Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, affectionately called the “Paris of the Prairies” because of its many bridges, is a bustling Canadian city of 250,000 people nestled along the banks of the meandering South Saskatchewan River. The Knights of Columbus has a long history of charitable work in the city, beginning with the establishment of Saskatoon Council 1517 in 1910.
In 1984, the eight Saskatoon-area councils at the time banded together to form a joint fundraising body: K.C. Charities Inc.
“A few years later, the Knights identified a need for faith-based affordable housing for seniors and set aside $550,000 for a future project,” explained Bob Jeanneau, former president of K.C. Charities and a member of Holy Spirit Council 8905.
Today, the nonprofit corporation manages affordable housing complexes named Columbian Manor and Columbian Place, which together provide more than 200 suites for seniors.
At age 81, Jeanneau has been a Knight for more than 60 years. With a winning smile and a quiet, steady manner, he now serves as chairman of the executive management committee of K.C. Charities and keeps busy by overseeing the two facilities.
SERVING A NEED
There are now 19 councils in Saskatoon, each represented on the board of K.C. Charities.
According to Ron Martens, K.C. Charities’ current president and a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Council 9690, the corporation’s sole purpose today is to provide and manage faith-based, affordable housing for seniors. Anyone whose needs match what the facilities offer is welcome. “We don’t exclude anyone,” said Martens.
Amid his daily work, Jeanneau tours the facilities like a second home, as staff and residents give him friendly waves and smiles. Pointing to the wall of photos of all the organization’s past presidents, Jeanneau fondly recounts the history of the projects and notes the many people who made them possible.
He emphasizes the need facing many seniors amid rising rental costs, which led the Knights to get involved in the first place.
“People were falling through the cracks,” he said, shaking his head.
The Order’s principles of charity, unity and fraternity compelled the Knights to do something to address the problem.
The breakthrough, according to Jeanneau, came in November 1995 when K.C. Charities purchased a 1.8-acre parcel of land from the city of Saskatoon and constructed a 62-suite seniors’ residence. The initial project, named Columbian Manor, was completed in June 1997. Located on Louise Street in a quiet neighborhood on the east side of the city, the building includes a chapel for daily Mass, a large, sunny dining room and an interior courtyard for strolling or sitting on a swing.
Al Weninger and his wife, Terry, have recently become residents at Columbian Manor. Weninger, a 59-year member of Father O’Leary Council 5104, recalled the initial conversations that led to the residences.
“In the 1980s, a group of us got together and said the Ukrainians, the Lutherans — they are all managing to put up projects for seniors,” he said. “Yet, we Catholics are the majority in Saskatoon. Why can’t we do that?”
Bob Jeanneau, a member of Holy Spirit Council 8905, is a past president of K.C. Charities Inc. and is currently chairman of the executive management committee overseeing Columbian Manor and Columbian Place. Through the two facilities, the Knights provide affordable housing for seniors in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. (photo by Dani Van Steelandt)
Weninger added, “It’s a terrific place. If you don’t show up for morning coffee, people will be worrying about you.”
An additional 16 units were added to the main building in 2000. A third phase, the addition of assisted-living units, began by 2005. The Bob Jeanneau Assisted Living Centre was completed in 2007 and consists of 51 units — a testament to Jeanneau’s passion for these projects from their inception.
Still, he is quick to deflect praise. “There have been so many involved, so many others,” said Jeanneau unassumingly.
In addition to all of the work accomplished by the Knights and their supporters, federal, provincial and municipal governments contributed funds toward the assisted-living expansion. The aim was to keep rental fees below market value while maintaining an adequate reserve to service the building well into the future.
K.C. Charities’ most recent construction — the $12.4 million Columbian Place — was also completed last year with the assistance of government grants. The 75-suite affordable housing complex for seniors 55 and over is located in the Pleasant Hill community on Saskatoon’s west side. On Sept. 11, 2012, the opening celebration was attended by Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, Father Janko Kolosnjaji of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon and representatives from all levels of government.
The spacious four-story building is soundproof and climate-controlled, and includes common areas that foster a community environment among residents.
