became more of an efficiency thing.”
While Jacobsen has acquired a wealth of knowledge and history about the transportation department, he owes part of that education to family members who share the same sir name… his fathers and uncles.
A downturn in the logging industry in the late ‘50s forced Jacobsen’s father Eldon to transplant his family to California. Terry finished his public education by graduating from Shore Acres High School. Eight months later, they returned to Idaho where Eldon landed a job with the transportation department. He worked on a special District 5 maintenance crew from 1957 to 1973, retiring after 16 years.
Eldon’s brother, Irvin (Terry’s uncle) worked for about 17 years in ITD’s District 2 maintenance section out of Orofino. His other uncle, Lloyd, worked in the District 5 maintenance shop for nearly 22 years, from about 1953 through 1965.
Terry has two daughters, Christy Kiggins of Pocatello, who earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from ISU, and Mary Anselmo, once an aspiring actress who held parts in 3rd Rock from the Sun and Martial Law on television and in the Disney movie Brink. She now works at a bank in Seattle.
He also has a 9-year-old grandson and 11-year-old granddaughter. The latter is a budding gymnast, which may prompt Jacobsen to add gymnastics meets to his leisure time pursuits. He’s already planning a trip to Nevada to watch her compete.
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Photo: Terry Jacobsen, left, received his 40-year watch during a 1996 ceremony.