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Transcript of Interview with Michael Drakulich by Jane Finfrock, May 8, 1979






On May 8, 1979, Jane Finfrock interviewed Michael “Mike” Drakulich (born 1924 in Kimberly, NV) about his experiences growing up in Nevada. Drakulich mainly describes his career from graduating college to holding several teaching and coaching positions at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, positions which included professor, golf coach, and athletic director. He also discusses the growth of the university, important figures in sports coaching at the university, and the growth of Las Vegas in general.

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Michael Drakulich oral history interview, 1979 May 08. OH-00489. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich i An Interview with Michael Drakulich An Oral History Conducted by Jane Finfrock Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017 UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich iv Abstract On May 8, 1979, Jane Finfrock interviewed Michael “Mike” Drakulich (born 1924 in Kimberly, NV) about his experiences growing up in Nevada. Drakulich mainly describes his career from graduating college to holding several teaching and coaching positions at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, positions which included professor, golf coach, and athletic director. He also discusses the growth of the university, important figures in sports coaching at the university, and the growth of Las Vegas in general. UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 1 Please tell me your name, where you were born, why you (unintelligible). My name is Mike Drakulich. My present address is 2229 Siesta Avenue in Las Vegas. I was born in Kimberly, Nevada June the 15th, 1924. The reason we were in Nevada at that time that I was born, my folks were from Europe—both my mother and dad—and they came to this country in the early 1900s when they were allowing European people to come over here and work in the mines and the railroads, and some of the jobs were, they needed a real large workforce. At that time, one of the criteria for coming over here was the fact that you had to have someone here to be a sponsor, more or less. Now, my mother and dad came over at different times, and they met in Chicago. My dad worked in the steel mills in Chicago. From there, he proceeded to Pueblo, Colorado, where he worked in the steel mills in Pueblo. And then from there, he worked in the mines in Utah and then the mines in Nevada. So, our family actually came to Nevada because my dad was an underground miner. As far as our family history is concerned, we have nine in our family, and practically every one of them were born in Nevada, so you might say that we’re kind of a native Nevada family. As far as my education was concerned, I was educated in McGill, Nevada during my elementary school years, and we had the high school in Ely, which was known as White Pine County High School. At that beginning, they used to have a train that would haul the students from McGill to Ely, and then later they changed that to the busing system, which was approximately thirteen miles each way. As far as my college was concerned, I entered the University of Nevada before World War II, and I was in the Army during World War II, and when I got out of the Army, I went back, got my degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, and then I started teaching in Fallon, Nevada, where I remained for seven years. And then at this time, I was working on my master’s degree, which I earned shortly later afterwards. From Fallon, I decided to come to a larger high school. In other words, when I was at Fallon, we had UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 2 250 students, and our athletic teams, even though we played the competition and, as I look back at it now, we were quite competitive, but I felt that if I were going to remain in the coaching area that I should get to a bigger high school. And in 1955-56 school year, they opened up the second public high school in Las Vegas, which was Rancho. I made an application for the basketball job, head coaching job, which I was hired. So I remained at Rancho for three years, and then the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, at that time known as the Southern Regional Division of the University of Nevada, was just getting its start in athletics. This was in 1958, ’59; the university itself on a makeshift basis—I actually started two years before that. They had some classes at Las Vegas High School, and they had one year on this campus before I got here. In fact, right now, on our staff, I think there are about five people that were here before I was. I made application to become an assistant professor and head basketball coach and athletic director at the university, and I’ve been here, of course, ever since then, which is approximately twenty years ago. Now, some of the changes that I’ve seen I think I can talk about for years and years. But some of the big changes, first of all, as far as the actual physical part of the campus is concerned, we started with one building, which was Frazier Hall, and then the second building was Grant Hall, and we had some people on the Board of Regents who leaned a little toward athletics, and so we got the gymnasium before we got the library, and then immediately after that, we did get the library on the campus. Then, the social studies building, then the science technology building, and then of course after that, all the others. But when we started, we had 159 students on a part-time basis. That would be