Alumna volunteer leader knows ‘There’s no place like home’

For Ruthie Keefe, family is dominant theme in her UC service.

Sometimes you have to stray from the path that life has prepared for you in order to learn and fully appreciate where your destiny lies.

Ruthie Keefe chairs the University of Cincinnati Foundation’s Alumni Engagement Committee, which provides guidance and advocacy for the UC Alumni Association, its outreach efforts and annual giving program.

Being a twin plays a significant role in Keefe’s story of service. Upon graduation from Saint Ursula Academy less than two miles east of the UC campus, she felt the onset of college and looming adulthood presented the right time to chart her own path and “separate” from her sister; Lelia had chosen to stay home and go to UC, so Keefe opted for the University of Dayton. Yet she soon realized, as Dorothy Gale famously once did, that there’s no place like home.

“At winter break of my first year, Lelia and I sat down in Tangeman University Center and made up a list of pros and cons for my coming to UC,” Keefe recalls. “After we all looked at it, my father called Nancy Hamant, who oversaw the School of Education, and asked if there was any way I could transfer the next quarter. I never went back to Dayton. But I didn’t understand at the time how big that decision would be.”

Indeed, it would pay off massively for both Keefe and UC. She feels she largely owes her successful career in the marketing and software development fields to her particular UC experience which, like her college choice process, hasn’t been a straight line from Point A to Point B.

“I’m a teacher by education, and I taught until I had children, but as much as the education was important, primarily what I learned and gathered at UC was lifelong friendships and connections,” Keefe says. “I always say that my high school was a huge developer of character, and on top of that, UC provided the path from education to professional success. I learned the necessity of communication and authenticity.”

I’m a teacher by education, and I taught until I had children, but as much as the education was important, primarily what I learned and gathered at UC was lifelong friendships and connection.

Ruthie Keefe CECH '81

UC a Family Affair

Ruthie Keefe with family and friends

Homecoming at her alma mater is always a family affair x 2. Beyond celebrating the day with her Bearcat family, here Ruthie and her actual family and close friends are bundled up for some chilly football tailgating.

In retrospect, the Dayton detour was never going to deter Keefe from becoming a Bearcat; her bloodlines probably wouldn’t have permitted it. Her father, John Keefe, was a long-time judge in southwest Ohio. Military service had been followed by an active life on campus and two UC degrees before his life on the bench. Her mother, Ruth Castellini Keefe, was also an extremely involved UC student.

“Mom and her sister, Mona Poynter, were Renaissance women on campus,” Ruthie says. “In those days, so many women were interested in getting married. Mom and Aunt Mona and their group of friends were about being strong women — and the Judge [Keefe's father] was an advocate of that as well.”

So strong was their bond with the university that not only did five of the six Keefe children go to UC, but UC would regularly go to the Keefes.

“Mom and Dad were such great Bearcats,” Keefe explains, “and they didn’t think of UC as just a university — it was a community and made Cincinnati a better city. They always felt that way. Dad made a point of being friends with every president of the university over the years — they’d even come to our house for the holidays.”

Further, another great Bearcat “K” family are the Keatings, and they’re kin. Following in his father’s footsteps, the late Bill Keating, Jr. is widely regarded as one of the greatest Bearcats ever. Ruthie’s and Bill’s grandmothers were sisters and both graduates of the University. And Bill’s most important contributions to UC include getting his cousin re-involved in the university’s work after a busy work and home life had put her alma mater on the back burner.

“Billy called me one day and asked me to serve on a committee that was organizing a decade reunion,” Keefe says. “It was the first time I had reconnected, but like riding a bike, once I jumped in it was like I’d never left.”

Appreciation for the People

Not long after, Keefe was asked to become involved with what was then known as the Distinguished Alumni Celebration, now the UC Alumni Celebration. It became her tipping point in terms of being happily and completely engulfed in service toward UC’s alumni engagement and advancement. And Keefe’s fellow Bearcats are the reason for her fulfillment.