Ron and Elaine Frehlich, who live at Columbian Place and help manage the facility, said that approximately 20 percent of the 105 residents are Knights. Seven religious also call the facility home.
Ron, who is a member of Msgr. John Robinson Council 8279, said he appreciates managing a facility run by the Knights. “We definitely know that we’re working for an organization that cares.”
“Placement is based on need,” Elaine said. “There are 90 to 100 applications on the waiting list for Columbian Place.”
The waiting list for Columbian Manor is even more staggering — 400 on the list for the independent units and 100 for the assisted-living suites.
“There is clearly a demand for the kind of services we offer,” said Jeanneau.
‘A CARING COMMUNITY’
The staff and residents of Columbian Manor and Columbian Place attest to Jeanneau’s dedication and enduring commitment.
“A couple of years ago, the Manor needed roof repairs. Bob climbed the ladder himself, insisting that he see it,” Martens noted. “At 80, that’s something.”
Jeanneau credits his determination with growing up on a prairie farm. And he emphasizes that the heart and soul of the corporation is embodied in staff members such as Sophie Lachapelle, who serves as executive assistant to the management team. She enjoys being a resident at Columbian Manor when she’s not doing office work or attending to the needs of the residents,
“Having daily Mass is such a blessing,” she said. “The Knights of Columbus are very caring landlords!”
Lachapelle noted that the facilities meet real needs for seniors who, like her, spent most of their lives raising families and do not collect large pensions.
“Our costs are far below any other personal care home that is privately owned,” she said.
Bill Loran, who resides at Columbian Place with his wife, Anne, noted that the management is concerned not only with administration and maintenance, but also with “developing a caring community. Frequently here, prayer is part of the agenda. We become family.”
Loran, a longtime member of Mother of Perpetual Help Council 9538, expressed his gratitude for the Knights’ volunteer work, which he and his wife used to participate in.
“I think my wife spent more hours than I did, doing the work,” he said. “To say hundreds is not significant enough; I’d say thousands — all that went into it over the years.”
The Lorans said they enjoy everything about living at Columbian Place, including the location. Residents have access to a bank, pharmacy and grocery store right down the street.
“Two blocks away is St. Paul’s Catholic Hospital,” Bill said. “Right across the street is the parish, St. Mary’s. … There are a number of us who find St. Mary’s home.”
Many of the residents were baptized at the church, sent their children to the local Catholic school and spent their whole lives in the neighborhood.
The Lorans’ experience is not unique. Roma Nowakowski and her husband, Stanley, a member of Sheptytsky Council 4938, moved from the east side of the city once Columbian Place was open.
“St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral is our parish, only two blocks away from Columbian Place,” Roma explained. Proximity to the cathedral and the nearby Ukrainian Catholic Museum allow them to be more involved in the community.
As with other residents of Columbian Place, the Nowakowskis’ changing needs and relocation did not mean leaving home.
“The people here are definitely all family,” said Roma. “I had major surgery about 10 weeks ago and coming back I got lots of hugs from everybody. They were so concerned about me and happy to see me doing so well.”
Residents of Columbian Place provide activities for the entire community: maintaining a library, hosting movie nights, running a knitting club. Roma Nowakowski teaches art classes. Bill Loran participates in a Bible study.
With volunteer assistance from local K of C councils, there are also events such as pancake breakfasts, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brunches, and barbecues. Debbie Verbeke, general manager of Columbian Manor and Columbian Place, noted the strong sense of community that is lacking at other facilities for seniors. “Other places are just not as personal,” she said.
Although there are no immediate plans for further expansion, councils in other provinces have looked to what K.C. Charities has done in Saskatoon, noted Jeanneau. There remains potential for communities to form partnerships with local municipalities or dioceses, or even to use the land occupied by closed parishes.
For now, residents such as Al Weninger are grateful for what the Knights have already accomplished. “It’s a wonderful way to spend your remaining years — among friends.”
COLLEEN ROULEAU, a native of Saskatchewan, currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta.