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History of the Knights of Columbus
"On March 29, 1882, the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut granted the charter to the Knights of Columbus "for the purpose of rendering material aid and assistance to its members and their families." For Fr. Michael McGivney, curate of the St. Mary's Church in New Have, it marked the fulfillment of his vision to unite Catholic men in a society through which they might advance the ideals of their faith.

On January 9, 1882, Fr. McGivney assembled a group of men from his parish and described his vision of his fraternal society. His objectives were to provide a system of fraternal insurance that will provide for the widows and children of its members, to provide fellowship among its members, to perform charitable, educational, and patriotic works for the benefit of all in their community and their nation.

On February 6, 1882, the name "Knights of Columbus" was chosen and the application sent to the state of Connecticut for a charter. The founders of the Order felt that the name of the new organization should relate to the Catholic discover of America to emphasize that Catholics helped discover, explore and colonize the North American continent and that they should embody knightly ideals of service to Church, country and fellow citizens. The title "Knights of Columbus" was adopted over the original proposed "Sons of Columbus".

As the new fraternal organization began to grow, other councils were granted charters throughout the New England states. By the end of the century, new councils were being formed all across the United States and "columbianism" was flourishing."

    (from the Knights of Columbus website)

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Massillon Council 554 - History
On January 27, 1901, Massillon Knights of Columbus Council No. 554 was granted its charter from the Supreme Council, with a charter membership of 48 men. The Massillon K of C Council is one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the city and one of the oldest councils in Ohio. J.A. Shaidnagle was the Charter Grand Knight of the new council, whose original clubrooms were located on Charles Avenue S.E. in the Sibila Building. Other meeting locations included rooms above the Lincoln Theatre, located on Lincoln Way E., the Arcade Building on Lincoln Way W.; the Schworm Building; the David Brothers Toy Company (formerly The Bear Furniture Co.) on Lincoln Way and the former First Christina Church (the Old Hall") on Third Street SE. Council 554 moved into its present facility on Cherry Road in 1976.

Information on the early years of Council 554 has been difficult to locate. However, the following was discovered in a 1932 Knights of Columbus "50th Anniversary" book on the councils in Ohio. Council 554 Financial Secretary Lester A. Wolf wrote the article on the council in Massillon:
    "January 27, 1901, thirty-two years ago, the following group of forty-eight men obtained a charter from Supreme Council Knights of Columbus, and started the local council:

    J. Schaidnagel, J, Tordt, J. Miller, K. Sonnhalter, J. Wittmann, E. Sibila, H. Pille, L. Lambert, L. Falke, H. Mellon, H. Powers, O. Seibold, H. Ress, L. Kerrigan, C. Whitman, W. Sonnhalter, F. Scheer, A. Paul, G. Fleming, G. Paul, K. Kracker, W. Connell, G. Falke, E. Hansen, W. Bantz, B Weiler, J. Rossman, T. Whalen, T. Emmington, O. Volkmor, H. Miller, M. Gannon, E. Creedon, J. Fretz, L. O'Toole, L Labbe, J. Brand, W. Blank, W. Hammer, T. Quinlan, C. Whitman, W. Dunlap, F. Hirt, G Mellon, J. Vaughan, and T. Fleming.

    The above group of men all dug down into their jeans and got a pot of money together and rented the Old C.M.B.A. Hall in the Sibila Building on Charles Street. They later bought the equipment. For about seven years, they remained at this location and as their membership increased they moved to their present quarters. In the old days Massillon had one of the best Degree Teams in the State of Ohio. It was headed by Chief of Police Edw. Ertle and the team put on the degree work all over the State of Ohio and even in Pennsylvania. When the team would put on the work Massillon Council would always charter a train and not one member would be missing from the train unless he was sick, even then it is told that at one time one of the members came on a stretcher. Yes, those were the days.

    Today Massillon Council has over three hundred members who are always willing and do take part in civic affairs. In the past, Massillon Council has sponsored the Knot Hole Club for boys and girls every year at Meyers Lake Park. The council has sponsored the City Play Grounds (1931) and cooperated jointly in 1932 with other fraternal organizations.

