Jacques S. “Jack” Yeager Sr., Longtime Friend of UC Riverside, Constructed a Large Legacy

Yeager’s gifts to UCR significantly strengthened its engineering programs

Eugene and Jacques Yeager in an undated photo in Riverside.

By Jeanette Marantos

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Jacques S. “Jack” Yeager Sr., a quiet business leader whose construction company — and influence — helped build UC Riverside along with many of the major roads and housing developments of the Inland Empire, died today at the age of 94.

Yeager was a private person who gave few interviews, but the Riverside native and UC Berkeley alumnus spoke volumes in his active and generous support for UCR’s programs, particularly in engineering, and for the entire UC system, where he served on the Board of Regents from 1988 to 1994.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations to The Jacques S. Yeager, Sr. Endowed Chair in Bioengineering at UC Riverside. Services are set for 11 a.m. Friday, April 29 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Riverside, 3847 Terracina Dr.

His support for UCR started in 1953, when his family-owned company, the E.L. Yeager Construction Co., did the initial grading for the campus and poured the “C” on the side of Box Springs Mountain. In 2000, Yeager was named an inaugural UCR Laureate for cumulative giving to UCR, and in 2001 he received the Trustees Award for Extraordinary Service.

Yeager’s gifts to UCR significantly strengthened its engineering programs, including creation of the Jacques S. Yeager Sr. Endowed Chair in Bioengineering, the Jacques & Helen Hays Yeager Fund for the Center for Environmental Research & Technology (CE-CERT), and the Yeager Families Endowed Chair in CE-CERT.  Other support created the Yeager Family Foyer at the Anderson Graduate School of Management (AGSM) and benefitted the UCR Athletics Practice Center Fund.

He chaired the $8.5 million capital campaign for the Anderson Graduate School of Management and was co-chair of the $3.1 million capital campaign for the UCR/California Museum of Photography. He was an emeritus member of the UCR Foundation Board of Trustees, which he joined in June, 1977.  And in 2012, he and Marlan Bourns were named Fellows of the Bourns College of Engineering.

Yeager was born in 1921 to Ernest Louis (E.L.) and Leah Yeager, just two years after his father founded Yeager Construction in Riverside. He graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School and entered UC Berkeley in the fall of 1938, but left to serve as a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy Seabees, the frontline construction battalion. He was attached to a division that was deployed to various islands in the South Pacific where he helped build airports. In 1945 he returned to Berkeley to complete his civil engineering degree in 1947 and then returned home to the family business.

In 1948, he married fellow Berkeley alumnus Mary Barbara Gibbs, a Pasadena native who taught kindergarten in San Marino until she and Yeager were married and settled in Riverside.

Jacques and his two younger brothers, Richard and Ernest Eugene “Gene” Yeager took over the family business in 1952 and built it into one of the largest public works and private construction companies in the country. For instance, the company pushed Interstate 10 east of Palm Springs and turned the old Highway 91 into a major freeway, opening up a route to Corona and Orange County.

“Name the highway or interchange in the inland area, and chances are the company… either built a section of it, expanded it or paved a portion of it,” “The Press-Enterprise” reported on May 11, 2011, when Caltrans installed signs dedicating the Highway 60/Interstate 15 interchange near Ontario as the “E.L. Yeager interchange.”

As the company grew, it also became active in supporting federal, state and local lawmakers, and helped found the Monday Morning Group, a group of Riverside County business people who support economic growth and development.  The company and family were political backers of the county’s half-cent sales tax and Prop. 42, a state initiative to guarantee fuel taxes were spent on transportation projects, “The Press-Enterprise” reported.

“We backed all kinds of people because we wanted the best government we can get. If you didn’t have integrity in office, you could not grow and continue to be a good community,” Yeager, the company’s chairman, was quoted as saying in the May 11, 2011 article.

“You had to be very, very careful because you didn’t want to have collusion and you didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t above board….We needed to support our charities and our elected officials and our universities, but you have to be so careful (you’re) thanking people, but not buying people.”

Tragedy struck in 1979, when Yeager’s brother, Richard, and Richard’s wife, were killed in an automobile accident. The Yeagers, who already had five children, took over the care of their four orphaned nieces and nephews.  Then Mary Barbara Yeager died after a long battle with cancer in 1990.

Yeager and his surviving brother, Gene sold the business to its management group in 1995 (which was later purchased by the Swedish construction company Skanska in 2002) and that same year, Yeager remarried, to UCR alumna Helen Hays Yeager, (’89), adding her two children to his brood of nine.  Helen Hays Yeager died in October, 2009, and Gene, died the following September, drawing more than 700 people to his memorial service at the Cal Baptist Quad.

“I still admire all the things my brother did,” Jacques Yeager said at his service. “He was absolutely wonderful.”

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