Photo by Joe Boyle
The Knights of Columbus members (from left) Bob Speck, Ralph Villalovos and Mike Kenny enjoy the music before preparing food for blind veterans who arrived from Hines VA Hospital Sunday afternoon at the Jonathan Collins Activity Center at St. Gerald Parish in Oak Lawn.
John Goetz recalls going bowling with a friend on Chicago's South Side when it was suggested to him that he join the Knights of Columbus.
"I thought about it and said OK," Goetz said. "I thought I could help people out. That’s how I got started.”
That was back in 1961 and Goetz, 89, has held a variety of officer positions for the Knights of Columbus since, including a grand knight. He is currently the director for the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Fatima Council 534 that meets at St. Gerald Parish in Oak Lawn.
Goetz is an Oak Lawn resident who has been a member of St. Gerald Parish since 1970. The organization has been involved in a variety of activities, but Goetz is most proud of the fact that they provide a Thanksgiving meal for blind veterans.
The Knights hosted the veterans on Sunday afternoon at the Jonathan Collins Activity Center at the parish. The veterans arrive at the parish by bus and are helped off and into the center by members of the Knights.
The veterans were given a chance to speak and many of them were from all over the Midwest. One veteran came from Red Wing, Minn., while another said that Minneapolis was home. Other veterans talked about their hometowns in Iowa, Green Bay and the South Side of Chicago. A World War II veteran from Watervliet, Iowa thanked the organization for having him over for a Thanksgiving meal.
Singer Roxanne Anzelone, who has appeared for several years at the annual event, entertained the veterans and members of the Knights of Columbus.
“I think it is nice because it is interesting to talk to these veterans,” said Bob Speck, a Burbank resident who has been a member of the Knights for three years. “It’s a great day and I think they really enjoy themselves.”
Ralph Villalovos, a Worth resident who has been a member for 17 years, is in complete agreement.
“We are like family here,” Villalovos said. “These are great guys here and I think the veterans who come here have a good time.”
Mike Kenny, also a Burbank resident, has been a member of this chapter for a year and said it is a great outfit.
“We have fun and the Knights of Columbus do a lot,” Kenny said.
The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Founded by the Rev. Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Conn. in 1882, it was named in honor of the explorer Christopher Columbus.
Goetz said the Knights have been providing Thanksgiving meals for blind veterans for 40 years. This is the third year the veterans have been served meals at St. Gerald. The local Knights also once had halls in Burbank and on 95th Street in Oak Lawn.
The veterans who arrive for Thanksgiving dinner are not all completely blind. Some veterans are missing some limbs from combat. The majority of the veteran that were on hand were enjoying themselves and preferred not to discuss their military service in depth. It was a day for them to relax and have a large dinner with desserts and refreshments. When they left for the day, they were presented with a bag of gifts.
“I remember how this all started,” said Goetz, who remains active and planned to attend another holiday meal event for veterans this week. “A guy by the name of Pat Sullivan, who was a member of the Oak Lawn Park District, asked if we could do anything for the blind vets. So, we began cooking turkeys and kept doing it every year.”
The Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Fatima Council dates back to 1952, Goetz said. He recalls visiting Hines to see the wing that has had been built for blind veterans. He was surprised at what he witnessed.
“I saw one of the blind veterans working on a carburetor,” Goetz said. “I said how could he do that? And then the staff told me that they do more than you think. It’s a good outfit over there. It’s a great thing they are doing for them over at Hines.”
The Knights meet at 8 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at Ralph Arnold Hall at St. Gerald School, 9320 S. 55th Court. The Knights also meet at 7:15 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month at Arnold Hall. The council also includes members of St. Albert the Great Parish in Burbank, and the Oak Lawn parishes of St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Linus.
Goetz said that chapter assists to help others. But the group also has social nights where they relax in a party setting. Goetz added that the organization is looking for new members since many in the group are getting older.
“A lot of the things we do have helped people,” Goetz said. “A lot of the money we get, we give to charity.”
Residents who are interested in joining the Knights or just want more information about the chapter can contact the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Fatima, Post Office 534, Oak Lawn, IL 60454. Residents can also drop by the meetings that are held at Arnold Hall.