    Massillon Council has a Fourth Degree Assembly second to none. It is active in all civic and church affairs. The assembly was granted a charter on January 1, 1930, when a group of Massillon Fourth Degree who had belonged to the Canton Assembly, asked that an assembly be started in Massillon. When Massillon Assembly was less than a year old they put on a fourth degree initiation in Massillon the first time it was ever attempted in a small town and it was a big success, the talk of the state and Supreme Council.
The "old hall" was purchased in the fall of 1958 from The First Christian Church. Shortly after this, the council did some redecorating and laid a new floor in a portion of the building. A mortgage-burning ceremony was held in June of 1961, and further remodeling plans were initiated. In 1963 new flooring was placed in the remainder of the upstairs, and paneling was added to the downstairs recreation room. The dining room and kitchen facilities were later improved. In the early spring of 1966 the final phase to be completed was the exterior remodeling when all the old stained glass windows were enclosed. The interior of the main hall also was redecorated and paneling was applied to the west wall of the main hall.

Construction of the new home on Cherry Road was begun in November of 1975, and was considered to be the largest Knights of Columbus facility in the state of Ohio. The cornerstone was laid on July 3, 1976 with the Most Rev. William A. Hughes, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown officiating. The building was opened during the summer of 1976. The new building is comprised of four main rooms: the Santa Maria Room which has accommodations for 600 persons, the Pinta Room with capacity for 250, the Columbian Room with capacity for 170 and the Nina Room with capacity for 80. The building measures 125 ft, by 160 ft. and is air-conditioned. There is parking available for 350 cars.

Much of the construction was done by members and friends. From 130 to 140 individuals donated 8,160 hours of labor and as a result, the entire facility was built at a reduced cost. The cost will be paid for through pledges, sales of non-interest-bearing bonds, donations and fund-raising activities. Brother Fred Berens designed the building.

Plans for the development of the Recreation Park began in 1970 when the officers and trustees authorized the organization of the Building Committee. The first step of the building program was the construction of the pavilion in 1973. In September of that same year the pavilion was completed and dedicated with a Concelebrated Mass at the facility with members, families and guests in attendance. The pavilion measures 120 feet long, and is complete with kitchen facilities, two large rest rooms and seating at the picnic tables for 400 persons. Children's play area with swings and slides, two horseshoe courts and a softball field are also available at the site.

An editorial in the Massillon Evening Independent on September 19, 1973 read:
    "Massillon Council 554, Knights of Columbus, dedicated a pavilion Sunday at their recreation site on Cherry Road NW.

    The pavilion is the first unit of a building program that will turn the site into a recreation center for the council and all Massillon, for that matter, can be proud of. The pavilion has seating for 400 persons and contains a kitchen and rest rooms.

    Besides the pavilion, a play area for children has already been installed and includes horseshoe courts, a badminton court and softball filed for older folk. Under construction is a swimming pool with separate diving area.

    As far as our memory serves us it is the first development for this tract of barren land. Once a portion of it was used as a none-to-smooth baseball diamond known to old-timers as Stonequarry Hill Field. It also was used at one time as an airfield and has been the scene of small carnivals and circuses.

    Development of the recreation area represents the work of many willing hands. Seeding and landscaping were impossible during the present construction period, but once completed we believe it will be a beauty spot that will complement the neighborhood.

    We congratulate members of the K. of C. Council for bringing about this development."
Construction began on the swimming pool in the fall of 1973. The facility measures 50 by 100 feet in size, complete with a separate diving area and kiddy pool. The pool was dedicated to the memory of the late Paul V. Howell on June 28, 1975 with a Concelebrated Mass at the pool with members, families and guests in attendance. The pool was dedicated to Brother Howell in recognition of his work with "special" children and he also helped in the initial construction phases of the pool. Brother Howell was serving in his 15th year as Council Advocate at the time of his death in December 1973. Aside from Council members and their families enjoying the pool, it was also open without charge to legitimate organizations serving these "special" children. By 1995 the pool developed major structural problems. With several years of revenue losses and costly repair estimates, the trustees of the Massillon Knights Foundation felt it was in the best interest to close the pool.

Massillon Council 554 and the Bishop Massillon Fourth Degree General Assembly are named for Bishop Jean Baptiste Massillon, who served as chaplain in the Court of King Louis XIV of France. The Bishop Massillon Assembly was formed on January 1, 1930, and encompasses members from the Massillon-Navarre and Canton areas. Prior to this the members belonged to the Canton Assembly. The Fourth Degree is the "Patriotic Arm" of the Knights of Columbus whose main function is to promote and participate in patriotic endeavors on the national, state and community levels.

Over the years as the council grew, so did the enthusiasm of its members, who for many years have been active in works of charity and community involvement. Massillon Council's enthusiasm and pride is indicative of the fact that for the past several years it has been one of the top councils in the entire state of Ohio. We have earned numerous State Council and Supreme Council awards for participation in programs designed to help the Church, the community and youth. Council members are also actively involved in the fight against abortion, obscenity and pornography. The also promote projects to help those in need, financial or otherwise. Many of the program directors are in the top ten in the entire state, for their respective programs.