some of the evening classes, and, of course, we had many physical problems as far as the campus was concerned. If we had a rainy day like we had today, no one had to show up because they had a big drain ditch where you have the box theater here on Maryland Parkway, and in those days, no one could get across that. So, we didn’t UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 3 have to show up. In fact, we had a lot of days off, considering the fact that we did have a lot of rainy days. But was that, just went on for one year where it was (unintelligible) like that? No, it was—well, I’d say about our third of fourth year, they finally straightened it out, and actually a great big dip—when I say dip, I mean a big one. So, they straightened this out, which was something similar to what they have now, and of course, what they have now was installed, I’d say, about twelve, fifteen years ago. So, they took care of that—in fact, everything in the valley. In fact, I can recall it, Sahara Avenue, which was known as San Francisco Avenue at that time, was perhaps the outskirts of the city. When you came out south of that, you were actually out in the rural area, and you had a lot of problems. You might get stuck in the sand—they had dirt roads, and the valley, at that time, was considered—well, primarily was built up by people who homesteaded. They had the Homestead Act whereby you could get ten acres and supposedly make some changes. In fact, every now and then, you’ll probably see a little building on a little piece of land there. That was what they considered as the improvement of the land. So, many people capitalized on that. That’s all they had (unintelligible). As far as memberships and activities or any types of organizations, most of mine are associated with the university. Being in the college of education, I’m a member of the Phi Delta Kappa fraternity, which is actually an educational fraternity. And I belong to the Golf Coach Association of America, since I’ve been promoted to golf coach. And those are the main groups that I deal with. As far as some of the great things that happen on our campus, I think primarily the biggest thing that happened was when we had some people in town who had a lot of foresight, and they started a land bank for us. Now, a land bank, as far as I’m concerned, meant UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 4 that they purchased some land at a certain price at that time with us—well, actually the State of Nevada promising to purchase that land later at the price that they pursued at that time. Other words, they have an established price, even though the actual purchase would take place later, but we would buy it at the price that we cinched the land that we wanted. I think that was probably one of the greatest things, ‘cause you can see what’s happening now that if we had to pay today’s price for the property that we have here on the campus, I think that we’d be in a little difficulty. So that is probably the greatest thing that happened as far as this campus is concerned. How far, what property (unintelligible)? I’m not positive, but I think there’s approximately 300 and some acres total. In other words, we don’t go all the way to Tropicana, and we don’t go all the way to Paradise Road, but we do go to Maryland Parkway. In other words, some of the property west of us, some of the property south of us is not ours. It would be nice if we could’ve gone all the way to the corners of Tropicana and Paradise Road. But we still, I think, have quite a bit of property, and the way we’ve been developing, perhaps one of these years we will be using all that land for these additional buildings, depending on the growth of Las Vegas. One thing I wanted to go back and ask you was, you said you were the basketball coach here for a while? Yes, I was the first basketball coach and first athletic director. In fact, I quit basketball for, I think it was six years, and then I was also the first baseball coach, and now the athletic director for fifteen years now. In our department, we had two people, which was Mrs. Mason and myself, and we began when the university first began. Then I was succeeded but Ed Gregory, who was my assistant coach after four years, and then he was succeeded by Roland Todd, and then John Bayer, and then our current basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian. And in our baseball program, UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 5 succeeding me we Dr. Doring, and succeeding him was Fred Delmar. In fact, these are the only two sports we had for about six, seven years, and then we branched out into a men’s tennis team and a men’s golf team. And of course, you can see now, we probably have about twelve, thirteen sports, counting men and women’s activities. They had golf (unintelligible) they had football? Yes, well, I should get back—we did have golf and tennis, and we didn’t go into football until 1968, and at that time, Coach Bill Ireland was on the Reno campus, and so he came down there to be the first head football coach. And we proceeded to schedule, I think very wisely, we didn’t select any of the large schools; we selected some of the university colleges like St. Mary’s, Azusa Pacific, Cal Poly, and some of these schools that we felt that would perhaps be a good game, but we wouldn’t be hurt physically. And you can see what happened to the football program since then; we are now playing the very famous and nationally known universities and colleges, and so it looks like we came a long way in that area. Some of the other changes as far as the administrative—the academic, I should say—when we first started out, we