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Knights keep working for community's benefit

From the needs of its church to those of the community, the Knights of Columbus council in Ellsworth has kept serving for over four decades.

Whether it's contributing to a new copying machine at St. Francis School or giving Pierce County's food pantry a boost at Christmas, the 70-member group has helped improve the quality of area living. Grand Knight Dan Matzek and Deputy Grand Knight Duane Hanson said Friday the organization relies on volunteers to work at fundraisers, proceeds from which support local programs.

"The council here was instituted on July 21, 1963," Matzek said, noting it's populated by Catholics who are members of St. Francis church, plus some from the Big River church.

The group meets monthly at the former church's parish hall, often hearing about funding requests and deciding which programs to support, he said. When the county's food shelf needed assistance at holiday time, the Knights donated $1,000. When St. Francis School's main copier broke down, leaving the office without this equipment for awhile, the KCs gave $1,500 toward a new one.

The council also reimburses the school annually for its purchase of Bibles going to every fourth grader for personal use, he said. School officials order the Bibles and the number varies depending on the size of the class each term.

"There was a double class of close to 40 students this year," Hanson said.

Other annual efforts include supporting the school carnival, held lately in February, Matzek said. Around the end of December, a free throw contest for older boys and girls is staged, a competition in which participants are recognized with certificates and players can advance to local, state and national levels.

The KCs' Tootsie Roll drive is conducted in late April or early May, with members stationed outside area businesses, accepting free will donations, he said. Have-A-Heart Farm near River Falls, the area early childhood development program and St. Francis School receive some of the funds generated by this project.

"Local councils get a percentage back for local needs," he said.

The Knights have more recently collected used cell phones and ink cartridges to be recycled, with money earmarked for the Special Olympics program, Matzek said. The year-long collection is set up to have drop-off boxes displayed at public locations and their contents shipped to central recycling sites.

The Veterans Administration's hospital in Tomah is paid a yearly visit by KCs from here, helping disabled vets at the facility get to Sunday masses, he said. Such caring is in keeping with the vision of Father Michael J. McGivney, who originated the now-global organization in the church basement of St. Mary's Parish in New Haven, Conn., in 1882. As reported in a publication shared by Matzek, McGivney conceived the idea of a group of Catholic men banding together to:

--aid one another in times of sickness or death, by means of a simple insurance plan, so their wives and children wouldn't face abject poverty;

--strengthen themselves and each other in the faith;

--strengthen families and family life;

--be a strong pillar of support for their priests and bishops;

--be of service to the church and community by coming to the aid of those most in need in society.

Two main fundraisers making the local council's donations possible are monthly breakfasts in the winter and a concession stand at Ellsworth Polka Fest in July, Matzek said. The breakfasts are held the second Sunday of the month from November to March, except in January, when the meal represents the kick-off to Catholic Schools Week. Attendance has grown at the all-you-can-eat events, for which he orders the food and others are assigned responsibilities ranging from cooking to clean-up to handling the till.

"It's getting so everyone knows their jobs very well," Hanson said.

Volunteers prepare and serve food, specifically hamburgers and French fries, in St. Francis' stand at the county fairgrounds over the three-day Polka Fest, Matzek said. They work in scheduled shifts as one of a variety of concessions available to festival attendees.

The council arranges membership recruitment opportunities several times annually for Catholic men wanting to join, he said. A party for members is held during Christmastime at the Ellsworth Country Club as well as a family picnic at the Gas-Lite, to which mass servers and their families are invited.

Besides Matzek as Grand Knight and Hanson as Deputy Grand Knight, officers and directors of St. Francis of Assisi Council No. 5456 are: Gary Stern, Financial Secretary; Mike O'Connell, Chancellor; Clarence Anderson, Recorder; Gary Huppert, Treasurer; Robert Loberg, Advocate; Ron Schommer, Warden; Robert Kreye, Inside Guard; Ron Johnson, Outside Guard; and Chuck Conroy, Wayne Langer and Jack Noll, trustees. Additionally, Matzek is Membership Director, Hanson is both Program Director and Church Director, Stern is Community Director, Rollie Koch is Council Director, Ray Koller is Family Director and Peter Vitt is Youth Director.