The activities and accomplishments of Council 554 are numerous. Council members are active in Church Activities. Many of our members are serving their respective parishes in such capacities as Lectors, Lay Distributors, C.C.D. instructors and are active in many parish organizations such as The Holy Name Society, The St. Vincent de Paul Society, etc. The Council also promotes Corporate Communions for members and their families. Scholarships to our local Catholic schools are awarded each year from funds set up by our Massillon Knights Foundation. The Foundation also support area projects as building and school restoration projects at local parishes and Central Catholic High School.

The Knights are also active in Community programs. For several years the Council has sponsored successful visits of the Red Cross Bloodmobile at the council hall. Members provide both assistance and blood donations at each visit.

Thirty to forty council members prepare and serve a hot lunch for the needy of the Massillon community every Wednesday at the complex on Cherry Road. This program, originated in the mid-1980's in cooperation with the St. Mary's Vincent de Paul Society, has regularly served 300 to 450 people each week. It continues today as one our council's primary charitable service to the Massillon community.

Massillon Knights and their families are also active in the Ohio State Council's Measure-Up Program each spring. Volunteers solicit contributions from patrons at local business in the Massillon area. 20% of the funds are used for an Ohio State Council donation to the State Association of Retarded Citizens while the remaining 80% is presented to a local association in the name of the council. Massillon annually donates their 80% to the Stark ARC's summer camp program for those with mental retardation. In addition, Council 554 regular takes part in the Special Population Free-Throw at the Southgate School.

The council has long been involved in working with our youth. Annual Halloween Christmas and Easter Parties are held for children. We also participate in the annual "All-Ohio Charities Campaign" (formerly Youth Fund) of the Ohio State K of C Council. In 1974 the name was changed to the former to reflect the various other groups who benefit from these funds. Money received from this campaign finances our many children's parties, youth activities of the Youngstown Diocese and many more worthy causes.

The Council also has a strong "fraternal" program. Regular visits are made by our members to hospitalized Brother Knights, as well as the sending of get-well cards. An annual Memorial Mass and Service for deceased members is held in November. Also support to our member's family is provided with a prayer service by our Bereavement Committee at the calling hours of our deceased member. Such projects as dances, dinners and other functions are held for the benefit of members in need or their families.

In the area of "Council" activities the council provides many activities for the benefit of members, in promoting the cause of fraternalism and fellowship. We presently have a Wednesday evening golf league and regularly participate in the Ohio K of C Golf Tournaments. Many other activities are held throughout the year such as dinners, fish fries, dances, the annual family picnic and many more activities for the benefit of members, their families and guests.

Council 554 also recognizes local charitable and echumetical service by a member of a local non-Catholic church in the form of the Humanitarian Award. This award is presented annually to an individual in recognition of his or hers outstanding service to their church and the Massillon community.

In early 1976 the council formed a Columbian Squires Circle which is the junior organization of the Knights of Columbus. Membership is open to boys between the ages of 10 and 18 and the purpose of the Squires is the development of leadership abilities and talents through spiritual, civic, cultural, social and athletic activities. The circle became inactive after a few years, but was reactivated in 2001.

The Massillon Council is fortunate to have two fine auxiliary organizations in which member's wives, daughters, mothers or sisters may join. The Columbian Ladies Guild was formed on October 19, 1965. They meet the third Tuesday of every month and present interesting programs for its members. The Isabella Club is another fine organization, which has been organized for over 50 years. They meet on the second Thursday of each month and also provide interesting programs at their meetings as well as play cards for member's entertainment. Both of these wholesome organizations are invaluable to the Massillon Knights, for their help and assistance is greatly appreciated by the Council.

In addition to program awards, four Council 554 members were also recognized with top honoree awards. Joe Manhart received the State "Knight of the Year" award in 1973, James Urbas was recognized as the State "District Deputy of the Year" in 1976, Ralph Snyder received the State "Knight of the Year" award in 1986 and Ken and Linda Girt and their three children were recognized as the State "Family of the Year" for 1995. The Girt family also placed fourth runner-up in the Supreme Council's International Family of the Year contest that same year. In addition to the state awards, many our members have been recognized as diocesan winners in the state program over the years.

So here is a brief history of the Massillon Council and its work for the Church, the youth and the community. Is it any wonder that the Massillon K of C has been an award winning council almost from the time it was founded in 1901?

May the Massillon K. of C. be blessed with many more years as its members endeavor to further the work of Columbianism in the spirit of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism.

Original article written by Dennis Fitzgerald, with additional information written by Ken Girt.

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