11:05 AM

Builders of Bellevue University-Bill Brooks

Builders of Bellevue University-William V. "Bill" Brooks

 By Bill Wax

As we celebrate Bellevue University’s 50th Anniversary, we take time to recognize a number of individuals and organizations that have helped to build the University into Nebraska’s largest private college or university. Bellevue University is celebrating its 50th Anniversary because of historic leaders like our very own Bill Brooks—founder and Builder of Bellevue University.

William V. “Bill” Brooks Saw a Need for College and Inspired the Community to Pursue It

Bill BrooksAfter returning home from a distinguished career as a Marine fighter pilot in the South Pacific during World War II, the late William V. “Bill” Brooks started several successful Bellevue-area businesses, including a gasoline and auto service station.

“A lot of local kids came to my place to find work,” Brooks recalled years later. “My theory was, you have to be pretty darn smart to work in a gasoline station, and if you are going to succeed, you need to go ahead and get your college education.” But with the exception of Omaha University, which offered some night classes, there weren’t many alternatives for local working students seeking to advance their education in the 1960s.

Brooks saw a need, which prompted him to do some research and float the idea of starting a new college in Bellevue and presented the idea at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s dinner meeting in June 1965. “I asked for five minutes, and the enthusiasm of the crowd in the Chamber was so great that I suppose I was up there talking 30 minutes,” Brooks said. “The business people said, ‘Boy, this would be a terrific thing for Bellevue! It fills a need that some of our kids could find beneficial.’”

Brooks Library Groundbreaking Bill Brooks, right, helps break ground for construction of the College’s Library in the early 1970s, Also pictured, Librarian Ruth Palmquist, foreground, and board member L. A. Campbell.

Brooks was one of five founding members of the Board of Directors of Bellevue College, which opened for classes in September 1966. In July 1967, Brooks himself became a member of the College’s first graduating class of 37 seniors. He had completed three years at Peru State College before the war interrupted his education and plans of becoming a teacher. So what better place to complete his education than the college he founded?

Bill and Jane 90s

The first few start-up years included daunting challenges of various kinds: financial, academic, personnel, developing a campus, getting accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Sometimes, Brooks acknowledged, it was worrisome, but he had no regrets. His wife, Jayne, once asked him, “Why did you ever do that? Why did you ever go down there (Chamber) and suggest we start a college?” He responded by citing the comment of another founder of the College, the late Leonard Lawrence, who said, “Had we been men of good sound judgment, we never would have done it.”

“But I guess we weren’t,” Brooks quipped, “so we did.”

At the time of his passing in 2010, Brooks was one of the last surviving American pilots of the Battle of Midway in June 1942. He is fondly remembered for his quiet strength and unwavering support, involvement and leadership in his community, and as a member of the Board of Directors for most of Bellevue University’s 50-year history. The citation accompanying the honorary Doctor of Laws degree he received from Bellevue College in 1985 begins, “It is a trait of true leaders that, even in the middle of their own daily affairs, they are sources of vision and ideals.”

The founding Board of Directors of Bellevue College

Founding Board Members
From left to right: William V. “Bill” Brooks, business entrepreneur; H.W. “Hugh” Campbell, President, Bank of Bellevue; L.A. Campbell, funeral director; John S. Reinhart, President, First National Bank of Bellevue; and Harold A. Smock, Executive Secretary, Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.