Jake 'never forgot who he was'

Lawrence Jacobsen's key to success as Nevada's longest-serving legislator was simple, his friends and colleagues say.

"What made Jake special was that he never forgot he was an ordinary person," said former Douglas County manager Bob Hadfield. "He never viewed himself as special in any way."

Hadfield, a member of the Minden Town Board, also worked with Jacobsen in his capacity as executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties.

"He was probably one of the most honorable people I ever met. He just cared about people. He would always take time even during the busy legislative session to see how the little guy was doing."

Jacobsen died Wednesday at his Minden home. He was 85.

Funeral services are pending.

"There was no finer human being you could find anywhere. He was a prince of a man," said outgoing Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick who served alongside Jacobsen for 12 years in the Nevada Legislature.

"I never knew him to have a single person not consider him a friend. He never made an enemy," Hettrick said. "He was an easy-going, friendly kind of guy. He didn't get angry, he sat back and took it all in."

Jacobsen's legislative record - a combination of 40 years in the Assembly and Senate - cannot be duplicated because of term limits.

"I hope they name the Legislative Building after him. It's too bad they didn't get it done before he passed away. He was instrumental in getting it built and then remodeled in 1995-97," Hettrick said.

Former Douglas County undersheriff and commissioner Bernie Curtis said his friendship with Lawrence and Betty Jacobsen dated to 1972.

"I really cared for this man. All of us did," Curtis said. "He was so strong in his backing of such decent issues. He supported all the right things for the right reasons."

Curtis said Jacobsen was as comfortable with prison inmates as he was with Nevada's governors and presidents of the United States whom he met on trips to Washington, D.C. or campaign swings through Nevada.

"He and Betty never lost the common touch," Curtis said. "They were comfortable with all spectrums of society."

Curtis said Jacobsen, who was born on the family ranch in Gardnerville on July, 1, 1921, was raised with a pioneer spirit.

"He was born in this Valley to hard work and strong, strong ethics and morality," Curtis said.

Even without the constraint of term limits, Curtis said no one would be able to duplicate Jacobsen's record and dedication to service.

"If he needed to get something done, he did it," Curtis said. "That included the National Guard, the prisons, Marlette Lake trout breeding, firefighters. His accomplishments are so numerous, it would take months to list.

"He was part of the 'greatest generation' and he proved it by his accomplishments. God did good work when he made Lawrence and Betty."

Jacobsen's death brought recognition at the national level from Nevada's representatives in Washington he'd known over the years from their careers at the state level.

Former U.S. senator and Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt called Jacobsen a "devoted public servant" and a "true hero."

Laxalt discussed his working relationship with Jacobsen reflecting the state legislator's skills.

"During the time that I was governor, Nevada and California decided to form the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency as a means to protect Lake Tahoe against over development," Laxalt recalled.

He said Jacobsen had "grave reservations" about the new agency's impact on private property.

"He deplored the idea of 'regional government' determining matters that he felt should be resolved in Douglas County," Laxalt said.

But, he said, Jacobsen made his views "crystal clear" in a gentlemanly fashion and the differences never became personal.

"Indeed, if there were more 'Jake' Jacobsens in politics today, there'd be a lot less acrimony and hostility," Laxalt said.

Chuck Fulkerson, retired executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, said Jacobsen was a great source of information during his tenure.

"I really appreciated his advice getting through the very convoluted paths of the Legislature," Fulkerson said.

Fulkerson, a Vietnam War veteran, said he could not imagine what Jacobsen endured during World War II.

"He came back as a very stalwart, shining example of what is the cornerstone of American democracy," Fulkerson said.

Friends and colleagues lauded Jacobsen for his military service. He lied about his age to enlist in Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"I think he just appreciated the fact that that he was alive," Hettrick said. "He loved life."

Fulkerson cited the Jacobsens' annual tradition of personally placing American flags on veterans' graves on patriotic holidays.

As a lawmaker, Jacobsen was instrumental in securing the veterans' cemeteries in Fernley and Las Vegas and the veterans' home in southern Nevada.

"What a great loss," Fulkerson said.

For Marlena Hellwinkel and her family, the Jacobsens were "across-the-street" neighbors for 50 years on Mono Avenue in Minden.

"We had lots of family ties. Our kids grew up together," she said. "We had lots of good times and very few tears. We couldn't have had better neighbors."

Jacobsen spoke at Don Hellwinkel's funeral in January.

"I think that was one of Lawrence's last public speaking appearances in the Valley," Marlena Hellwinkel said. "He was so spry and alert. I was so glad he could do that for Don."

Laxalt singled out Betty Jacobsen as her husband's "Rock of Gibraltar."

"I think he'd be the first to admit that much of what he accomplished - as a father and as a public servant - simply would not have been possible without Betty's constant presence," Laxalt said.

Hettrick recalled his family's introduction to Jacobsen in the early 1970s.

"My stepmom had her furnace break in the middle of the night and it was freezing. She called the company that delivered the oil. This guy shows up and he's crawling under the house in the middle of the night fixing the furnace.

"He introduced himself and ended up saying, 'I'm Sen. Jacobsen,'" Hettrick remembered. "He was just that kind of a person - a regular guy out doing his job."

Flags across the Carson Valley were lowered to half-staff in honor of Jacobsen.

Gov. Kenny Guinn ordered flags lowered at all state buildings to honor the long-time legislator.

"I don't think there was one person in this state more familiar with state buildings and state property than Jake," Hettrick said. "He knew virtually every piece of property the state owned."

His former colleague was known for speaking his mind even if it wasn't politically correct.

"People talk about those political missteps, but Jake was also loved for the fact that he was not politically correct," Hettrick said. "He said what he thought, but he didn't do it in a mean or vindictive way. It was just Jake."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment