CINCINNATI – Santa Claus is shaving off his beard.
A little reluctantly.
“Nobody will know who I am!” Keith Maupin said in light-hearted protest.
And he’s probably right. It seems like the founder of the Yellow Ribbon Support Center - and the public face of support for U.S. troops and for parents who lost sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan – has always had that fluffy bird’s nest hanging from his face.
He has looked like a cross between Santa, Rip Van Winkle and ZZ Top.
Or a poster boy for Duck Dynasty.
Not always, Maupin said.
“I’ve probably had the beard since 1976, but most of the time I kept it short – about an inch,” he claimed. “I don’t think Matt (his son, killed in Iraq) ever saw me clean-shaven, and neither did his mother.
“I don’t think anybody around here ever saw me clean-shaven.”
In recent years, though, Maupin has been getting the same question over and over, even from former President George W. Bush.
Maupin had eight meetings with Bush, asking for help finding Matt in the four years he was missing in action and for support for all the troops overseas. Once, on Air Force One, Bush asked him:
“When are you going to cut that beard off?
Maupin replied: “When you bring Matt home.”
Finally, Michael Barrett, who organized the Keith Maupin Home Makeover project, talked him into it.
“I’ve been asking him every day for two months, and he finally said yes,” Barrett said. “I said, ‘You’ve almost got a new home, a new place for the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, and you’re going to have a new look, too.”
In August, Barrett organized an army of suppliers and contractors to make over Maupin’s Mount Carmel home after it fell into disrepair. He was sleeping in his car during the summer because his AC didn’t work.
“Nothing in that house worked,” Barrett said.
“I wasn’t keeping it up because I was spending all my time at the center,” Maupin said.
Not just all his time, but his money, too.
Maupin and his ex-wife Carolyn started the center in August 2004, a few months after their son was captured by insurgents in an attack on his convoy. They started sending care packages to troops - in 12 x 12 x 12 boxes with Matt’s picture on them – hoping another soldier had information that could lead them one step closer to finding him.
Soon, though, they were sending packages to any soldier whose family requested it.
Matt’s remains were found in Iraq in March 2008. More than 10,000 people stood in long lines to pass by his casket during a 20-hour visitation at the Union Township Civic Center. More than 3,500 people attended the public funeral at Great American Ball Park.
Even after Matt’s burial, Maupin kept sending packages to troops. But more than 21,000 packages later, he had to stop temporarily when the center’s rent in Clermont County more than tripled.
As part of the makeover, Barrett’s army of volunteers has converted Maupin’s garage into a new home for the Yellow Ribbon Support Center.
Maupin can’t wait to get started again.
“I’ve got 45 names of people to send to,” he said.
Barrett promised Maupin to have his new home ready by Sunday.
“It’s been amazing,” Barrett said. “We had 122 suppliers. We had contractors and volunteers put in well over 2,000 man hours.”
They completely gutted Maupin’s house and replaced everything, Barrett said. Plus, they gave him a new roof and a new driveway.
“Keith has given so much to our troops. We really wanted to give something back,” Barrett said.
“I’m very appreciative,” Maupin said. “I don’t really deserve it, but so many people wanted to help. I’m grateful.
"It will help our mission because it will help me without having the house to worry about."
Barrett has invited everyone who contributed to the makeover to an open house at 3 p.m. Sunday. The house is at 4326 Mt. Carmel Tobasco Road.
“I expect 300 to 500 people,” Barrett said.
They won’t just get to see the house, they’ll get to see the shaving.
“I’ve been telling him he’s not Marty Brennaman, but his beard is as beloved as Marty’s hair was,” Barrett said, referring to the Reds announcer who shaved his head and raised $50,000 in support of the Reds Community Fund.
“Marty’s hair grew back and Keith’s beard will, too.”
Just don’t tell him that November is National Beard Month.
Barrett said June Wilson will do the honors.
“She’s the lady who has been taking care of his beard and what little hair he has left,” Barrett said.
Maupin said as his beard got longer and longer, he didn’t need anyone to trim it.
“It just broke off when it reached a certain point,” he said. “I used to wear shirts with Matt’s face on the front and the beard would just break off and not cover him up.
“It would break off or we wouldn’t be able to see where we were going.”
Barrett is hoping to raise money to retire the debt on Maupin’s house. You can donate to the Keith Maupin Home Makeover Fund at any local 5/3 bank in the Tri-State, Barrett said.
Read about the Yellow Ribbon Support Center at http://www.yellowribbonsupport.com/yellowribbonsupportfoundation/yellowribbonsupportcenter/Default.aspx