by Charles Reed
Before it was the Thompson Alumni Center, one of the few places on campus that can be considered iconic to UNO’s image, the plot of land on the west end of campus was owned by two Omaha families: the Storzes and the Shirleys.
On what would be considered the east-end of the current alumni center, a mansion was built in 1910 and purchased in 1917 by Mary and Adolph Storz. Mary was the daughter of supermarket mogul Edward Hayden and Adolph Storz was the son of famous Omaha brewer Gottlieb Storz.
Six decades after it was built Adolph Storz petitioned the city to rezone his property.
Initially, UNO’s Chi Omega sorority offered to purchase the property after it was rezoned but the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a whole purchased the property in 1970 despite the protests of West Omaha residents.
After its acquisition the building was officially renamed Annex 15 and began to be used as a home for UNO’s two radio stations: KVNO and KRNO. Also located in the building were the offices of the UNO Alumni Association.
According to Gateway reports, the situation was hardly beneficial for the organization; essentially offering them only office space rather than a location to hold formal gatherings.
In 1981, the Alumni Association purchased the home of Mary and Paul Shirley, a next-door neighbor to the Storz mansion; located just to the north. Renovations were completed on the new home by late the next year and its doors were opened to the public in October 1982.
The new home included a clubroom, sun room, reception parlor and patio to be used for alumni events – the most impressive element, however, was the back yard, filling one-quarter of an acre.
This setup worked swimmingly for five years until, in 1987, the Storz Mansion to the south was slated for demolition.
The building was eventually demolished on March 11, 1988 and by October of 1990, an official plan was put forward for using the Storz grounds to expand the Shirley House, now called the William H. Thompson Alumni Center after the father of Susan Buffett, wife of Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett – a UNO professor of psychology and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in the 1950s.
The center would, according to a Gateway issue quoting then-executive director of the UNO Alumni Association, Jim Leslie, "serve several purposes including information such as campus maps, sports, theater and fine arts tickets, making it easier for people to find their way around campus."
Actual construction on the $1.5 million addition began in August 1993 and was completed and dedicated just over a year later in September 1994. Adding 11,000 square feet to the house, the new Alumni Center was now a one-stop-shop for meetings, receptions, parties and even weddings.
As for the former location of the Storz mansion, it became an extended parking lot (Lot X) available for student parking year-round unless another scheduled event is taking place. However, during the summer, the home retains much of its original appeal, serving sometimes as a playground for children at the UNO Child Care Center.
And, most recently, in 2006, the building finally got it’s current name: The William H. and Dorothy Thompson Alumni Center after, adding William’s wife’s name to the center after a five-month construction project added the Centennial Hall, a 120-plus-guest banquet room, a renovated lobby, new LCD television screens and an extension of the center’s concourse.
In an issue of the UNO Alumni magazine, the construction project’s organizer, Al Thomsen, a 1957 graduate of Omaha University who had helped Leslie purchase the building in the 1970s, said that his "goal was to knock your socks off … I think it does just that."
So, while its particular role on campus may not have entered into the thought process of Leslie and Thomsen when the Alumni Association purchased the building, it is only appropriate that the “Front Door” to UNO have a home that used to be a home.
For almost 30 years the Alumni House and Alumni Center have provided support and facilities for hundreds of UNO and non-UNO-related events. As the one building that truly bookends the north campus, the William H. and Dorothy Thompson Alumni Center has fulfilled every role it was designed for and much more.
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