The UC Alumni Celebration annually recognizes a slate of alumni honorees for their professional achievements and dedication to their alma mater. Even as Keefe has cherished getting to know people within the wide circle created by her volunteerism, her work with this signature event has exposed her to waves of accomplished Bearcats she’d never known about. In that first year (2013), the recipient of the UC Alumni Association’s highest honor, the William Howard Taft Medal, was Dr. Joseph Broderick, the world-renowned pioneer of innovative stroke treatment who is currently a professor of neurology at UC and director of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute. And as luck would have it, that year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, emblematic of outstanding commitment to the university, was Bill Keating, Jr. (Keefe’s mother had received the same honor 30 years earlier.)

“There were people ‘ahead of me’ that were so accomplished who I had never connected with. So not only has it been fun doing and growing the event, but it’s allowed me to meet and celebrate the incredible Bearcat alumni I never would have met otherwise. And organizationally, we’ve become good at acknowledging the greatness among our alumni family.”

The experience has underscored a truth Keefe has fully realized over her years of involvement: Whether they’re receiving a big award, toiling behind the scenes or just going about their business, “there’s a thread of authenticity among UC alumni … You can be who you are, and we love you for it!”

There’s a thread of authenticity among UC alumni … You can be who you are, and we love you for it!

Ruthie Keefe CECH '81

“Jerry Fritz and I recently spoke at the UC Alumni Association’s Network Leaders Conference at Homecoming,” Ruthie says. “I looked around that room of volunteer leaders and thought how incredibly blessed we are to have such authentic people so involved, and for all the right reasons.”

Elevating the Brand

Ruthie Keefe with the Bearcat mascot

Ruthie Keefe is always in her glory when in the company of her fellow Bearcats.

The aforementioned Jerry Fritz, Bus ’73, is the Alumni Engagement Committee vice chair, slated to succeed Keefe later this year. He knows he’ll have a tough act to follow.

“Keefe’s energy and deep passion for UC are well known and much appreciated among those on the committee, the board and throughout the university community,” he said. “She is always so gracious and generous with her time, talent and gratitude, and she would never ask anyone to do something she hasn’t done or wouldn’t do herself.”

The Alumni Engagement Committee oversees a UC Alumni Association with stronger standing and an elevated brand in recent years, something Ruthie has worked hard to achieve. More than when she began her committee service, she feels the organization has a significant seat at the UC table, so to speak.

“We’re a major player in the sustainability of the university,” Keefe says. “We’re a top-notch alumni association. When I’m introduced to people in this role, I’m as proud of that as anything I’ve ever done as a volunteer. It means a lot to me. I know how active Mom and Dad were so many years ago, so I’m thrilled for the Keefe family to continue to the tradition of supporting the university, not only financially but in service and upholding the integrity of the institution and its alumni and students.”

Just as she has drawn strength and inspiration from the web of relationships that naturally emerge from being involved, Keefe is excited for a future where more and more Bearcats benefit from each other’s energy. And she feels compelled to tirelessly work toward a “Next” that helps facilitate that growth within the UC alumni family. In particular, she notes that the Myers Alumni Center gave way to the new home of the Lindner College of Business several years ago, and the process of replacing the university’s alumni center is ongoing.

I hope that part of my legacy in this role will be helping to find and develop a place we can call our home again.

Ruthie Keefe CECH '81

“I hope that part of my legacy in this role will be helping to find and develop a place we can call our home again,” she says. “And it isn’t just about the brick and mortar. It’s important that the UC Alumni Association has a home that can share the history, the tremendous accomplishments of the university, and a sense of what it means to be a Bearcat — and you need some brick and mortar to do that. It’s four walls, yes, but it’s more about the story we can tell there and the way it will draw the UC family closer together.”

This story is part of a series of profiles of members of the University of Cincinnati Foundation’s Alumni Engagement Committee, composed of volunteers who help guide the work of the UC Alumni Association within the framework of the Foundation’s larger advancement efforts on behalf of the UC community.

The UC Alumni Association exists to serve the University of Cincinnati and its 327,000+ alumni across the United States and throughout the world. Learn more about how to stay connected with your alma mater and get involved in more than 50 college-, interest- and location-based alumni networks, including the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services Alumni Network.