were very limited in the selection for the students. In fact, some of our students would go here for two years and then they would go to another university and finish up. Many of them used to go to the University of Nevada, Reno and finish up. Of course, probably some of the greatest things have happened have been the fact that we do give a degree a master’s degree in so many different areas: history, political science, economics, business administration. But right now, it appears to me that we have selected an area that, if you want to make us real famous. In fact, when we do a lot of recruiting—I don’t know if this is a good comparison or not, but I know that many students are (unintelligible) in our hotel administration area. We have the best laboratory situation in the United States with all of these hotels and, consequently, these students are extremely interested. UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 6 Of course, this is perhaps a vested interest part, but I have some golfers who go through the hotel administration program, and they are able to work on these golf course in the pro shops because the hotels (unintelligible) that a golf course is an extremely important part of the total hotel operation. So, this is a real good situation, and I think that it’ll become more famous as we go along. It appears to me that we have a real good balance academically and athletically. I know that, over the years, as I look back at the relationship, I can see this, perhaps the athletic program is what it is because of our improvement in the academic area. We have parents who are extremely interested in what we have to offer, and I think because of that, that’s one of the areas, but because of some of these situations, we are able to recruit some good athletes, and we also feel that perhaps the athletic program is advertising the total university just by the nature of the activities, we get a lot of publicity and advertising that would be extremely costly if we had to pay for it ourselves—the university or the State of Nevada—but we have a natural situation, the wire service. So, they do throw our name around quite a bit, especially when you have a good team like Coach Tarkanian has in basketball, and Coach Knapp apparently has, that football program going in a very good direction. Coach Delmar is doing an excellent job in baseball. Coach Frinfrock is doing an excellent job in wrestling, Coach McDaniels—so you can see that we are getting a little publicity as far as our school is concerned in both areas: athletics, and we’re also known for the academic areas. We offer a doctorate degree in the College of Education; I think practically all the areas, there is at least a master’s degree. So, there is a good relationship, and we’re kinda hoping that the tail is not wagging the dog; I know that many academicians are quite concerned about this. And this has been a great concern of our faculty and our board of regents—the administration. UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 7 Okay. I was gonna ask you, too, about, do you remember, like, when the first casinos and things like that were being built, you know, what was people’s responses and everything, the gambling and that sort of thing? The first casinos—actually, about two or three were built before I am to Las Vegas. I came to Las Vegas in the fall of 1955. And they had already had some of the resort hotels in operation. One was—or, I think, perhaps the first one was the El Rancho. And when I got there at that time, they finished the Sahara. The Thunderbird was in operation. They were starting on the Riviera. I’m not sure what the other—the Flamingo, actually, the Flamingo was here when I got here. There was about four or five. And at the beginning, they were quite hesitant; in other words, it’s that same story that we hear year in and year out: “Las Vegas is overbuilt, they’ve got too many casinos, and they’ve got too many rooms,” and all of these things. But even in those days, there was that typical story; there was that, sort of a cautious approach, conservative, and people still couldn’t imagine that the things were going to develop the way they did. In fact, being a native Nevadan like myself, I perhaps was one of these people, ‘cause when you—I grew up in a situation where in the State of Nevada, we had 110,000 people and we have 110,000 square miles of land, which is one square mile per person. This was in 1942, ’43, and of course I couldn’t quite conceive the idea that perhaps one of these days it would be, maybe, half a million, and one of these years it’s gonna be perhaps a million people living here in the State of Nevada. So, things haven’t changed as far as some of the thoughts of the people. We still have some people who are claiming that we were big enough, that we shouldn’t get any bigger, ‘cause things are not as good as they used to be, but I think many people just realized that change is gonna take place regardless. As time marches on, I know that I finally decided that, and I’m not that type of conservative anymore. But it looks like the expansion is here in many things. Of UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 8 course, we don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen in the future, but it looks like some people who planned these things for Las Vegas had a lot of foresight, and good foresight, as far as I’m concerned. Okay, another question I was gonna ask you, if you remembered any of the, when the presidents visit here or (unintelligible) important people? Well, the one—of course, the latest ones, we’ve had Jimmy Carter and President Ford. As I recall, Nixon was