By Bill Wax
Builders of Bellevue University: Across the Years and Generations
The support of thousands of individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations has helped make Bellevue University Nebraska’s largest private college or university. As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary, we look at a few of the key individuals and organizations whose financial support helped make it happen. Known as a booster of the Bellevue, Nebraska, community, the late Hugh W. Campbell was a founder and long-time supporter of Bellevue University.
Hugh and Bonnie Campbell Boosted Bellevue and Bellevue University
Clay Center, Nebraska, native Hugh W. Campbell was among the first local business and community leaders who put their names, reputations and money on the line to launch Bellevue College. For three decades, he and his wife, Bonnie, were stalwart supporters of the College, which became Bellevue University in 1994. Their family has established a permanent scholarship fund at the University in their honor.
In 1966, Campbell and fellow members of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce went door-to-door in the community to raise start-up funding of $280,000 for the College. One of two bank presidents who served on the College’s founding Board of Directors, he was Board Treasurer from its shaky, sometimes insolvent, beginnings to an era of budget surpluses. In its early years, emergency Board meetings sometimes were necessary to resolve fiscal crises. “We had a rough time. If we had known what we knew later on, we never would have started it. We went through some really lean years,” Campbell said in a 1985 interview, looking back at the College’s first two decades.
Service was always a big part of Campbell’s life. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, receiving the Bronze Star Medal for “meritorious achievement as a Commanding Officer” during the Allied assault on Okinawa 1945. After the war, he returned to Nebraska and co-founded the Bank of Bellevue in 1951. He was known as a driving force and booster of education and economic development in Bellevue, a small, Omaha suburb of 15,000 when the College was founded. Today the population is more than 50,000. He was President of the Bellevue Industrial Foundation and served on the Bellevue City Council and the Bellevue Public Schools Board of Education.
He received the Bellevue Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “Boss of the Year Award” in 1960. In 1975, the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce awarded him the Chamber’s highest honor, the Harlan Lewis Memorial Award for Distinguished Service for “outstanding contributions to the Bellevue community.” He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Bellevue College in 1985 in recognition and gratitude for his efforts on behalf of the College and community. Campbell, who also served a term as Chairman of the Board of the College, remained an Emeritus Director until his death in 1996.
Hugh’s wife Bonnie was equally supportive of the University and community and the two quietly made an impact on both. The University’s Hugh and Bonnie Campbell Language Lab in the Dennis Learning Center is named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Campbell. Their son, Dr. Bart Campbell, and his wife, Audrey, of Nashville, Tennessee, and their son, Steve, and his wife, Claudia, of New Orleans, contributed to a permanent Hugh and Bonnie Campbell Memorial Scholarship Fund in their honor, to provide ongoing support for the University’s students. “My mother and father believed strongly in education and would be quite pleased with this endowment,” Bart Campbell said when the fund was established in 2010.
In summer 2016, after a long absence from the area, Steve and Claudia Campbell visited the Bellevue University campus during a family vacation. “We were both incredibly impressed not only by the physical growth that has occurred since we last saw the school but also by the tremendous breadth of course offerings and in the size of your student body,” Steve said. “It is impressive that the University now serves over 13,000 students each year, many of whom are first-generation college students. I truly believe that mom and dad would be amazed at what has been accomplished since their initial involvement in its founding in 1966!”