The history (and future) of the Kiewit Fitness Center

Feb 22, 2024

Here's a tribute to a space that’s been helping to keep Creighton students healthy for nearly 50 years.

Featured Testimonial About Creighton University

Images of the KFC.

This facility will have a dynamic effect on campus life for the next 50 years.

Dan Offenburger Former Assistant Athletic Director
Rendering of the planned fitness area in the Kiewit Center.
Rendering of the planned fitness area in the Kiewit Center.

Do you have good stories about the KFC or the KFC pool? Share them with

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By Micah Mertes

Creighton is turning the former swimming pool in the Kiewit Fitness Center into a newly reimagined exercise space.

The renovations — expected to conclude by August — will nearly triple the square footage of exercise equipment space currently offered in the KFC. All Rasmussen Center equipment will soon be moved into the KFC, consolidating Creighton fitness into a single facility. (The Rasmussen Center will continue to host club sports, intramural teams and student groups.)

Since the KFC holds such a special place in so many Bluejays’ hearts — and since this year marks the 50th anniversary of its announcement — we thought it was time for a closer look at its history. What follows is a sort of overview/timeline about and tribute to a space that’s helped keep Creighton students healthy for half a century.

We also, by the way, did a deep dive (sorry) into the story of Creighton’s swimming pool and swim team. You can read that here.

Note: Everything that follows and all stories like this are only possible because of the great work of the University Archives and Special Collections department.

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The new gym

In 1974, Creighton announced the construction of a new multi-purpose athletic complex to be located between Kiewit and Swanson halls. This came shortly after the Omaha City Council voted to vacate California Street and give it to the University. The construction of the fitness center, University leaders said, would pave the way for an eventual campus Mall.

But it was going to do so much more than that, said the project’s mastermind, then-assistant athletic director Dan Offenburger. This complex was going to change the way students experienced Creighton.

“Sports functions, concerts and student gatherings of all types could be held in and around the complex,” Offenburger said. “This facility will have a dynamic effect on campus life for the next 50 years.”

Here’s the original architect’s sketch of the complex facing north. The dome concept, obviously, didn’t last long.

First rendering of the Kiewit Fitness Center.

At the time, Rev. Donald MacLean, SJ, vice president for academic affairs, said that student donations would be welcomed. “We will be glad to name the facility for any student donating a million dollars toward its completion,” Father MacLean joked.

Peter Kiewit shovels dirt at the fitness center groundbreaking.
Peter Kiewit shovels dirt at the fitness center groundbreaking.

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The Kiewit Physical Fitness Center

The following year, in 1975, philanthropists Evelyn and Peter Kiewit, then chair of the board of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Company, made a major gift toward the construction of the $4 million center.

The Kiewit Physical Fitness Center broke ground in the fall of 1975. At the ceremony, Peter Kiewit pointed to the surrounding buildings — Kiewit Hall, Swanson Hall, the Alumni Memorial Library, St. John’s Church. All these buildings, he said, are due to the “vision, talent and hard work of others. I hope this center helps make Creighton’s expectations continue to become realities.”

(This would be the second building on campus with the Kiewit name. Kiewit Hall opened as a women’s residence hall in 1966.)

Here’s what campus looked like ahead of the KFC’s groundbreaking.

Overhead shot of campus in 1974.

And here’s a Leo A. Daly Co. illustration of the KFC from 1975.

Rendering of the Kiewit Fitness Center.

Here are some images of the KFC in progress ...

The ground graded for the construction of the KFC.
KFC construction.
KFC under construction.
Fr. Carl Reinert, SJ, inspects the KFC construction. As president and fundraiser, Reinert oversaw one of Creighton's greatest periods of expansion.
Former President Rev. Carl Reinert, SJ — Creighton's great builder — inspects the KFC construction.

The KFC happened, in part, because of the results of a survey in which students and staff expressed their concerns that campus lacked spaces for physical education and recreation. When it opened in the fall of 1976, the Kiewit Fitness Center answered those concerns. And then some.

With the 110,000-square-foot KFC, students, faculty and staff now had a 25-meter swimming pool with six lanes, a nine-hole mini-golf putting green (in the pool area), an outdoor pool plaza, racquetball courts and a balcony overlooking five multipurpose courts surrounded by a three-lane running track. The fieldhouse’s vinyl-rubber floor alone took up a whole acre.

One of the KFC's earliest events was an indoor track meet.
One of the KFC's earliest events was an indoor track meet.

