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Campus Closeup: Jim Robare

Jim Robare (Plant Operations) has an affinity for big machines at work and fast machines at play. As a heavy equipment operator at NMU, he drives a snowplow in the winter, a tractor mower that cuts a 15-foot swath in the summer and occasionally a backhoe. He previously operated bulldozers and excavators while employed by a local construction company.

 

In his spare time, Robare is a motorcycle enthusiast who owns a Harley Softail and travels to the annual Sturgis Rally in South Dakota (pictured below). He also used to build and race late-model stock cars, even competing against Mark Martin before the driver joined the NASCAR ranks.

 

“I raced for about five years,” Robare said. “I liked late models because they’re the fastest. But they’re also the most expensive.”

 

Despite his past penchant for acceleration, Robare said he has received only one speeding ticket. He takes it a bit slower on the job. Robare is responsible for plowing snow from the section of campus beginning at the four-way stop by Hedgcock and heading east toward the lake. That includes West and Spooner Halls, the University Center, Cohodas and the sports and recreation complex.

 

“The season started out pretty good, but it’s been very busy lately with 12-hour days and some weekends,” said Robare, who has worked at NMU for 22 years. “Five acres of snow comes off the Dome and has to be cleared, but the areas we put it are full, so we’ve had to find other places to move the snow. Aside from that, it’s really just traffic that’s the challenge—trying to plow around parked cars or when people are trying to come in and out of the lots while we’re there.”

During the summer months, Robare’s duties shift to the six outdoor athletic fields on campus: two near Lincoln Avenue and four behind the Superior Dome. He fertilizes, aerates, waters, mows and paints them. He also performs routine maintenance on the hundreds of irrigation heads scattered on the grass.

 

“I always played in the dirt as a kid, so this is along that same line. I like getting outdoors every day, whether it’s hot, cold, wet or dry. And the job is new and different every day. I have my own garage and my own equipment. It’s kind of like being my own boss because I know what I need to do and have the tools to do it.”

 

In his free time, Robare is an accomplished woodworker. He cuts up old cedar telephone poles and transforms them into sleek kayaks with sophisticated detailing. He also built a wooden paddleboard that garners many positive reviews from the younger set when they see him riding atop it on Lake Superior.

Robare makes furniture as well—primarily beds, but also tables—out of cedar and poplar. Despite his obvious skill and the impressive results of his labor, woodworking is strictly a hobby, not a side business.

 

A native of Marquette, Robare worked at the Empire mine right out of high school, but quickly grew weary of shift work. Unfortunately, he did not have a chance to drive the mine’s massive dump trucks before he left. His heavy equipment experience began with Oberstar construction, where he spent 13 years before joining NMU.

 

“I actually took a pay cut to come here, but it was nice to have more regular hours. I worked late into the night and weekends in construction. Here, we have some long days occasionally because of snow, but overall it’s pretty steady hours. That’s worth something to me.”

 

Robare has a son, Michael, who works at Pioneer Surgical in Marquette and a daughter, Natalie, who is an interior designer in Minneapolis.