The Elmira council of the Knights of Columbus gathered last week to celebrate and reflect on 40 years of service in the community.
“Because it’s our 40th – you look at a lot of organizations that do volunteer stuff, what happens is they [have anniversaries] but a lot of those original people are all gone, and we wanted to do something while our members were still alive, kicking and involved,” said Grand Knight Todd Cowan.
A fraternal organization with the Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus were founded in New Haven, Conn. by Father Michael McGivney in 1881. Locally, the Father Hugh MacKinnon council 8192 was founded by its namesake in 1982, with a total of 37 members.
“A lot of our charter members, so the members that were there from day-one are still alive and still around. We still have 22 charter members that were with us then,” Cowan said.
The Knights of Columbus organization as a whole, along with the Elmira council “is one of the best kept charity secrets,” said member Mike Noel.
“What we mean is that we do a lot of work, charitable works where the people don’t know where it’s coming from. We work on big projects like the maple syrup festival but we also work on a small scale, too, and answer individual needs as well.… We work on the big scale, right down to the smallest need,” Noel said.
Being low-key does present some challenges, however, when it comes to the likes of recruitment, he added.
“So the council figured as a whole, if we could get the Knights of Columbus name out there a little more, people may start talking about the Knights of Columbus, and then it may help us in recruiting new members as well. We were the best-kept secret in the sense that we performed the charity, but we were quiet about it.”
Since 1982 the Elmira council has supported many causes in the community, including the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, Woolwich Community Services, and helping to raise funds for Ukraine relief efforts. In total it has raised more than $200,000 to support local causes.
“If there’s a need, there’s a Knight. It’s one thing to raise money for the arena and stuff like that, but it’s another thing to help those that need toys or need food or need help or need a hand shovelling their driveway. I think what kind of separates us is we’re more one-on-one stuff,” Cowan said
Although the organization is affiliated with the Catholic Church, its service isn’t limited to church membership, Noel said.
“They have a motto called ‘in service to one, in service to all’ If somebody approaches the Knights of Columbus with a need, if we are able, we will help them out,” he said.
While Cowan currently serves as Grand Knight, the real story of the Knights of Columbus in Elmira is the longstanding members who have kept it going, he said.
“This story is about the 40 years of what they’ve been doing [in] supporting the community. That’s the big thing that makes this such a great community, the role that organizations like ours and other community organizations play,” Cowan added.
Looking ahead, the anniversary is also a changing of the guard, Cowan said.
“I think that over the next 40 years, we’re going to continue to grow…we do some succession planning. So it’s kind of like, ‘OK, we’re going to start working on you right now because someday you’ll be a Grand Knight, and then when you get to the Grand Knight, you’re going to be working on somebody else to kind of take over.’”
Noel agreed, stating the Elmira council should be around for a long time.
“I can see the council continuing to do the charitable events, and fundraising that have been successful in the past, while also trying to build up new members to bring in fresh new ideas for us to consider for future charitable events or future fundraising ideas.”