The KFC’s main purpose, the athletic department said, wasn’t intercollegiate sports but intramurals, campus recreation, physical education and a richer experience for any student wanting a great place to play some basketball or badminton or to just hang out.

At KFC’s Nov. 3, 1976, grand opening ceremony, ABC Sports commentator Keith Jackson joined Peter Kiewit and University leaders in celebrating the new facility. Here are Kiewit, Jackson and Creighton Student Board of Governors President David Helling unveiling the KFC sign.

Peter Kiewit in front of the sign ...

“We have an obligation to develop our bodies to preserve our health," Kiewit said at the dedication, "in order to carry out the plans our Heavenly Father has for us all.”

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A quick aside about the Creighton sign

Around the time of the KFC’s opening, the Omaha Neon Sign Co. installed eight-foot-tall letters spelling out Creighton University on the facility’s south side facing I-480. The sign, illuminated at night, ran nearly a city block long.

C of Creighton sign goes up.
Creighton sign
Creighton sign

The sign stayed up for another 25 years, replaced in 2001 with the new Creighton typeface. (Images below from Google Maps and Google Earth.)

Image of new Creighton sign.
Google earth view of Creighton campus.

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The KFC's first year

The KFC had a hectic first month. About 900 people were using the center every day. Intramural participation boomed. Female recreation activities, now with more dedicated space, rose significantly. Students used the space in ways the designers hadn’t anticipated. The putting green overlooking the swimming pool, for instance, was far more popular than anyone expected. The saunas were a top draw too.

How many college pools have putting course?
How many college pools have their own putting course?

Officials have also arranged for the KFC to be used by various community groups during the center’s slower times. In the first few months alone, 50 area schools reserved time. In the first few years, organizations such as the Uta Halee Girls Village, St. James Orphanage, NCAA-sponsored National Youth Sports Program and Nebraska Special Olympics used the center for special events.

Though the center was intended mostly for students’ recreational use, teams for intercollegiate sports like volleyball, tennis and eventually rowing and swimming (more about those two sports here) practiced and competed on the courts or in the pool.

The KFC also provided a much larger number of work-study jobs, from cleaning the pool to washing towels to converting the courts to different sports.

In its first year, the KFC was open 5,700 hours and served several hundred students every day. In a spring of ’77 survey, students voted the Kiewit Fitness Center the most popular place on campus. On the center’s first birthday, a group of students named it the No. 1 place to go on campus and presented to Peter Kiewit a really big cake — a 100-pound, six-layer replica of the Kiewit Center.

“I’ve known what to do with other things,” Kiewit told the students. “But I don’t know what to do with a cake this big.”

Ultimately, he sent it back to campus. Kiewit said that the KFC cake, like the KFC itself, should be enjoyed by the students.

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Scenes from the the KFC

Nothing says Kiewit Fitness Center like a bunch of students using the Kiewit Fitness Center. Here are a few dozen images from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s of basketball and volleyball games, tennis (and table tennis) matches and students running, lifting, stretching, leading youth sports, fencing, hanging out and making human pyramids, an annual Welcome Week pastime for freshmen. (You can also see students swimming here.)

volleyball right table tennis right

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The centennial photo

The KFC itself hasn’t been the only attraction over the past 48 years. The center’s lawn has hosted plenty of activities, too.

It was the location of the “Mob Shot of 1978,” an effort to celebrate the University’s 100th birthday with a group photo of the entire student body. A cropped version of the image (seen below) ran in the 1979 yearbook. If anyone has the full image, please send it to

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KFC connections

Not many people know this, but in the late 1970s, Creighton had some of the best martial artists in the country, and they practiced at the KFC. Coached by former Creighton parent Suk Ki Shin, a sixth-degree blackbelt, five Creighton students qualified for the Tae Kwan Do and judo national championships in 1978.

Carl Vinciquerra at the check-in desk of the KFC.
Carl Vinciquerra at the check-in desk of the KFC.

Another perk of the center has been the unique ways it's allowed students to connect with faculty and staff. Take philosophy professor Dr. Randolph Feezell. With the opening of the KFC, he started playing pickup basketball games with a few students, and they went on to form one of the University’s top-rated intramural teams: the Flying Burritos. In 1979, Feezell was believed to be the only faculty member playing in an intramural league.

Many students “sparred” with the man who worked the KFC’s front desk — former Olympian boxer and Creighton alumnus Carl Vinciquerra. When Vinciquerra was a Creighton student, he won 14 consecutive fights to qualify for the 1936 Berlin Olympics (hosted by Hitler’s Nazi party). Vinciquerra didn’t win any medals there, but he did befriend Jesse Owens.

