Campus Closeup: Dan Hakala
When one of the NMU buses needed replacing, Dan Hakala (Plant Operations), a bus driver since 1970, was well qualified to lend his expertise to the research stage of acquiring new transportation.
“There was more to it than just providing a ride; we needed a rolling billboard. It’s a key area of recruitment and it’s very hard to put a dollar figure on name recognition. And I like buses, I won’t deny that,” Hakala said.
The new coaches are bigger and more comfortable than the traditional big yellow school bus of elementary school days, Hakala said. The latest addition comes equipped with reclining seats, a climate-controlled interior and wireless Internet access so students can take their laptops on the road. The NMU logo is painted in green and gold on the side of the bus, transforming the bus into a recruiting tool on wheels. Hakala keeps campus literature stocked on board so he can distribute it everywhere he travels.
The bux takes athletics teams and campus organizations such as Upward Bound all over the upper Midwest. It goes as far as Erie, Pa. and northern Kentucky. When he started driving buses for Northern in March 1990, Hakala was gone every other weekend. Now he is gone almost every weekend, or for about 80 percent of the weekends from the end of August through March, he estimated.
“The job I am in at Northern is the job I had always hoped that I would get. I wanted to have something to do with their bussing if I could. When this position came along, no one inside was interested. I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” Hakala said.
In addition to driving buses, he does grounds maintenance on campus. His territory is from lot 11 off Tracy Street all the way to Hawley Street. This includes Magers Hall, the Services Building, Ripley Heating Plant and the Jacobetti Center. During the summer, he has two student assistants.
“I like to make my area look good and keep it well groomed. I like to be able to look back at the end of the day and know that we accomplished something and share that with my students,” Hakala said.
His duties include watering turf and repairing winter damage from plows and salt. He handles fertilizing, weed control, pesticides, irrigation, some tree transplanting and irrigation repair every spring. In the winter he assists with snow removal.
“I see the work we do in grounds as a selling aspect. With lots of parents and students coming to campus, what they see first when they come to campus is going to set their first physical impression of the university and much of that comes to us. Our job is to try to make that first physical experience a positive one,” Hakala said.
When he’s not working, he likes to travel with his wife, Mickey. They have been to Ireland, Mexico City, 48 states and Canada. He likes to camp and maintain flower beds at his own at home.
Hakala has cultivated a lifelong passion for the Boy Scouts. He has been involved for 47 years and is now running the Harvey troop. Hakala was the scoutmaster for some of his current scouts’ fathers.
“I have a creed and I try to teach this to the kids. First, I have a belief in God. The second is that I try to be a good husband. Thirdly, that some boy somewhere will be better off because he came this way. I try to live that every day of my life,” Hakala said.