Knights of Columbus revitalizing with broader community focus

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The Knights of Columbus Prairie du Chien chapter is collecting Coats for the Community and will accept new or gently-used winter items (including hats, gloves and scarves) for people of all ages. The items will then be cleaned by Rainbo Cleaners in Fennimore and distributed to those in need.

By Correne Martin

The Knights of Columbus is the oldest and largest Catholic men’s organization in the country. But it’s been years since there’s been much about them in Prairie du Chien. The leadership of the 88-plus member club is ready to see that change.

A revitalization of sorts is underway with the local KCs, as the faith- and family-based men’s group is affectionately known. With 33 of its members over the age of 65, their goal is to recruit some younger men from the community who also wish to see positive action resulting from the group’s endeavors.

The First Degree for the Knights of Columbus, which is its private induction ceremony, will be Monday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m., at St. Gabriel’s. Membership forms for those interested are available at the back of St. Gabriel’s and St. John’s Catholic churches in Prairie du Chien.

“The goal is to get six to 10 new members,” said Steve Mercaitis, KCs Campion Council 1840 Grand Knight. “They don’t have to be a member of the parish but they should be Catholic. Otherwise, they should simply wish to help grow the organization’s initiatives.”

According to Deputy Grand Knight Scott Kennedy, whose father and grandfather were both members of the KCs also, said, “The Knights of Columbus is a very family-oriented, community-oriented organization that’s always been a fraternal organization to help the church. We’ve broadened that to be more inviting to the community.”

The intent of the Knights membership drive is to further the interest of the men in the community who would like to help out their neighbors in areas where assistance is needed.

“It’s not hard; it’s not a big commitment. The good that comes out of it is far better than any time you put into it,” Kennedy shared. “I would encourage men to get involved. You’ll feel a whole lot better about it once you’ve done it. There’s always goals in mind and I’ve seen ours as well as other chapters do so much good because these are men who truly care about the community.”

A recent information meeting about the Prairie du Chien chapter was attended by about 25 men, so achieving those six to 10 new members is certainly attainable, Mercaitis noted.

For years, the Knights of Columbus has organized its iconic Tootsie Roll fundraiser and its free throw contest to accumulate money that has been used toward charitable needs in the community. The KCs also hosted the popular rodeo on St. Feriole Island for years. The Knights have a reputation for giving volunteer hours to worthy causes locally; and they always put up the Nativity scene downtown (at Halpin Tire) each Christmas. There have been other fundraisers of which the community hasn’t always been made aware too.

The Knights have around $56,000 in the bank. They hope to begin distributing a good portion of those funds to needs community-wide. One such way to do so is that they intend to give $500 in Prairie Catholic School tuition aid to any family whose male parent joins the KCs and attends at least one meeting and participates in three activities each year. For second children, $250 would be given and then $100 for subsequent children in each family. Parents with children in college can receive a check toward college as well.

Another big endeavor of the local chapter is its current Coats for the Community drive. Collection boxes have been placed at various locations around the Prairie du Chien area—the Catholic, Methodist and Four Square churches; a few banks; Piggly Wiggly; and Fisk Farm and Home in Monona, Iowa. Residents are asked to place new or gently-used coats (hats, gloves and scarves) in these boxes. Items donated will be cleaned free of charge by Rainbo Cleaners in Fennimore, thanks to the business’ generous in-kind donation. Then, they will be distributed to local people of all ages in need of coats this winter season.

“People have already been so generous with giving coats,” Kennedy said. “I think the cleaners are going to be surprised at how many we’re collecting.”

As the giving season continues, members of the Knights plan to ring the Salvation Army bell at Zinkle’s Piggly Wiggly the entire first weekend of December.

“I think men have been taking a back seat and we need them to start taking leadership roles in our community again,” Mercaitis quipped. “We are doing good things for the community. We’re accountable, financially stable and ready to give money away. The trustees will have a process they’ll use because they want to give to what makes sense to our organization and this community.”

Over the past six years, Mercaitis said $20,000 has been contributed by Campion Council 1840 to various charities, such as the Opportunity Center, Special Olympics, Badger Camp and special education. Plus another $25,000 was given toward the Prairie Catholic building fund.

The chapter’s Chancellor Brian Dillman shared his thoughts on the past and present of the KCs: “We’re a good organization that does a lot for this community. Our goals are just to do more and be more visible,” he said.

“We can help anybody,” Kennedy stated. “We try to reach out wherever we see a need.”

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