State Deputy Gary Johnson says bringing coats to kids in burnt-out Slave Lake last year was the highlight of his first year heading the Alberta/NWT Knights of Columbus.
Knights of Columbus State Deputy Gary Johnson's credo is simple, direct and packed with the power of faith.
"I always believed God had a plan. Go with it and it is what it is."
The plan for Johnson in this past year is jam packed, both on the faith and personal levels.
Within a month of election last year, he journeyed to New Haven, Conn., and stood in the church where the order was started by Father Michael McGivney. Then it was back home to be married to Cheryl Dimos.
A widower since 2007, Johnson drew emotional support from his children Michelle, Ann-Marit and Kristoffer, his Holy Family Parish and his fellow knights.
But Johnson says his children sensed, "There's got to be a void here for Dad and my daughter Ann-Marit in a conversation said, 'You should meet my pharmacist Cheryl.'"
Johnson called Cheryl, they went for coffee, "And that coffee changed my life."
Johnson glows when he talks about Cheryl. "She stepped up to the proverbial batter's plate with little knowledge of what her role would be as the wife of the Alberta/NWT state deputy and she literally had to go from zero to 100 kph overnight."
Johnson too had to step into the fast lane of state deputy.
"The magnitude of the responsibility, the expectation that you not only make yourself available and that you be very cognizant about what everyone is expecting, but also what everyone brings to the table."
But it's lessened by the fact he has "met so many wonderful people that are so dedicated to what we are doing. It's absolutely overwhelming. It is taking me to another level of commitment to what this is all about in terms of my life."
Johnson, 65, is also an advisor with the Alberta Construction Safety Association.
So he's gone to a four-day work week "and that has really helped."
He's quick to point out, "We (the Knights) are not a service organization. We were started by a Catholic priest and our whole focus is on our Church, our faith and power of prayer."
State Deputy Gary Johnson
Yet when asked what were the significant things the Knights accomplished in past, Johnson replies "Getting involved with Coats for Kids."
Coming back from a regional seminar up north last summer, he and other knights stopped by fire-ravaged Slave Lake. Shocked by the devastation, they returned three months later with a "ton of coats."
He also tells of how one of the first firemen pulled from 9-11 rubble was a knight who has gone on to create a first responders program. Johnson says they hope to implement it here so the Knights can take immediate action when a crisis such as the Slave Lake fire hits.
"Knights respond to catastrophes around the world," he says and tells of the plan to show videos of these humanitarian efforts at the Knights' annual convention April 27-29 at Coast Edmonton East Hotel in Sherwood Park.
The state deputy is also mindful of the faith component of their organization to renewing their commitment made by Father McGivney to "be there for his priests and his parishioners."
To this end, Father Henry Rosenbaum, the state chaplain, and the Knights will bring the chaplains together for a meeting at the convention to discover "How can we be there for you?"
"That's exciting. That's a big one for us," says Johnson.
He also wants to work more closely with the Catholic Women's League. "So many of our knights are married to CWL members and vice versa."
With so much on his plate one hesitates to ask what he does in his spare time.
Johnson laughs. A lot.
Once a long-distance runner he doesn't do that any longer. He is a self-described very bad golfer, bad curler and "I can still skate, but they call me the human pylon."
The man still makes music though and sings bass in the Knights choir that will sing at the convention Masses.
Upbeat, his conversation punctuated by joyful "Wows!" Johnson acknowledges the power of prayer.
"Between the Big Guy and Father McGivney, the power of prayer has come at me even more in this past year," he says. "That is something that our faith has always believed in and I have gotten stronger in that.
"It works. It gives me peace. It gives me strength to face the things that I have to face knowing that I've got that support."