by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LEAWOOD — “They say we’ve made Knight of the Month sexy again,” said Church of Nativity parishioner Michael Nolte.
The term “sexy” may be a stretch, but Nolte and fellow parishioner James Reitmeier have certainly brought new life to their Knights of Columbus council by revamping the program recognizing outstanding members.
There are even plans for a Knight of the Month calendar in the works.
“We thought it would be absolutely hilarious to get these guys together and throw them into goofy outfits representing their month, something with some humor,” said Reitmeier.
“And it could be a fundraiser for another one of our causes,” said Nolte. “We could have those 12 honorees in the vestibule autographing their pages.”
That’s the way this team of two works — feeding off each other with ideas to improve what is already very successful and working exactly as Nolte hoped it would.
“I wanted it to be a marketing piece for the Knights of Columbus,” he said. “People are now congratulating Mr. April or Mr. May when they see him.
“And we’re having record numbers signing up.”
Knight of the Month is a national program — each council chooses an outstanding member to honor each month. Eventually, one honoree will be named Knight of the Year and participate in a regional, and then a national, competition.
But each council is allowed to conduct the program however it chooses.
Leawood’s Church of Nativity was selecting the honoree by a show of hands each month. The selected member would then receive a dinner gift certificate.
When the council’s Grand Knight asked for a volunteer to chair the program, Nolte saw it as his chance to turn it into a marketing tool.
“I thought, ‘I’ll take this and run with it,’” he said. “I had some ideas.”
Reitmeier was new to the council and offered to help.
“It was my first meeting,” Reitmeier said. “They talked about the program and I knew we had it at my previous parish.
“I always like to leave a little footprint wherever I go — leave [it] a better place — so I volunteered.”
The two went out for pizza to get acquainted and laid plans to improve the program by making it the grand finale of every meeting.
“We thought we would make this very special — kind of a VIP thing that the guys could take pride in, that their families could be proud of,” said Nolte.
Oddly enough, the former Supreme Knight who originally developed the Knight of the Month award program, Virgil Dechant, is now retired and living in Church of Nativity Parish.
“I went over and had a visit with Virgil in his home,” said Nolte. “He called the [Knights of Columbus headquarters] and asked if there was anything we had to do as to how this is awarded.
“And they said, ‘No, it’s up to each council.’”
Nolte’s next stop was Trinity House Catholic Book and Gifts shop in Overland Park where he hoped to find some sort of traveling trophy.
The owners had just received a statue they thought would fit the need.
“They took me back and showed it to me — a kneeling knight with a shield,” said Nolte. “It was perfect.
“And they said, ‘We want to just gift it to your program.’”
As part of Nolte’s and Reitmeier’s redesign, the entire council votes by ballot for which member they consider most deserving of the award.
The top three ballot choices are then reviewed by the co-chairs, and they agree on an honoree.
“We look at how much they’ve given back to the church and how much they’ve given back to the Knights,” said Reitmeier. “We view how they’re upholding the full principles of the Knights.
“So, these gentlemen have earned this award, and I think that’s really important.”
The chosen honoree is then invited to dinner where the co-chairs pepper him with questions designed to reveal some sense of his personality.
“We came up with the format that I call 20/60,” explained Nolte. “When we interview the honoree, we toss at him 20 questions in 60 minutes.
“And it’s more than just fill-in-the-blank data.”
The co-chairs find out favorite books, movies and altar-boy stories.
They ask the honoree about religious Sisters and Brothers who have been inspirational in his life, and what influenced him to join the Knights.
By the end of dinner, they have enough information to write an interesting profile story — and that’s exactly what they do.
“James and I alternate who writes the profile,” said Nolte. “But we write it that night while we’ve got the flavor of it.”
The Knight of the Month is then presented his award at the end of the council meeting.
The previous month’s honoree says a few words about how he was impacted by the experience and what the trophy meant to his family. He then hands the traveling trophy off to the next honoree.
The Knight of the Month also receives a personalized certificate and a dinner-for-two gift card.
“So, we end the meetings on a standing ovation high note,” said Nolte. “And that’s really fun.”
Then the profile appears in the bulletin, and the whole parish gets to know the Knight of the Month.
“We’re still evolving it,” said Reitmeier. “Now we’re doing bulletin inserts — a whole page, front and back, with high-quality photos.”
“When we do these articles,” he said, “our goal is not only to highlight the accomplishments, but also to make these men relatable to other parishioners.”
“It gives kind of a stodgy group of men some color and personality,” said Nolte.
And parishioners are taking note, congratulating honorees and showing new interest in the organization.
“We were known in the parish for just two things — Roses for Life and the fish fries,” said Nolte. “Now were getting more notoriety.
“That’s making our group more desirable, and more guys are joining.”
Friendships forged over generations
Another plus that’s come from the new Knight of the Month program is the unusual friendship that has been forged between the co-chairs.
Unusual because there’s a 37-year age difference between them.
“I’ve been blessed to have him be the co-chair,” said Reitmeier of Nolte. “He’s introduced me to a lot of people and been a good friend throughout the process.
“I think there was a little bit of a calling from Christ that led me toward him.”
And that’s one great advantage to being part of a brotherhood like the Knights of Columbus — men from different generations joining together to share support and wisdom.
“We all have different opinions,” said Reitmeier. “We all have different views on politics or favorite sports teams.
“But we all share our faith and our love for Jesus.”
“At the end of the day that’s all that matters,” Reitmeier added. “I think a passion for Christ, a passion for serving, has no age limit.”