For several years in the 1980s, Vinciquerra, then in his mid-60s, greeted thousands of students checking into the KFC.

“I enjoy it,” he said of his job in 1984. “I enjoy the kids. I have a lot of fun with them. They kid me and call me a weak old man. Then I beat them in arm wrestling, and they don’t say that anymore.”

(Read more about Vinciquerra here.)

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Pet peeves

Running on the KFC track.

Nothing’s perfect, of course, and over the course of the KFC’s existence, students have been known to express their frustrations from time to time.

In 1979, one student wrote to the Creightonian that the KFC track’s runners were getting shafted: “In addition to avoiding tennis balls and inconsiderate basketball players, we are now assaulted with stray volleyballs, softballs and baseballs. It’s ironic that the best conditioning sport of all is provided the poorest conditions in which to operate.”

(Author’s note/counterpoint: I’ve run on the KFC track hundreds of times and have never experienced a single problem.)

Another student provided three helpful tips for avoiding traffic collisions on the track:

1. Look before entering or leaving the track. Yes, that includes basketball players who seemingly regard runners as nonexistent.

2. Leave a lane for passing, preferably on the outside. This also includes not running three or four abreast, which makes it impossible to pass.

Weightlifting in the KFC.

3. People who are using the ever-popular Walkmans have to be extra careful since these boredom-relieving devices impair one’s sense of spatial awareness.

If runners and basketball players were sometimes at odds in the KFC, so too were swimmers and lifters. When the weight room moved to where the putting green used to be (next to the pool), the humid, chlorinated air caused the weights and exercise equipment to rust, requiring thousands of dollars in continual upgrades and restorations.

Eventually, the KFC expanded, lifters got a much better (and drier) weight room, and all was well.

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The ’80s

By the start of the new decade, the KFC had solidified its policies and purpose. The center’s five main areas of use were, in order of priority — general recreation, physical education, intramural sports, intercollegiate sports and outside community events. All areas were growing.

Five years in, the KFC was drawing 1,500 people per day, sometimes as many as 2,500 in the winter. That same year, as Creighton hit its 10th consecutive enrollment record, University leaders cited the recent campus improvements, specifically the KFC, as a prime factor.

In the early ’80s, the Bluejay ran a sort of advertorial for the KFC:

Aerobics in the KFC.

Flunked your last chem test? Don’t take it out on your roommate. Go to the Kiewit Fitness Center and vent your hostilities on the punching bag. Whatever your sport may be, the escape from books can do any student a world of good.

Creighton, like everywhere else, had been swept up in a national fitness craze, making the KFC even more popular. In the early ’80s …

An estimated 75% of students played intramural sports.

Hundreds of students signed up for the new aerobic dance classes in the center.

Cross-country runners used the track to stay fit in the off-season.

Creighton students (men and women both) spent a lot more time in the weight room, holding intramural weightlifting tournaments and inviting the Omaha community to take part in the annual Lift-a-thon, which raised money for the Special Olympics.  

Shooting hoops in the KFC.

From a Creightonian feature on the rise of KFC gym rats:

There are rats in the Kiewit Fitness Center: gym rats! Most average, healthy students use the gym for recreation and exercise. But there are packs of students who spend endless hours scurrying here and there … Whether it is the desire to work and sweat or to partake in social conversation or play games, these gym rats have unique desires and have found a place to fulfill them.

At least one KFC regular — accounting student Kevin Keegan, BSBA’87 — won a car because of the long hours he was putting in on the court.

In the ’80s, Tim O’Neill Chevrolet of Council Bluffs ran a contest during the half-times of every home Jays game. Fans, randomly selected, were given a chance to shoot a shot from half-court. If they made it, they won a new Chevy Cavalier.

Keegan practiced for the contest — mostly jokingly practiced — shooting only half-court shots at the KFC gym. His ironic preparation paid off. At a Creighton vs. Bradley game at the Civic, Keegan sunk the shot, got carried off the floor by his fellow student fans and soon went home with a new Cavalier.

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Three KFC events to close out the '80s

Jimmy Carter speaks in the KFC.

1987: Jimmy Carter comes to Creighton

We wrote quite a bit about his KFC event here.

