Beanie tradition still alive at Benedictine

? A 50-year tradition that few, if any, other colleges continue might not still be alive if not for a Kansas City, Kan., woman picking it up two decades ago as a favor to her son.

But Carol Keithline, 67, says making beanies each year for incoming Benedictine College freshman is a lot like any other chores that aren’t necessarily the most fun – but need to be done.

“It’s a lot like mowing the lawn or cleaning the house,” she said. “You get it done and you say, ‘Phew, I hope I don’t have to do that again for a while.’ But when it needs to be done again, you just do it.”

The tradition of requiring freshman to wear the black and red felt caps at the Catholic institution began in the 1950s, when the students would wear them for a full semester. These days, freshmen wear the beanies for just the first week of school.

“Benedictine is either the only or one of the very few colleges in the country that still follows the beanie-wearing tradition,” school spokesman Steve Johnson said.

Keithline starts making the beanies in June. Working eight-hour days for several weeks, she turns out more than 300 each school year, finishing by Aug. 15.

Hardly an avid sewer at the time, Keithline agreed to help out in 1986 when her middle son, Jeffrey, told her the local business that used to make the beanies quit doing it. At the time, Jeffrey Keithline was a junior at the college and in charge of incoming students. Among the freshmen that year was his younger brother, Jerry.

“I always thought it was a good thing to do, wearing the beanies, because it helps folks identify who the new people are and to look out for them,” said Jeffrey Keithline, 39, a lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Benedictine alum and college president Steve Minnis, said he would want the beanie tradition to continue even if Carol Keithline decided to give up making them.

“Under my watch, we will always do it,” Minnis said. “At the banquet held the day before classes started, I told the freshmen, ‘Wear your beanies with pride. Many prominent people, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai; president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Tom Hoenig; and CEO of Kansas City Southern, Michael Haverty, wore beanies.”‘

For her efforts, Carol Keithline and her husband, Herschel, were presented Saturday with the college’s Family Award for exemplifying family and community values.