By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Bess Furman Armstrong Hall is more than a building.
It’s a place where University of Nebraska at Kearney students will come together to live, learn and lead.
“They’re going to make the memories of a lifetime in there, and that’s really special,” Chancellor Doug Kristensen said Thursday afternoon while standing outside the 41,000-square-foot residence hall.
Speaking to a crowd of students, staff, faculty and other guests, Kristensen called the university’s new sorority housing an “outstanding facility” that will allow the women of Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Alpha Xi Delta and Gamma Phi Beta to flourish at UNK and beyond.
“Our sororities have historically led in areas such as service, student government and academic achievement,” he said. “And with this new community space, those opportunities and those achievements are only going to get greater.”
Part of a $32.65 million housing project, Armstrong Hall opened in early January, ushering in a new era for Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) on campus. The 140-bed residence hall features dedicated housing pods, chapter rooms, lounges and study areas for each Panhellenic sorority, along with an outdoor patio and green space. There are flexible housing units designed to meet the chapters’ future needs, as well.
“This building is a major step up from where we were,” said Mackenzie Welsh, president of Alpha Omicron Pi and former president of the Panhellenic Council.
Previously, FSL students lived in University Residence North (URN) and University Residence South (URS), two residence halls on the west side of campus that continue to experience mechanical infrastructure issues. Those buildings have the highest annual maintenance and operating costs among UNK’s residence halls, and it would cost an estimated $37 million to make the repairs and improvements needed to keep them in use.
Now that they’re living in Armstrong Hall, students use words like incredible, beautiful, bright and spacious to describe their on-campus home.
“We’re really grateful and excited to be here,” Welsh said. “It’s so nice that UNK cares so much about the Greek community.”
Beyond the amazing amenities, Welsh believes the building “will serve as a place full of collaboration and community.”
“Friendships will be forged, memories will be made and traditions will be upheld,” she said during the dedication ceremony.
The junior from Papillion likes the layout and location of Armstrong Hall, which will promote unity by bringing the sororities closer together and encouraging members to connect with other students on campus. At URN and URS, students felt somewhat disconnected from the rest of campus and from each other, since the buildings’ design created a level of separation between chapters.
The new FSL housing gives students the “resources, opportunities and support they need to thrive both personally and socially,” according to Welsh.
“I have no doubt that Armstrong Hall will provide a positive environment for our Greek students to grow closer,” she said.
Armstrong Hall is located just east of the Nebraskan Student Union, giving residents easy access to campus events and activities, dining options, support staff and other resources. They’re also closer to the other residence halls, including the new fraternity housing.
Martin Hall reopened in January 2023 following a major renovation that transformed the nearly 70-year-old residence hall into a modern living space for UNK fraternity members. That building is directly south of Armstrong.
Together, they represent the “premier fraternity and sorority housing in the region,” Kristensen noted.
Student Body President Temo Molina said the housing project will enhance the student experience at UNK and create a more supportive environment for learning and personal development.
“Let’s remember that we’re here together for more than just a building,” he said. “Let’s remember our collective aspirations and the transformative power of education and community.”
As a member of the Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity, he’s particularly proud of another unique aspect of Armstrong Hall. Along with the Panhellenic sororities, the building also serves UNK’s multicultural chapters – Sigma Lambda Beta and the Sigma Lambda Gamma and Lambda Theta Nu sororities. They have their own chapter rooms and a shared lounge, giving them a permanent on-campus home for the first time.
“As we start a new era for Greek Life at UNK, let us reaffirm our commitment to upholding the values of scholarship, leadership and service that define our organizations,” Molina said. “Let us strive to foster an inclusive and supportive community that leaves every member feeling valued, empowered and respected.”
The new sorority housing is named after Bess Furman Armstrong, a Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney graduate who served as the first woman editor of The Antelope student newspaper. Furman Armstrong worked for the Associated Press and The New York Times, covering the White House during five presidential administrations, and she was the first woman to hold a top public affairs position with a cabinet agency – the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The Danbury native was inducted into the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame in 1975, six years after her death.
Kristensen called her a “true trailblazer” and inspiration for current and future UNK students.
“We think our UNK students can continue to be inspired, especially the women in these sororities, to value scholarship, service and sisterhood, and to become trailblazers, with Armstrong Hall as their home,” he said.