Generations of Brotherhood
6/1/2017by Matt Hadro
For many Knights, service to the Church and the Order is a family tradition uniting fathers, sons and grandsons
It began as an impromptu wager about his teenage son at a pancake breakfast in 2000, recalled Robert (Bob) Wolf Jr., 61.
At his wife’s request, Bob and his youngest son, James, known as Jamie, had gone over to lend a hand with cleanup. Approached by the grand knight and membership director of Father Timothy P. Malony Council 2681 in Scottsbluff, Neb., about joining the Knights, Bob rattled off his usual excuses.
But then he paused and said, “I’ll tell you what. If you get Jamie to sign, I’ll sign up too.”
Almost 18 at the time, Jamie was ready to graduate from high school and join the U.S. Army. He would surely shy away from extra commitments, Bob thought.
“Minutes later, they came back and showed me Jamie’s signed Form 100, along with a check signed by my wife, made out for both of us,” Bob recounted with a laugh. “So I filled out my Form 100, and Jamie and I did our First Degrees together.”
Three years later, on Nov. 6, 2003, while serving with the 52nd Engineer Battalion near Mosul, Iraq, Jamie was killed by an improvised explosive device. He was 21.
Inspired by Jamie’s service and sacrifice, and by the outpouring of charitable support for their family by local Knights, four generations of men in the Wolf family are now members of Council 2681.
For the Wolfs, membership in the Knights has become a family tradition, just as it has with countless other families throughout the Order. In most cases, this tradition spans many decades, as each successive generation comes of age. The result, however, is the same: fathers, sons and grandsons united in faith and fraternity, honoring the service of those who preceded them.
Although his father and grandfather were both Knights, Leroy Joseph Anderle didn’t join the Order until age 31, some time after he became a father himself. He accepted a friend’s invitation to join West Brazos (Texas) Council 8548, and it had a major impact on his life. Now 64 and a member of St. Martin Council 16222 in Nashville, Ark., Anderle currently serves as the state secretary of the Knights in Arkansas.
“The biggest thing that the Knights of Columbus has done for me is that I am certainly a much better Catholic than I was before I joined,” Anderle said.
“Today, I wouldn’t miss a Sunday Mass for anything. I pray the rosary every day and read the Scripture readings for Mass usually every day,” he said. “The Lord is my life, and I know he is the reason I am still here doing what I do.”
Anderle’s membership in the Knights transformed his family life as well. After he joined the Order in 1984, his elder son, Ron, began spending time after school helping him with K of C fund drives, dances and cook-offs. Ron joined the Order as soon as he could, at age 18.
“It wasn’t just the men themselves who were volunteering, but their whole families would get involved,” recalled Ron, now 44 and past grand knight of Msgr. A.P. Gallagher Council 7258 in Mena, Ark.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t get along too well,” Ron said of his relationship with his father. “But when he became a part of the Knights, I guess you could say he did a lot of soul-searching, and it changed our relationship quite a bit.
“And when I became a Knight, it changed our relationship even more, because now we’re not only father and son, we’re brothers for a cause.”
The tradition has continued with Ron’s own family. His 22- year-old son, Zachary, who has long participated in K of C fund drives and free-throw competitions, joined the Knights shortly after turning 18. He became a Fourth Degree member in January 2015, making four consecutive generations of Fourth Degree members in the Anderle family.
As for Zachary’s great-grandfather, Leroy Victor Anderle, 86, he has been a member of Ketteler Council 1824 in Windthorst, Texas, since 1949 and a Fourth Degree Knight since 1979.
Matthew David (Matt) Hassan, 47, became a fourth-generation grand knight in 1992 when he took the helm of the newly chartered George Mason University Council 10806 in Fairfax, Va., as an undergraduate.
He had taken his First, Second and Third degrees with the Knights four years prior “largely because my dad said, ‘Come join the Knights,’” he quipped. His father, William Edward, had been a grand knight at the Father Robert E. Nudd Council 7369 in nearby Chantilly, Va.
The two joined a line of K of C members in the Hassan family dating back to at least 1911. Now, three of Matt’s sons — Matthew Edward, William and Patrick, ages 22, 20 and 19 respectively — have made it five generations, joining their father as members of Herman J. Veger Council 5561 in Warrenton, Va.
Why has it been so important to continue this family tradition? All the men have drawn rich experiences from the Knights’ pillars of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
Matthew Edward, who is now a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry currently stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., said that he grew up with male role models all around him in the local council. “They were taking care of each other and each other’s families,” he said. “It was this mutual care and respect that attracted me.”
William, a student at Lord Fairfax Community College, found the Order’s history and humble beginning to be compelling. “It started so small, but each little action makes a difference,” he said, adding that no one Knight accomplishes everything alone.
When Matt became district deputy in 2002, he oversaw councils in several northwest Virginia counties. He soon saw that there were lots of social activities at the councils but not as many faith events.
“I would go to the meetings and encourage the sacramental life,” Matt said. This involved promoting nights of confession and eucharistic adoration and processions, and encouraging support of local seminarians and young Catholics pursuing religious life. “When challenged,” he said, “the Knights stepped up.”
For Matt, though, the most profound manifestation of the Knights’ principles came after his wife, MaryAnn, received a diagnosis of cancer. During her long battle, Council 5561 raised money for Matt and MaryAnn to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes. After MaryAnn died in January 2016, the Knights helped with her funeral and catered the reception.
From Matt’s perspective, it is this “unwavering loyalty” of the Knights, “first to the faith and also to each other,” that speaks of the Order’s effect in the world.
A LEGACY OF SERVICE
Like the Hassans, the Wolf family received invaluable fraternal support from the Knights when they needed it most.
By the time of his son Jamie’s death in 2003, Bob was serving as grand knight of Council 2681. “The Knights were some of the first people to the house to help us,” Bob recalled, noting that many of his family members live hundreds of miles away.
Before joining the Army, Jamie became a Third Degree Knight with his father and helped with council fund drives and pancake breakfasts. Even after his deployment, he tried to participate in council events whenever he came home on leave.
Jamie’s brother Knights of Council 2681 did all they could to help the Wolfs as they prepared to bury their son. They made meals for the family, welcomed the Wolfs’ family members arriving from out of state and, most importantly, stood close by Bob during one of the toughest times of his life.
“They got us through it,” Bob said. “Their support got us through those first couple of months that were so bad.”
A Fourth Degree honor guard representing assemblies all over western Nebraska, as well as from neighboring Wyoming and Colorado, was present at Jamie’s funeral.
Just as Jamie had motivated his father to join the Order, the rest of the men in the Wolf family became members in his memory.
Bob’s eldest son, David, 39, was the first to join in 2003 in honor of his late brother. Jamie’s grandfather, Robert Sr., 84, who had joined the Knights in Montana long before, was reinstated into the Scottsbluff council. Bob’s grandson, Tyler, 21, joined as soon as he was old enough. All serve with Fourth Degree honor guards.
“It’s just a way of paying back,” explained Bob, who was elected Nebraska state warden in April, having previously served as a grand knight, district deputy, state council director, convention chairman and program director.
“I tell people that, after losing Jamie, I don’t know where I would have gone without the fraternity and the spiritual strength that I got from my council, my brother Knights and their families,” Bob said.
Soldiers in Jamie’s Army unit, he added, “would talk about the brotherhood, about being there for each other.”
“To me, that is what we Knights are,” he said. “We are a band of brothers who are there for each other, who are there for our families and our parishes.”
MATT HADRO is a reporter for Catholic News Agency/EWTN News based in Washington, D.C. He is a member of George Brent Council 5332 in Manassas, Va.