Four times a year, the Klee family’s kitchen in South Bend is transformed into a small cookie factory. Rick Klee, a Double Domer and former university tax director for 21 years, has long cared about Notre Dame.
Klee resided at Keenan Hall as an undergraduate student in accounting. He returned to serve the Knights as assistant rector while studying theology, a period in which he fondly remembers being involved in the very first Keenan review held in 1976.
Born to a couple who attended Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, Klee is the father of four children, all of whom attended one of the two schools.
Klee’s son Danny, who graduated from the Class of Notre Dame in 2008, has said his father is one of his heroes. Danny, now a college professor at Christ the King Catholic School, remembers the rough weeks in finals and midterms during his time as a theology student at Dillon Hall.
His dad would “come and drop cookies in what can be a tough week – a nice little lift during this time,” Danny said.
By this time, Klee had children and nephews in other dorms in Notre Dame, and he was baking nearly six dozen cookies for his family and friends. But over the past 17 years, Klee has expanded its business.
“Having worked in the tax department for 21 years, you don’t have a lot of interaction with students,” Klee said. “And so, it was kind of a way of feeling more part of the student community. “
So every year, including the two years since he retired, Klee has almost baked 150 cookies.
“When I started it was really simple,” Klee recalls. “I bought one of these round quaker oatmeal containers and would make oatmeal raisin cookies and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.”
Since then, selection cookies have evolved. Klee makes flavors like Texas sheet cakes, frozen chocolate, coconut joy, and specialty Christmas bark cookies that his wife Diane bakes.
He is constantly listening to comments and adapting; for example, he phased out peanut butter cookies a few years ago. He also improved the recipe for chocolate chip cookies.
“They’re really good because they contain a lot more butter than the original recipe,” Klee added.
With her kids no longer crammed into the finals at the library, Klee has found other ways to identify which students will be the lucky recipients of her pastries.
“Three of my four children have become teachers,” Klee said. Over time, they “identified the people here”.
Danny, now in his 12th year and teaching religion to Christ the King, said he keeps in touch with his students and their families, some of whom are “huge Notre Dame fans”.
Her sister Katie, who taught at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis for 8 years, did the same.
“We all love our dad doing this,” she said.
Katie, a 2012 Notre Dame graduate who transferred from Saint Mary’s to pursue a theological study, described the cookies as “melt in the mouth, soft and chewy.”
“Either way, they would last all of the mid-term and final weeks in the same perfect texture,” she added.
What Klee describes as a “labor of love” ends with collections held at the start of each final and mid-term week.
“Being a CPA [Certified Public Accountant], of course I had to sit down and try to come up with a rough estimate, ”Klee said. “So I think it’s somewhere between 500 and 550 dozen cookies in the past 17 years.”
Danny reflected on his father’s initiative to provide these baked goods to students.
“He has always been a generous donor,” he noted. “I think it’s really a combination of his generosity, his heart and his thoughtfulness.”