University of Nebraska at Omaha, the title of a new book in Arcadia Publishing’s “Campus History Series,” gives a snapshot of the school’s nearly 100-year life.
Holder of UNO’s Martin Chair in History, Oliver Pollak wrote the text for the photo-rich work. He’s taught there since 1974 and authored two previous Arcadia books. Selecting the 200-some images that illustrate the volume’s 128 pages largely fell to Les Valentine, a UNO grad who’s served as the library archivist since 1986. The project marked the first collaboration for these old acquaintances. “We’ve both been at UNO for years and years and years,” Valentine said, “and we have a good background on the history of the institution.”
Pollak regards the cover image of a 1971 campus life scene the “iconic vision” of UNO. It pictures a diverse group of students gathered for a concert outside Arts and Sciences Hall — the then-administration building. “It’s students spread out on the green, it’s 1971, it’s music, it’s diversity, it’s an urban university, it’s a school on a hill, it’s springtime. It was just a natural,” he said.
Valentine said the background cover image, composed of smiling student faces, documents a significant aspect of the school’s past. The picture is from a 1951 mill levy election victory party. In its municipal era, from 1938 to 1968, funding hikes were at the whim of city voters. Often as not, elections went against then-Omaha University. Some students actively campaigned in these elections.
The book charts the milestone events in UNO’s history, including the school’s 1938 move from its original north Omaha site to the current main campus and the move from the municipal model into the NU system. Just as the transition from municipal to state funding opened new horizons, the university’s severing of its Presbyterian Church ties ushered in new growth.
UNO’s latest sea changes, the authors say, include the addition of dormitories, the development of the south campus and the embrace of information technology. Pollak said the way UNO adapts to its times “is like a breeder-reactor.” Amid “some hiccups, some burps, some setbacks,” its growth is “positively relentless.”
The book abounds with depictions of university life, from classes, parades, athletic contests and commencements to ground-breaking ceremonies to visiting dignitaries to student protests to class and team photos to walks in Elmwood Park. Even life in those awful annexes/Quonset huts.
Valentine expects the book to appeal to a wide readership.
“Certainly people in Omaha should enjoy the book. It was their institution, for years and years and years, and in fact it’s still their institution,” he said. “We kind of grew up along with the city in many ways.” ,
University of Nebraska at Omaha by Oliver Pollack and Les Valentine (Arcadia Publishing: April 30, 2007), 128 pages. Available at www.arcadiapublishing.com.