1988: Guinness record attempted for the world’s longest sandwich

This was the plan:

A local Subway would donate $12,000 worth of the food so Creighton students could make the world’s longest sandwich — 1,600 feet of bread, 1,500 pounds of ham and turkey, 600 pounds of tomatoes, 600 pounds of onions, 500 pounds of lettuce and 300 pounds of cheese.  

The record attempt — originally set at and intended to celebrate the new Sports Complex — had to be moved inside due to bad weather. The only place big enough was, of course, the KFC.

Big as it was, the KFC still couldn’t fit the length of a 1,600-foot sandwich (which would have broken the record). Students had to settle for a 1,100-foot sub. Read the full story of the foiled world brea-cord here.

The Bug Stuff event in the KFC.

1989: The Bug Stuff

Here's a use for the KFC no one could have imagined.

The Bug Stuff — the annual charity event hosted by Sigma Phi Epsilon — had a simple premise. Someone drove a Volkswagen Bug onto the KFC floor, and different teams of students competed to see how many people they could fit into the Bug.

A team called "Hawaii and Friends" won the contest, stuffing a record 22 people into the car. The winning team explained their strategy:

“First, we tried to find the smallest people to stick in the car. We then stuck the guys in the back of the car since they would have to stay scrunched for the longest period of time, and we figured they could probably withstand the pain the best.”

Proceeds from the event went to the Red Cross relief fund for victims of the San Francisco earthquake.

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The Concerts

Image of Ipso Facto on KFC lawn.

Let’s take a short break from fitness (and Bug-stuffing) to talk about concerts.

Creighton has brought many national acts to campus over the years — from Nina Simone to George Carlin to the Violent Femmes. We’re planning a comprehensive history of concerts at Creighton to run on the site this summer, but in the meantime, here's a quick rundown of some of the biggest names who have played in that trusty makeshift entertainment arena, the Kiewit Fitness Center.

1989 and 1990: Ipso Facto

The reggae band performed on two different occasions at the Jamaican Jam in front of the KFC to hundreds of students.

1997: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-stars

Goo Goo Dolls headline in Creightonian

They played a three-and-a-half-hour show in the KFC.

1999: Goo Goo Dolls and New Radicals

The modern rock chart-toppers headlined the Spring Fling.

2000: Moby and Bush

The KFC was a stop on the MTV College Campus Invasion Tour, featuring Moby and Bush. Each played long sets.

2001: Vertical Horizon and Five for Fighting

The bands’ website tour schedules accidentally spoiled Creighton’s official announcement of the 2001 Spring Fling lineup.

2002: Ben Folds

Little-known fact about the KFC: Ben Folds once made a vegetable smoothie in the men’s locker room. For the concert, the locker room had been converted into Mr. Folds’ dressing room, where he prepared a spread of carrots, eggplants, alfalfa and bottled water. Eating vegetables makes a big difference on tour, Folds told the Creightonian. “I like things I can juice real quickly.”

Black Eyed Peas

2003: Cake

The band and its guests played the KFC for four hours. The lead singer and trumpeter of Cake commended Creighton’s hospitality and the surprisingly good acoustics provided by the KFC’s vinyl floor.

2004: Black Eyed Peas

One of Creighton’s first Fallapalooza concerts brought Fergie and to the gym.

2008: Third Eye Blind

The ’90s sensation drew great reviews from students.

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The new KFC

As Creighton grew, so too did the KFC.

In 1992, the University announced a $4.5 million renovation that included the elevation of basketball hoops, repair of the floor and roof, update of the locker rooms and a new whirlpool. Also planned were an elevated jogging track, a new weight room, a new aerobics mat fitness room and a new entryway. Meanwhile, another new fitness craze in the mid-’90s led to the addition of better exercise equipment.

In 1997, the KFC grew another 18,000 feet with the addition of the new and improved entryway near Swanson Hall.

In 2002, the center got a new state-of-the-art floor cushioned to prevent injuries to knees and ankles, the most common problems associated with the old floor. The new running track, meanwhile, was made of shock-absorbing mondo rubber. 

Further upgrades followed. Change is a constant with the KFC. In its near-50-year history, the KFC has remained ever in flux, each update ensuring that one of Creighton’s most popular buildings remains as good as new.

The Kiewit Fitness Center remains at the heart of campus life today. In addition to serving hundreds of students, faculty and staff, the center regularly hosts such events as athletic camps, Baccalaureate Mass, the President's Luncheon and, of course, Welcome Week.

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Sink or swim

The history of the KFC pool and Creighton’s intercollegiate swim program deserved its own story. Read it here.

Do you have good stories about the KFC or the KFC pool? Share them with