A Tradition of Faith, Family and Fraternity
There is little activity along the road as one drives among the silt foothills of southeastern Washington state, where umber brown and hunter green bleed together in a land that is waiting silently for spring. In the middle of a large region of the Pacific Northwest called the Palouse, a sign finally breaks the monotony of the rolling hills and fields of winter wheat: “Adopt a highway — Knights of Columbus Council 1565.”
This bit of metal is but a small testament to the Order’s impact on the local community. Amid a small town of just 400 people, there lives a large family with deep roots both in the region and in the Knights of Columbus.
More than a century has passed since the inception of Colton (Wash.) Council 1565. In that time, the Weber family, whose ancestors emigrated from Germany in the late 1800s, has sustained five successive generations of involvement in the Order. Their family history — like countless others throughout North America — is closely intertwined with their love for the Catholic faith and with the Knights.
Much of Barthol Weber’s young life had been lived under the influence of the Kulturkampf of late-19th century Prussia, as the government suppressed the Catholic Church politically and culturally. Despite the difficult circumstances, the Weber family remained devout.
Barthol knew that he would be conscripted into the army of the German Empire when he turned 18. But because he was unwilling to enforce the anti-Catholic policies of the Kaiser, he snuck across the nearby border of Luxembourg, en route to the Netherlands, on the eve of his birthday. After several years, he emigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Whitman County, Wash., in 1886.
In Colton, Barthol established a farm, married and fathered 10 children. He and his wife were attracted to the area because of its strong Catholic identity — as were many other German immigrants of the time.
At about the same time that Barthol arrived in the United States, Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney and a group of men in New Haven, Conn., founded the Knights of Columbus. As the fledgling organization bolstered the Catholic identity of young immigrant families, it began to spread throughout North America. Soon, the Order began making inroads into the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1900s, recruiters for the Knights started arriving from cities like Denver. After taking root in cities such as Seattle and Spokane, the Knights quickly spread to smaller communities and parishes throughout Washington.
When Colton Council 1565 formed in 1911, Barthol Weber and his sons were among its first members. Also among the council’s first members were the sons of Franz Druffel, a stonemason and farmer who had moved his family from western Germany and settled in Colton at the turn of the century.
Today, LeRoy Weber (Barthol’s grandson), and his wife, Trudy (Franz’s granddaughter), are the elders of the Weber clan. LeRoy, 89, and his two younger brothers, like their father George before them, had joined the Order at a young age.
“It was a way to organize and help the Church out,” explained LeRoy. “That is what the Knights of Columbus do in these little towns.”
Throughout the 20th century, the Colton Knights became very active within their parish and community. The council assembled its own men’s choir, while events such as Corpus Christi processions, Memorial Day gatherings and Christmas parties highlighted the Knights’ presence and the pride they took in their faith.
A farmer since his youth, LeRoy took his First Degree in 1943 and through his strong, quiet example, ensured that both the Catholic faith and the Columbian virtues remained central to his family’s life. Following in the footsteps of Trudy’s father, Bennie Druffel, LeRoy served as the council’s grand knight in the late 1950s.
“The Knights’ activity within the Church and in the community was impressive, and we could see it when we were kids,” said LeRoy’s oldest son, Tom. “Dad never missed a meeting, and we admired him.”
LeRoy and Trudy raised their seven children with a great sense of responsibility and investment in their local parish and community. When each of the boys turned 18, LeRoy would simply say, “You know, the Knights are a good organization. You should join.”
Other members of the council would also pay the boys a visit to ensure they were welcomed into the Order.
“When I was 18, a couple of Knights came to talk to me about joining the council,” recalled Jerry Weber, 57. “These men were respected individuals in the community and it is a pretty impressive thing when you’re that young. To have such interest in me, it made me feel like I was worth something.”
Like their father and grandfather, three of the Weber boys — Tom, Jerry and Marty — became grand knights of Council 1565. Tom, in fact, went so far as to serve as Washington state deputy from 1995-97.
In the 1980s, the status of Knights in the region began to grow, thanks to a desire to serve the community even more. Council 1565 introduced activities such as the Steelhead Fishing Derby, which has grown from only 40 participants and a single catch to include hundreds of participants from throughout the Pacific Northwest. The event currently raises more than $4,000 annually for a rural Catholic school.
More importantly, involvement in the Order has encouraged council members to practice their faith not only on Sundays, but also to integrate it into their daily lives and work. The Colton Knights continue to take a direct route in inviting young men to join the Order — just as they were invited.
At a general audience during the Synod for the New Evangelization last October, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The encounter with Christ renews our human relationships, directing them, from day to day, to greater solidarity and brotherhood in the logic of love.”
As the Order emphasizes the importance of faith and family, while fostering this “greater solidarity and brotherhood in the logic of love,” it continues to have an enduring effect in communities and in the hearts of its members.
All of this is not lost on the current generation of the Weber family. Several of LeRoy’s grandsons are members of the Knights today.
Integral aspects of their formation as men came from the Order, according to Marty’s son Nick, 28, a member of Council 1565. He and his cousins recognize that the witness of the Knights, especially in their family, has provided a training ground for fostering community, taking on leadership roles and growing in character.
“Up in the city, a lot of people don’t know their neighbor or even care to know their neighbor,” said Nick, who lives in Spokane with his wife and two children. “We go out of our way to meet the people and get involved in our community in different ways.”
For the Weber family, the Knights of Columbus isn’t just a fraternity; it is part of their Catholic faith as a whole. Over the years, the Order has provided the Webers with significant opportunities for prayer and worship, but its influence has been much broader.
Trudy Weber put it the most simply: “The Knights have made my boys better men and better Catholics.”
The mission of the Knights continues to be concretely realized in innumerable families around the world, and the Webers are no exception. So far, LeRoy and Trudy Weber have ten great-grandchildren and one on the way. And there’s every reason to believe that the men of this sixth generation will join the Knights, embracing the family’s strong tradition of fraternalism and enduring faith.
“The Knights and the faith have been a stronghold for our family,” said Trudy. “I pray that our great-grandsons may become Knights of Columbus and experience the strength and growth that we have experienced through the organization as well.”
COLIN PARRISH is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle at Bishop White Seminary and a member of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Council 12583 in Spokane, Wash.