here and before him President Kennedy was here. They just started visiting. Actually, they weren’t real (unintelligible). In other words, it was, I’d say, within maybe the last twenty years, we started having visitations. There weren’t too many (unintelligible) as I recall unless they were going through and perhaps (unintelligible). Within the last twenty years, of course, Las Vegas being what it is—and as I look back at the situation, it seems to me that some of them were still a little skeptical about being, perhaps, in an area such as Las Vegas. I don’t think that they totally accepted the fact that we had gambling. I think some shied away from the beginning, and finally, I think some realized that perhaps gambling was here to stay in the State of Nevada, and—I don’t know if I’m saying, if this is the right thing, but (unintelligible) wanted to chance on our image by being seen in a gambling state, or Las Vegas. Some would be in Reno (unintelligible) perhaps because they had to go to Reno to go to San Francisco. So, I think the image has changed. They finally—now, they’re not totally concerned that we’re the City of Sin because I think there are some other places that are worse, much worse, and they’ve accepted the fact that it’s not real damaging to come through Las Vegas perhaps than a night or two here. Okay, is there anything else you would like to say about the campus or the university, any stories you’d like to tell? UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 9 Of course, there are always some funny incidences, and one that, being in my area, athletics, that really strikes me as being funny: I can recall when we first opened our gymnasium, which now is the campus security office, and I think the (unintelligible) museum. (Unintelligible) But some of the things that happened—we really didn’t have a lot of roads, parking areas in the early days. And I can recall that, one night after we had a basketball game, one our Board of Regents—Archie Grant, who did an extremely good job, one of our great benefactors—but he had parked out in the desert, and quite late at night, and unfortunately, we won a basketball game. So (unintelligible), but here we are out there trying to push him out of the sand, which is in the area where the practice field is now, the old practice field. So, we had a lot of situations there with where people get stuck because they had so many areas of sand. And I think many time, that’s where we used to have some of the students, used to call it Tumbleweed Tech, because we didn’t have too many things to prevent the sand from blowing and the weeds showing up. But that is one of ‘em, and of course, perhaps one of the greatest things, as far as I’m concerned, was when we did have our first basketball game, it was during the Christmas holiday, and— What year? It was 1958, about December 28, I think, ’58. Now, many people had time off for the Christmas vacation, but there were so many things that we had to get ready for that (unintelligible) game. In fact, I think (unintelligible) game was against Palm Beach State or the Navy stationed in Long Beach. And the people took their time on their own to come back here just to make sure that we had a (unintelligible) as far as gymnasium was concerned. The janitors came back, worked for nothing, and faculty members were there for the ticket taking and so forth. But that’s really a UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 10 memorable thing—the cooperation and the southerly family spirit that we had in those days. Perhaps some amusing stories, I can’t think of several of them right now that I have in mind to discuss, but we’ll get, perhaps, a little later in our conversation, we’ll get back to those. Okay, some other things we could get back to would be your family or if you were married in Nevada (unintelligible). As far as my background, marriage-wise, I met my wife at the University of Nevada, Reno in a history class, and upon graduation, we were married in Reno. We have two daughters; one was graduated from the University of Nevada in Reno, she’s now living and working in Reno in advertising. My second daughter is a freshman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Both my daughters were born here in Las Vegas. So, you’ll see we sort of have a native Nevada background, and of course, we will hear people who will remark that there really aren’t too many native Nevadans. And as I told you before, I think the reason is because the State of Nevada, population-wise, has never had a great number of people. I mentioned about 110,000 people in 110,000 square miles—this was sort of a bragging point for us. I recall when I was in the service, I used to be able to tell these people, “Well, I’ve got a whole square mile for myself from where I come from.” And as far as Nevadans are concerned, I think that the characteristics of the Nevadans, or native Nevadans, are quite similar. [Recording cuts out, tape ends] Dr. Roske, as I sat here just listening to this tape, I realized that I have cut off about ten or fifteen minutes of Mr. Drakulich’s conversation—maybe not even that much. I never realized the tape had stopped, and I just realized it right now. He went on to further say that he would like to do another interview, if it was needed, and that he would probably be more well-informed the next time. I’m really sorry that I just did that, and I wanted to UNLV University Libraries Michael Drakulich 11 explain that the reason that I was doing this interview with Mr. Drakulich was because Myron Leavitt was unable to do the interview and that his house was not near as old as the project needed it to be. Thank you.