By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The reply remains the same when friends ask Dick and Kathleen McKeen if they wintered in a warm, southern location.
“No, we don’t want to miss out on the winter sports at the University of Iowa,” Dick said.
Supporting the University of Iowa and its student-athletes has been a decades long labor of love for the McKeens. Dick turned 87-years-old on Oct. 18. Kathleen, who retired in 2018 as director of Iowa Cancer Registry in the College of Public Health, is 79.
“We want to do as much as we can,” Kathleen said. “As supporters, maybe we haven’t always been quite as generous as other folks, but we put a lot of labor into what we have done over the years.”
The McKeens were one of the first motor home tailgaters in 1974, parking west of Kinnick Stadium in a dirt area called Stadium Park, and a space previously home to several Quonset huts. The remainder of the weekend after home games was spent cleaning a muddy motor home. The McKeens were reminded of that memory after dining at Bump’s Restaurant at Finkbine Golf Course. Former University of Iowa athletics director Bump Elliott was a good friend; a photograph of Stadium Park hangs in the restaurant named after the legendary Hawkeye AD.
Dick lived in Chicago until he was 14. In 1948, his family moved to Mount Vernon, Iowa, where he graduated from Mount Vernon High School and Cornell College. Kathleen is from Williamsburg, Iowa. She began working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 1959 and became a ticket holder for football and men’s basketball.
“We always joke that Dick married me for my tickets,” Kathleen said. The couple was married in 1967.
Dick became hooked on college wrestling because he knew members of the 1947 Cornell College wrestling team that won NCAA and AAU national championships. In high school, he attended Iowa football games, paying 25 cents for a knothole ticket.
"We always joke that Dick married me for my tickets."Kathleen McKeen
After working a few years in Milwaukee, Dick returned to Iowa City and befriended Iowa head wrestling coach Dave McKuskey and assistant coach Gary Kurdelmeier. The McKeens have attended more than 20 of Iowa’s NCAA wrestling championships.
The McKeens have strong ties with the women’s basketball program. Dr. Christine Grant asked Dick to help recruit head coach Vivian Stringer from Cheyney State to Iowa City. Dick was the real estate agent for the Stringers, and he enjoyed monthly lunches with Bill Stringer.
That isn’t the only connection to women’s basketball. Kathleen’s niece is Jennie (Lillis) Baranczyk, who played basketball for the Hawkeyes from 2000-04. Baranczyk is now the head coach at Drake University.
“The women’s basketball program became close to us,” Kathleen said. “Dick became known as Uncle Dick to the players.”
Years ago, when University of Iowa postseason banquets arrived, Dick was curious why football was held in Davenport, wrestling in Manchester, and men’s basketball in Monticello. They were not in Iowa City because Johnson County didn’t have an I-Club. Dick and his brother, Paul, changed that. They recruited 23 others to form a board and soon hosted the popular I-Club Breakfast on the morning of every home football game. Guest speakers included Keith Jackson, Dick Vermeil and Wayne Duke.
Dick and Paul were named Hawk of the Year in 1975. The honor is an MVP or lifetime achievement award presented annually to the Hawkeye volunteer who has exhibited an exceptional level of loyalty, enthusiasm and generosity for Hawkeye athletics over a number of years. Johnson County was I-Club of the Year six times from 1978-2004, a recognition given to the chapter that has excelled in the conduct of its local events and shown an exceptional level of support to the Hawkeyes.
“We have had a great life being able to enjoy Iowa City and the university,” Dick said.