More than 50 years ago, Upstate President Carlyle “Jake” Jacobsen PhD (1902-1974) began working on the creation of Upstate University Hospital in downtown Syracuse. As a seasoned college administrator, brain researcher and professor of medical psychology, “Jake” had impressive credentials for the job. But, in a 1964 interview at Columbia University, Jake credited his Minnesota childhood for giving him the real tools he needed.
Here’s what Jake said made him an adept hospital-builder:
1) Delivering newspapers.
As a boy, Jake had a paper route that included hospitals, and he delivering newspapers directly to patients. This early, close contact with the sick and injured gave Jake a deep appreciation for health care, and his ability to navigate hospital hallways prepared him to finesse the design of Upstate hospital’s physical plant.
2) Drawing maps.
In middle school, Jake created maps for his school district and remembers drawing the intricate streets and road patterns on drafting paper. Jake credits his art classes and map drawing for giving him the ability to “fight with the architects about what was wrong with what they were doing.”
3) Watching wheat.
Jake’s uncles were North Dakota farmers. He saw that, no matter how hard they worked, outside forces (mother nature, chiefly) left them with a sickly wheat crop three seasons out of four. Those were lean years for his uncles, and that was before they were hit by the Great Depression. According to Jake, observing their hardships helped mold his social philosophy—useful for a guy who’d someday lead a public hospital.
4) Running trains.
Jake was only 7 when he told his Dad, “I want to make an invention.” They got together and created a belt-driven, 6-volt generator that powered Jake’s toy train set.
Later, as a college kid who’d run out of money, Jake worked for the railroad. His boss saw he had a knack for the business, and encouraged Jake to make the railroad his career. (Jake chose to finish his education instead.)
Jake’s boyhood desire to create something new and his young man’s ability to understand a complex business prepared him well for his job at Upstate.
5) Learning Latin and selling trees.
During high school, Jake studied Latin, oratory and debate. After school, he worked at a dry goods store with a nursery. Days feeding his intellect and evenings shoveling dirt gave Jake, as he described it, the “diffuse interests” that made him good at his job as a hospital builder and university president.
6) Pulling taffy.
Jake’s summer job after high school was making taffy. It was hot and involved lots of precise steps — boiling sugar, kneading, twisting, cutting — and he did it all under the scrutiny of impatient customers. It was an early experience in navigating public perception.
7) Studying in public schools.
While Jake was on the faculty of several prestigious private universities – Yale, Harvard, Cornell – prior to joining Upstate, he attended public schools throughout his childhood and earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at a state school: the University of Minnesota.
“I have a strong feeling for public education, whether it is grade school, or on through a PhD,” he said in the 1964 interview.
Those strong feelings, and his own experiences as a public school kid, made Jake an ideal leader for the newly created State University of New York.
Special thanks to Patricia Numann MD for sharing Dr. Jacobsen’s personal papers with the hospital anniversary committee.