Editor's note: This piece originally was published on Dec. 21, 2003, as part of David Harding's "Everyday History" column in The World-Herald.
Like its namesake, John F. Kennedy College was destined for a brief but vivid existence.
Wahoo businessmen and boosters founded the private liberal arts school in 1965 and housed it on the campus of the defunct Luther Junior College.
Kennedy College primarily attracted male students until it decided to develop a sports program for women. Title IX had not yet given women's sports a shot in the arm, and Nebraska high schools didn't have competitive programs for girls in traditionally male sports like basketball.
So Kennedy College had to recruit elsewhere. Many of its female athletes came from Iowa, which already had high school teams for girls. Others came from New York and New Jersey, thanks to the recruiting efforts of Kennedy coaches like Bob Cerv, who had played for the New York Yankees.
The school attracted female athletes by offering scholarships, which were unheard of in women's sports during the 1960s. A basketball scholarship and the promise of a competitive game schedule were enough to bring Julienne Simpson out to Wahoo from Roselle Park, New Jersey, in 1970.
Simpson knew she wanted to attend a small college, but she didn't know what to expect from the sports program.
Looking back, she said, "I couldn't have landed any better – academically or athletically."
The proof is in the performance of Simpson and her teammates during their college careers. They had a season of team-building and making the transition from girls' basketball (with six players per team) to the five-woman college game that mirrored men's basketball.
Then they shot to the top of the AAU, competing with the best in women's basketball, which included teams affiliated with towns or companies. Notable among these were the Nashville Business College in Tennessee, Look Magazine's team in Des Moines, the Raytown Piperettes in Missouri and the Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist College in Texas.
Kennedy College won the AAU national championship in 1972 and 1973. Then they traveled to the People's Republic of China as guests of Mao Tse-Tung for a series of goodwill exhibition games in the summer of 1973. Six months later, they defeated the national teams of Canada, Mexico and Taiwan in an international tournament. Simpson was named Most Valuable Player of the tourney.
When her college career came to an end, Julienne Brazinski Simpson (she had married a fellow Kennedy student) might have assumed that her best days on the court were behind her. But she was invited to try out for the Pan-American Games in 1975, and during the next few years she competed in 11 international events.
Her hoop dreams came true when she played on the U.S. women's basketball team in the 1976 Olympics. It was the inaugural year for women's Olympic basketball. Brazinski Simpson was named co-captain of the team, which brought home a silver medal, losing the gold to the Russians.
Since then, Brazinski Simpson has coached college teams all over the country. She now lives in Pennsylvania, and she says she has no finer memories than those of her alma mater.
John F. Kennedy College hosted a remarkable athletic program for women at a time when collegiate women's sports were in their infancy. The school survived for just 10 years, but it managed to earn national championships in basketball and softball.
In fact, its softball coach is credited with starting the Women's College World Series, which Kennedy won for the first three years.
But that's a story for another season.
Want more of this? Check out Omaha.com/history for more stories from our state's fascinating past.