Garnett Knights let their tools do the talking for those in need
by Joe Bollig
WELDA — It wasn’t quite 9 a.m., but the 10-member Knights of Columbus crew from Garnett had already torn away the old front porch and was setting up the posts for the new.
Seventy-eight-year-old Ivan Hill, leaning lightly on his cane, seemed to enjoy the swirl of activity all around him. And when his wife Cecilia, 69, came out to check on the Knights’ progress, she couldn’t help but be impressed.
The Knights of Columbus, Holy Angels Council No.1368, were working together like a well-oiled machine—perhaps not so surprising considering some of them were professional framers, and six of them were closely related.
But even the Knights were surprised when, by noon, they were almost ready to start laying down the tar paper and begin shingling. The Hills would have a new porch before 2 p.m.—a nearly Christmas present, of sorts.
Ivan and Cecilia Hill are long time members of Holy Angels Parish in Garnett. All seven of their children went to the parish school, and Cecilia—a convert from the Episcopal faith—has been a eucharistic minister for 27 years.
But most of their children have moved away now. Ones on still lives nearby, but is struggling with cancer and is unable to help.
“My son-in-law tried to fix [the porch],”recalls Cecilia, “but he couldn’t.
“I needed a whole bunch of them—and I don’t have that many sons-in-law! Anyway, they’re far away.”
The Knights, however, proved pretty good substitutes.
“They’re just like my sons,” she said, beaming. “I know most of them. I’ve seen them growup. They’re just like my sons.”
A man of fewer words than his wife, Ivan was moved by the workers’ generosity nevertheless.
“This is a bunch of really good men,” he said softly. “I have a lot of respect for the Knights of Columbus.”
The Hills live in Welda, about 7 miles south of Garnett. Their front porch was the first home-repair project for The Twelve Months of Christmas, an ecumenical community service project administered by the Knights of Columbus of Garnett and the surrounding area.
The Twelve Months of Christmas was the idea of outgoing Grand Knight Ted Uhler. As he looked around his community, he saw many rural elderly who needed help—especially with home repairs. He also recalled his own frustration when he couldn’t help his own widowed mother, who lived far away, with the upkeep of her house.
“We set out to help elderly people who couldn’t afford home repairs,” said Uhler, “because they needed to pay for medications, groceries, utilities and other expenses while on fixed incomes.”
The Knights raised the money through the Autumn Blaze Barbecue Contest held last October. Part of the proceeds went to pay for new playground equipment at St.Rose Philippine Duchesne School in Garnett. The rest was allocated for The Twelve Months of Christmas.
Although originally conceived to help the elderly, the Knights have since broadened the project’s mission to include the disabled, single mothers, spouses of military personnel serving overseas, and disabled military veterans. They have also decided to reach out beyond the borders of Anderson County to include Franklin, Lyon, Allen and Linn counties.
Although the need is great, it has been surprisingly difficult to find people who are willing to participate in the program, said Bryan Schmit, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Garnett and Council No.1368.
People who have been self-reliant all their lives find it difficult to ask for help, even if they need it, he said.
But when the Knights made inquiries around the community, they discovered that the Hills were unable to afford professional repairs to a deteriorating front porch because they were helping a daughter with a serious medical condition.
Schmit and the other Knights offered their help through The Twelve Months of Christmas, and the Hills accepted.
The Knights, for their part, are thrilled to have discovered this hands-on way to invest in their community. The practical, project-by-project format of The Twelve Months, has helped recruit new, younger men into the council and winds up anchoring more than front porch posts.
Shared efforts such as these, said Uhler, build strong fraternalties.
“I think everyone is more than willing to help out,” said Schmit. “It’s a great project to give back to the community, and it’s what the Knights are all about.”
Although there pair of the Hills’ home was strictly a Knights of Columbus project, that’s only because members of other participating churches were already committed to other building projects. For future projects, The Twelve Months will tap the talents of the Nazarenes, United Methodists, Lutherans, Mennonites and Christian Church congregants.