‘Melt-in-your-mouth, soft and chewy’: Rick Klee bakes cookies for students during finals week
Isa Sheikh | Monday, December 6, 2021
Four times a year, the Klee family’s South Bend kitchen turns into a small cookie-making factory. Rick Klee, a Double Domer and the University’s former tax director for 21 years, has long cared about Notre Dame.
Klee was a resident in Keenan Hall as an undergraduate studying accounting. He returned to serve the Knights as an assistant rector while studying theology, a time during which he fondly recalls being involved in the first-ever Keenan Revue held in 1976.
Born to a couple who went to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, Klee is the father of four children, all of whom attended either of the two schools.
Klee’s son Danny, a Notre Dame class of ’08 graduate, said that his father is one of his heroes. Danny, now a middle school teacher at Christ the King Catholic School, remembers difficult weeks during finals and midterms during his time as a theology student living in Dillon Hall.
His father “would come and drop cookies off in what can be a tough week — a nice little lift during that time,” Danny said.
At that point, Klee had children and nephews in other dorms at Notre Dame, and he would bake close to six dozen cookies for his family and their friends. But over the course of 17 years, Klee has expanded his operation.
“Working in the tax department for 21 years, you don’t have a lot of interaction with students,” Klee said. “And so, this was kind of a way to feel more a part of the students’ community.”
So, each year, including the two years since he has retired, Klee has come close to baking 150 cookies.
“When I first started out, it was really simple,” Klee recalled. “I bought one of those round containers of Quaker Oats and I would make half oatmeal raisin cookies and half chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.”
Since then, the selection cookies has evolved. Klee bakes flavors including Texas sheet cake, chocolate iced, coconut joy and specialized Christmas bark cookies that his wife Diane makes.
He’s constantly listening to feedback and adapting; for example, he eliminated the peanut butter cookies a few years back. He has also upgraded the chocolate chip cookie recipe.
“They’re really good because they have lots more butter in them than the original recipe did,” Klee added.
While his children are no longer cramming for finals in the library, Klee has found other ways to identify which students will be the lucky recipients of his baked goods.
“Three out of my four kids became teachers,” Klee said. As time goes by, they “would identify people here.”
Danny, now in his 12th year and teaching religion at Christ the King, said he keeps in touch with his students and their families, some of whom are “big Notre Dame fans.”
His sister Katie, who taught at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis for 8 years, did much of the same.
“We all love that our dad does this,” she said.
Katie, a 2012 Notre Dame graduate who had transferred from Saint Mary’s to pursue theology, described the cookies as “melt-in-your-mouth, soft and chewy.”
“Somehow they would last all midterms and finals week in that same perfect texture,” she added.
What Klee describes as a “labor of love” culminates in organized pickups at the beginning of each finals and midterms week.
“Being a CPA [Certified Public Accountant], of course, I had to sit down and try and figure out just kind of a rough estimate,” Klee said. “So, I think it’s somewhere between 500 and 550 dozen cookies over the last 17 years.”
Danny reflected on his father’s initiative to provide these baked goods to students.
“He has always been such a generous giver,” he remarked. “I think it’s really a combination of just how generous he is, the heart he has and how thoughtful he has been.”