by Jane Graves
PAOLA — Barbara and Jim Gray have always felt honored to know many of the outstanding Catholic families at Holy Trinity Parish here. Recently, their fellow parishioners have returned the compliment.
The Grays were named the archdiocesan Knights of Columbus Family of the Year from some 15 district-level Family of the Year winners throughout the archdiocese. The Grays were selected thanks to their exemplary involvement in the Knights council, their parish, and their community.
“It’s a small reward for a job well done,” said Dave Ekart, family life director for the Knights of Columbus Kansas State Council. “It’s a great way to recognize the families for their involvement and living their faith and participating in their faith — trying to reach out to other people with their faith, also.”
Being a part of the Knights of Columbus has given both he and his wife the opportunity to meet “some tremendous people,” said Jim. “It’s just a real honor to know all these people who are role models for our community. It’s really an awesome experience.”
“It’s really very humbling to receive this honor, because we look around, just even in our parish, and there are really outstanding Catholic families who are an inspiration to us,” she said.
Jim is a member of Knights of Columbus Council No. 1149 in Paola and has been the council’s grand knight for the past three years. The Grays have an adult daughter, Stacy Rice, who lives in Drexel, Mo.,with her husband Tim and their two children: Jessica, 10, and Bryan, 8.
Reaching out to others has always been a cornerstone of the Grays’ relationship. They first met at Osawatomie State Hospital, where each was working with youths suffering from behavior disorders and/or mental illnesses. Now, 35 years after marrying, and both retired from full-time employment, they still continue to help those in need.
Among other things, the couple participates in the YouthFriends mentoring program for local schoolchildren and sponsor a child through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. Barbara is a Big Sister in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program and is the chairperson for the Holy Trinity prayer chain; Jim is the president of the Paola Optimist Club.
Their favorite place to volunteer, however, has to be the Knights.
Jim is a woodworker and is now employed part time at the local lumberyard. Along with fellow Knights, he has used those skills to make cedar chests for raffles, a glass-enclosed bulletin board and a trophy case for Holy Trinity School, a vanity for a Holy Trinity Church bathroom, and a candle stand for the parish’s Easter candle.
Jim’s work organizing the Paola Knights of Columbus council’s centennial celebration took over 18 months, the last six of which involved almost every spare moment of his time, he said. Barbara contributed as well, providing clerical support. Just one of Jim’s special touches included tracking down the living relatives of the original members of the council — eight were able to attend.
“I love the Knights of Columbus,” Jim said. “The Knights of Columbus has had a huge impact on my life.”
He said he hoped this award would help other men see that if they join the Knights of Columbus, they can have the same experience. Also, he said it would deepen their faith and provide them ways to help the council, the church, or the community.
In turn, Ekart said he hopes the Family of the Year award inspires others to become more involved in their parish and community through the Knights of Columbus, thereby strengthening the Knights of Columbus as a whole.
The state Family of the Year, Jorge and Raquel Vargas of Manhattan, will be considered along with other state winners for the Supreme Council Family of the Year award.