Dr. Joyce Wilson Chronicled 20th Century Changes to Bellevue College Campus

Joyce WilsonOne of the most entertaining sessions of the March in-service day shared by the Bellevue University Library staff occurred when long-time art professor, Dr. Joyce Wilson, regaled the staff with her experiences compiling the history of the first forty years of our institution. Shortly after the year 2000, she was approached with the task of writing this chronicle, which she titled A History of Bellevue University: The First Forty Years (1966 – 2006). Dr. Wilson was a natural choice, as she had been a faculty member here since 1968.

During her research, in addition to combing the Bellevue Leader for source material, she put out an all-campus call to her colleagues. Many faculty, staff, and current and former Board of Directors members responded, and relics, photos, and print material kept arriving at her door. She also gathered oral statements from early board members and other professors who had been associated with Bellevue College/Bellevue University for decades. Once this data was gathered, the written/visual history began to take shape. Dr. Wilson was teaching seven courses at the time, therefore, the afternoons and evenings were the best time for her to work on the book.

Of the many aspects of her book, one of the most striking is how the Bellevue College campus buildings changed during its first forty years.

In the turbulent era of the mid-1960s, former World War II aviator Bill Brooks became a chief advocate and supporter of the idea to offer post-secondary education in Bellevue. During that decade, Brooks was a member of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and also a student at Omaha University (now UNO). Initially, a junior college was investigated, but support from the officials of Offutt Air Force base encouraged the founders to request permission for a four-year institution.  On November 26, 1965, Bellevue College was incorporated and chartered as a four-year institution by the State of Nebraska. (p. 22)

With the charter in hand, the search began for land and buildings. Real estate partners R. Joe Dennis and F. Hoyte Freeman were instrumental in suggesting the property on the corner of Galvin Road and Harvell Road. At the time, a vacant building owned by the Bellevue Industrial Foundation was on that property (p.35), a farm, and a branch of Millard Lumber. R. Joe Dennis was president of the Bellevue Industrial Foundation in the mid-1960s, and suggested that the building serve as the temporary initial home of Bellevue College. It served as the only edifice on campus until the fall of 1968, and included faculty and administrative offices, nine classrooms, a student lounge, and the library. The building was transformed into the Durham Administration Center with a total renovation that was completed in 1994.

A Quonset hut was transported from Fremont in 1968 to become the art studio, and remained in use until the Art department moved into the Humanities Center in 1993.

In 1969, a pre-fabricated building became the first Bellevue College gym (p. 80).  An addition was built with a major contribution from the Lozier family in 1979, and it was renamed the Gordon Lozier Physical Health Center. (p.116-117). In 2003, the gym was significantly renovated and renamed the Gordon Lozier Athletic Center (p. 278).

In 1971, the initial Student Union was built and named for history professor Dr. J.R. Johnson (p.155). The Richard D. Winchell Student Center (p.178-183) was dedicated in December, 1986.  It was extensively renovated and renamed the Margre H. Durham Student Center in 2004 (p. 237, 280).

The F. Hoyte Freeman Library moved from the initial 1966 building into its own space in 1974. In December 1983, a library addition named for Emma Lozier (one of the chief contributors) doubled the size of the Freeman Library (p.145-147). After extensive renovation, partially funded by the Dennis family, the new Library was reopened in September, 2002 (p. 281-282).

In 1978, the former Millard Lumber office was purchased, renovated, and became the A.C. Nelsen Science building in early 1979 (p. 209,132). It was totally renovated and renamed the A.C. Nelsen Technology Center in 1993; another renovation and new name occurred in 1999, when 12,000 square feet were added and the building became the Riley Technology Center (p.209, 235).

In 1981, the Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Humanities Center was built for classrooms and offices. (p.147-153); an addition was added in 1991; the Center was renovated in 2005 (p. 283).

In addJoyce's Bookition to a print copy that is held in the Bellevue University Library archives, Dr. Wilson’s treasure trove of facts and photos is also available online. The page numbers in this article are those that contain photos of the campus buildings as they appeared before the year 2000.

Those interested in discovering Bellevue College/Bellevue University’s heritage may want to begin an exploration of A History of Bellevue University: The First Forty Years (1966 – 2006) by comparing the aerial view of the campus in the 1970s on page 131 with the one from 2000 on page 239. Once that piques your interest, begin on page 18 and savor a highly enjoyable and informative trip through the years.

Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than BooksV. 19 No. 3, Summer 2016.

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