Worthy state deputy pleased with 2 years of achievements

Gary Johnson of St. Albert is wrapping up his two-year term as state deputy

WCR FILE PHOTO

Gary Johnson of St. Albert is wrapping up his two-year term as state deputy

April 15, 2013
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Gary Johnson has much to be proud of as he concludes his two-year stint as state deputy of the Knights of Columbus of Alberta-Northwest Territories.

During his term the Knights not only raised money for charities but helped fire victims in Slave Lake, revived dormant councils in the NWT and established closer relationships with the Catholic Women's League.

They also have made their presence more visible in the annual March for Life in the past two years.

As challenging as the position has been, "I absolutely wouldn't have traded this experience for anything," Johnson says. "I was honoured they elected me as state deputy. I'm humbled by watching so many other people who have done so much more than me. I'm just proud to have been able to be part of this."

Johnson, an advisor with the Alberta Safety Council in Edmonton, wraps up his two-year term at the helm of the Knights at the order's Convention at the Coast Plaza Hotel in Calgary April 19-21.

Delegates from every corner of Alberta and the NWT will attend the three-day event, where they will elect a new state deputy and executive board. There are about 18,000 knights in 170 councils in the Alberta-NWT jurisdiction.

In an interview, Johnson, 66, said he was proud of the way the Knights responded to the Slave Lake fire in May 2011, when they expanded their Coats for Kids program to the burned-out town.

With help from St. Peter's Parish in Slave Lake, the Knights identified children who needed winter coats "and went there and presented a bunch of winter coats to needy students from five elementary to junior high schools."

The Knights also raised almost $20,000 for disaster relief in Slave Lake and have continued to support the parish's efforts in the past two years.

SUPREME HIGHLIGHT

At the last supreme convention in New Haven, Conn., a video of the Alberta Knights helping the victims of the Slave Lake fire was presented as one example of how the order throughout the world successfully assisted people in need.

"When they zeroed in on Slave Lake I was in tears," Johnson told the WCR. "It was a special feeling."

This year the Knights spiced up their annual Charity Appeal by adding a second vehicle to the raffle. As a result, they raised $270,000 in revenue, up $30,000 from 2012. Money from the appeal is used to help local charities.

Last September Johnson and other leaders visited the NWT to reaffirm the work of the Yellowknife council and to revive dormant councils in the region. They also appointed a district deputy there to coordinate the work.

The visit helped renew the Knights in the North by signing up new members and working to strengthen councils in Hay River and Fort Smith that nearly became inactive, he said.

Johnson also took steps during his term to bring the Knights and the Catholic Women's League closer together, which was one of his stated goals.

He made a special effort to work with CWL provincial president, Sheila Houle, as well as the presidents of the diocesan councils of Edmonton and Calgary.

"We invited them to our conventions and we are really working closely with them," Johnson said. "So many of our knights' wives are CWL (members) and we are all there for our Church and our priests and ministries and so it makes sense that we work closer together."

CASINO HANGOVER

One of Johnson's toughest challenges during his term has been to persuade some councils to stay away from casinos as a fundraising method. A handful of councils still work casinos, he admits, but the vast majority have found alternative ways of raising funds, from selling grocery and gas cards to organizing pancake breakfasts in churches.

The Knights have been trying to get away from casino fundraising since the Alberta bishops banned the practice a few years ago.

Another big challenge for the Knights is how to maintain membership levels to continue to do their charitable work. Every year they lose a significant number of members to death and other causes.

"Every year when we have a memorial Mass, we read out the names of about 200 knights that have passed away in the last year," Johnson pointed out.

"Membership is a major concern for us. We need to be growing constantly so we can continue our work. We are trying to attract younger members all the time."

Fortunately, Johnson said, a lot of younger men in their 20s and 30s are attending church and therefore available for recruitment. "There are signs of opportunity for growth and bringing in more members."