In service to Lynnfield
Despite dwindling membership numbers, Ken Kasprzak isn’t concerned about the future of the Knights of Columbus.
The fraternal organization, which was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1882, has been serving the Lynnfield community for about 70 years. But, the organization’s membership is aging — to the point where numerous members have been awarded honorary life memberships because they have been a member for over 25 years and are over the age of 70. Of the roughly 90 Knights, more than 20 fit those criteria, says Ken Kasprzak, a former grand knight for Lynnfield’s chapter.
For Kasprzak, though, the aging membership isn’t a major concern, and as he points out, the Knights are far from the only organization of its kind to have trouble bringing aboard younger members.
“A lot of families are in situations where their children are active in sports and other activities, and so to get a male member of a family to join an organization and spend several hours a month is something difficult,” he explained in a recent interview. “For young men to join when you’re looking at 80-year-old men, there’s generally not a lot of things to relate to.”
“There’s a lot of challenges we face right now,” he adds.
As far as Kasprzak is concerned, there’s an obvious solution to the issue — one that could inflate membership numbers for various councils. That is, simply, to merge with those chapters in surrounding towns.
To his point, neighboring communities like Peabody, Reading, and North Reading each have their own councils. He likened the merging of several councils of Knights to that of catholic parishes.
“Just like we’ve seen Catholic churches merge into multiple parishes because they can’t have enough priests to support their population or their community. I think that’s going to happen to the Knights too,” Kasprzak explains. “Eventually, that’s going to require some thought about how to enlarge your numbers internally.
Kasprzak is himself not a lifetime knight nor a lifelong resident of Lynnfield.
He joined the Knights about 15 years ago when he lived in Illinois. Kasprzak explains that he and his wife moved around a lot — living in seven different states. It was his wife that encouraged him to join up.
“She kind of pushed me out the door,” he joked.
When he joined, he didn’t know much about the organization — but, come to find out, he had a family tie to the Knights. Kasprzak’s grandfather, who died when he was a 10-years-old, was himself a knight and, at one point, a grand knight in the 1940s.
“No one ever talked about it,” he says of his family. “That’s pretty cool history.”
Growing up, Kasprzak remembers seeing his best friend’s father decked out in the full Knight regalia — complete with a cape, an admiral hat with plume features, and a tuxedo.
Sure enough, Kasprzak now owns many of the same pieces, which the Knights wear in parades or when attending funeral services or wakes for fellow knights.
The organization is probably best known in Lynnfield for its annual tootsie roll drive, where eagle-eyed residents may have spotted knights sitting on street corners.
That drive is used to help people with disabilities, and the knights exist largely to help those in need, Kasprzak says.
“Many of the families that we support are single mothers or have needs, particularly for food and clothing,” he says. “And we collect donations to help them, particularly around the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
There are also events for younger residents, like annual free throw and poster contests where a monetary award is handed out to the winner.
This fall, the Knights are set to host a mass for deceased brother knights on Nov. 4, and a Christmas Party is set for Dec. 9.