A tale of 21 Keenans
The Keenans have been taking and teaching classes at St. Bonaventure since the mid-1930s, a time when Bona’s was still a college and women had not yet entered the ranks to attend day classes.
Leo E. Keenan Jr., the family patriarch, took a math class at age 15 from Mike Reilly in the summer of 1936. He enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1938 and was to graduate in 1942, but his college years were interrupted by his service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Leo’s wife, Ann (Finlay) Keenan, graduated from D’Youville College in 1946 at the age of 18 and completed her master’s degree at SBU the following year.
The late couple’s devotion to their family, their faith and St. Bonaventure spanned more than a third of the University’s 150-year existence. Leo dedicated 52 years as a professor of English, 20 years as a golf coach, and a lifetime as St. Bonaventure’s biggest fan.
As educators, Leo and Ann instilled in their children the importance of education and the value of a St. Bonaventure education. To date, 21 members of the Keenan family have earned degrees at St. Bonaventure and there are four family members currently enrolled. Leo and Ann’s nine children proudly followed them to Bona’s: Leo E. Keenan III, Kathleen A. (Keenan) Brewer, Judith K. (Keenan) Miller, Robert F. Keenan, Maureen Keenan-LeBoeuf, Deirdre M. (Keenan) Ellis, Constance E. Keenan-Lowry, Eileen Keenan-Skrobacz, and Kevin A. Keenan.
The Keenans grew up three miles from campus, but there was no separation from their own family and the Bona family.
“As we were growing up in Olean we never knew anything different than St. Bonaventure University,” said Kathy (Keenan) Brewer, a retired schoolteacher. She remembers many family dinners where they were joined by friars or members of the men’s basketball team, or heading to the Armory in Olean to watch the basketball team arrive in a brown and white bus for practice.
"My brothers Timer (Leo) and Bobby and I went up and gained admittance into the games (by saying my father teaches at SBU). Of course we flew home after the game to beat my father home,” Kathy said.
“As high school students he would enroll us in summer school, which we didn’t know until we were riding to SBU the first day of classes. That was our first encounter with SBU as students and we enjoyed that experience, which led us to the best four years of our lives,” Kathy said.
Their father was pleased to be able to share in the University’s many milestones, such as the construction of the Reilly Center in the mid-1960s.
“I remember walking around the construction site of the Reilly Center, my father proudly pointing out where the pool and the basketball court would be located,” said Judy (Keenan) Miller, who lives in Fairport, N.Y. Years later, Leo would play key roles in the naming of the many roads around campus and the planning of the Veterans Memorial that stands just outside the RC.
Judy’s sons Eric and Ryan graduated from SBU in 2004 and 2008, respectively.
"They speak fondly of their college years. Eric was in the wedding of his SBU roomate. They were roomates for four years and are still great friends today," she said. Ryan, a resident director, returned to campus this fall for the five-year MBA program.
“I love SBU and am so happy to have one of my daughters attending. I can only hope her experience is as wonderful as mine.”
Dee Dee (Keenan) Ellis
“They chose St. Bonaventure for different reasons. For me, my sons were away at SBU, their second home. I never worried. I knew the strong sense of community and Christian values would encompass them on their own ‘good journeys,’” added Judy.
Bob Keenan lives in nearby Hinsdale and works for the University’s fundraising division as a planned giving officer. He “can’t think of St. Bonaventure in any way and not think of my father."
“St. Bonaventure University is 150 years old and ‘Keek’ (as Leo was known by family members) was an integral part of the life and times here for 52 years — as a teacher, a mentor, a coach, and an institution,” he said.
The University was always an extension of their home: Bob was photographed on the front steps of Plassmann Hall following his first Mass as an altar server at St. Mary of the Angels Church; he flew kites on the front lawn of Hopkins Hall while his dad worked on summer school and evening school schedules; and he helped alumni with their luggage when they arrived during Reunion weekends.
Growing up as a member of the SBU family meant everything to the Keenan siblings, explained EileenKeenan-Skrobacz, a teacher in the Olean City School District.
“There were Christmas parties for the faculty members’ children where Santa Claus would arrive, gifts were given, and lots of punch and cookies were consumed. We looked forward to meeting the new friars who arrived on campus every summer. Our parents welcomed many of the friars into our home and into our family because we were all a part of the SBU experience. There were countless trips to SBU for basketball games, guest speakers, plays, concerts, and Masses — all of which were synonymous with SBU and Keenan,” she said.
Eileen said she and her brothers and sisters knew at an early age they would all attend St. Bonaventure.
“Everyone in Olean knew the Keenan family’s love for SBU had no boundaries. We were devoted to our Bona’s like none other. Our mom and dad encouraged us to avail ourselves to every opportunity Bona’s presented, and we all took great pleasure in our SBU experiences,” Eileen said.
“I think it’s part of our DNA. It was probably in the first grade that I knew I was going to Bona’s,” added Maureen Keenan-LeBoeuf, a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army and a University trustee.
“Every Keenan sibling holds Bona’s in highest regard. Our father was devoted to SBU; not as his job, but as his love for dispensing his love of the university and a passion for the Franciscan ideals that he and my mom instilled in each one of us. We always knew our father bled brown blood, and once we each attended SBU, we knew why our father bled brown blood,” said Eilen.
Today, his grandchildren know, too. Timer and Sharon Keenan’s daughter Caroline graduated in 2002. And Bob’s son Patrick earned his degree in 2001 and married Caroline’s classmate Kristen Clemens.
“I love SBU and am so happy to have one of my daughters attending. I can only hope her experience is as wonderful as mine,” said Dee Dee (Keenan) Ellis, who lives in Concord, Mass., and is a technical writer for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. Her daughter Katherine “Katie” A. Ellis, ’10, transferred to St. Bonaventure her sophomore year.
“I had previously attended a small Catholic college in Worcester, Mass., and after a year I wanted to transfer. I remember the night I came home from a friend’s house and my mom informed me that my cousin Erin would be going to St. Bonaventure. It was then I burst out, ‘I really don’t like my school! I really want to transfer and I want to go to Bona’s,’” Katherine said.
Katherine, a marketing major, is close to the Keenan side of the family and says having cousins at Bona’s is definitely a bonus.
“I had always heard that Bona’s was an amazing school with a strong sense of community and kind people. I found that to be true and I am so glad I chose to attend Bona’s,” she said.
Connie (Keenan) Lowry lives in Shanghai, China. Her daughter Erin K. Lowry, ’11, is a sophomore this year.
“Living on the other side of the world and sending your child to college in the U.S. can be very unsettling. When Erin, our oldest child, decided to attend St. Bonaventure many of our fears were calmed. We knew she would be in a safe and nurturing environment and in close proximity to family. As she begins her second year at Bona’s we are confident she is where she belongs,” said Connie.
Erin, a theater and mass communication major, has appeared in two theater productions and written features for the campus newspaper.
“She has had opportunities at SBU she would not have had as a freshman elsewhere,” said Connie.
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