A man sits at a chair looking at a square glass panel wall with ivory white paper in his hand. Grainy walls and a checkerboard floor create a retro dynamic and a sign saying “Welcome to the Gene Eppley Library” is all located within plain view.
History of The Eugene Eppley Library
The history of the Eppley Administration Building, and before that the Gene Eppley Library, goes back even further than Ford’s visit.
In 1951, the Board of Regents at the time authorized an architect to draw up plans for the library in 1951.
The projected cost was $850,000. Eugene Eppley, a local hotel owner and philanthropist, paid the entire sum for UNO, allowing the regents to go forward with their plans to expand the university campus.
The gift was so generous that it allowed the Board of Regents to move on to other building projects. However, the reason that the library was constructed in the first place was because of expanding campus growth.
UNO, then known as the Municipal University of Omaha, was outgrowing its main building, which today is known as Arts and Sciences Hall. It contained almost everything that the university consisted of.
“The first library was on the second floor of the northeast wing of Arts and Sciences Hall,” said Les Valentine, an archivist at the Criss Library‘s Department of Archives and Special Collections. “The whole second floor of that wing was the library, study hall and the circulation desk and the reference material.”
Valentine also said that the books were located on the first floor of that same wing. Therefore, everything was already crowded in the first place.
There were some who opposed the expansion of the university, the Omaha World-Herald being one such opposing party. They wrote articles saying land and building expansion went against the student-centered beliefs of a municipal university.
Additions to The Eugene Eppley Library
The Eugene Eppley Library had a two-story structure and multiple additions that accumulated over time. The building was home to the library, Eugene Eppley Conference Center and the College of Adult Education.
In the early ‘60s, the Board of Regents made plans to expand the Eugene Eppley Library by adding an expansion of the building to the south and additional wings to the east and west.
The regents used a $290,000 donation from the Eppley Foundation to cover half the cost of the two additional wings. Using these funds, construction was finally completed in 1964.
During the 1968-1969 school year, an office annex was also added to the southeast corner of the Eppley Library. This was made possible due to the merger with the University of Nebraska system in 1968.
Gerald Ford’s Visit
The former president of the United States and Omaha native Gerald Ford visited The University of Nebraska at Omaha on Sept. 21, 1977.
During his visit, Ford spoke to students in what was formerly known as The Gene Eppley Conference Center, located in the south wing of what was then the Gene Eppley Library. Today, the building is known as the Eppley Administration building, but its past is rooted in several stories.
Valentine was one of the students in attendance that day.
“When I was in graduate school, I went to see Gerald Ford in the Conference Center,” Valentine said. “When Ford talked, graduate students were given just so many tickets per department.”
Valentine said the scarcity of tickets for the event was due to safety reasons because security had to keep watch over people sitting in the audience listening to the president.
Birth of The Eppley Administration Building
By the mid-70s, the school spent over $5 million on a new library, meaning the library would be transferred from the Eugene Eppley building to the new facility.
Around the same time, the university’s administration needs began to outgrow their space within the Arts and Sciences Hall, following a surge in admissions after World War II.
The Arts and Science Hall started to fill up with classrooms and academic department offices, and soon it became what it is today.
“The administration people moved from the Arts and Sciences Hall into the Eppley building and became the Eppley Administration Building,” Valentine said.