By Andy Telli
The Tennessee Knights of Columbus elected a new leader during their annual state convention, held April 28-30 at the Franklin Marriott at Cool Springs, but the emphasis on service remains the same.
“I’m a firm believer if you ask a man why he joined [the Knights of Columbus], deep down it gave him a chance to answer that call to serve. That’s what the Knights did for me,” said Tracy Staller, of Council 12961 at Holy Family Church in Seymour, who was elected state deputy, the top officer at the state level in the international order.
He succeeds Steve Comm, a member of Council 9282 at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory. Also elected to state leadership positions from the Diocese of Knoxville were Fred Laufenberg, Bill Markiewicz and Eric Pelton.
“Since I was a young kid, my mother believed you had an obligation to use your talents that God has given you to serve others,” said Mr. Staller, a chemist and director of product and process development at EmeraChem in Knoxville. “That drives a lot of what I do. Mom was right.”
Mr. Comm echoed the Knights’ emphasis on service. “There’s a pride in doing. A pride in serving,” he said. “We think any eligible Catholic man … who seeks to be a better man … a better Catholic, the Knights are a place they can accomplish those things and give back to the Church and community in ways they may already be doing” but with the support of an organization whose reach extends around the globe.
Mr. Staller joined the Knights at his parish about 13 years ago, but admits he was reluctant at first.
When the council was founded, “I was one of those guys who said, ‘Guys, I’m too busy to do this,’” he said. “Two years later, I found I was working side by side with a lot of these guys in the parish.”
That experience changed his mind about the Knights, Staller said. “I had seen what the Knights were doing in the parish.”
What drew him to the Knights falls in line with the international order’s initiative of “Building the Domestic Church, Strengthening Our Parish.” The initiative is designed to help Catholic men deepen their faith and strengthen their families and at the same time better integrating the local councils with the activities of the parishes where they are located.
Building on that initiative so it can continue to grow will be one of Staller’s priorities in his new role, he said. “The Supreme Knight has already put us on the track to be more integrated in our parishes. It’s about serving in a more visible manner in our parishes and expanding our reach by involving others.”
After serving as an officer at his council at Holy Family, Staller moved to the state level as a district deputy and eventually running for and being elected State Warden, the first of five state offices that culminates with being State Deputy. Typically, state officers serve two one-year terms before moving up to the next state office. After State Warden, the offices are State Advocate, State Treasurer, State Secretary, and State Deputy.
With two years of service as the immediate past state deputy, becoming a state officer can typically be a 12-year commitment.
“You feel the Lord pushing you in a direction,” said Mr. Staller, who with his wife, Sharon, has two children, Kathleen, a student at Maryville College, and Joseph, a student at Tennessee Tech. “I felt a call.”
Like Mr. Staller, Mr. Comm started as an officer for his local council, 8354 at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Nashville, which he joined in 2003. After serving as state program director, Mr. Comm was elected state advocate when the person in line for that post had to step down.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Mr. Comm said of being state deputy.
“Whatever you think the job is going to be like, multiply that by a factor of five. You have to be in the moment.”
One of his goals as state deputy was to improve communication with the other state officers, district deputies and the local councils, said Mr. Comm, a retired sales executive who has two sons, David, 27, and Nick, 25.
His experience taught him how important it is for the state leadership “to be in close touch with the councils as much as possible,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how appreciative local councils are to see someone from the state. … A number of councils don’t always feel they are part of the larger team. … It’s important they feel the value of being a part of the larger organization.”
Mr. Staller has asked Mr. Comm, as past state deputy, to continue reaching out to local councils across the state as his representative. “I’ll be trying to do my best to spread the message,” Mr. Comm said.
Besides Mr. Staller, other state officers elected at the state convention included:
- State Secretary Mike McCusker of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova.
- State Treasurer Fred Laufenberg of Council 16088 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade.
- State Advocate Bill Markiewicz of Council 4572 at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Church in Cleveland.
- State Warden Eric Pelton of Council 8576 at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga.
The Knights also presented several program awards:
- Church Activity: Council 15837 at Holy Family Church in Lafayette, Grand Knight John Boxold.
- Community Activity: Council 544 at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Grand Knight Dave Johnson.
- Council Activity: Council 12012 at St. Henry Church in Nashville, Grand Knight Jim Kiser.
- Culture of Life Activity: Council 15196 at Holy Spirit Church in Memphis, Grand Knight Joshua Boss.
- Family Activity: Council 8576 at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga, Grand Knight Paul A. Jette.
- Vocations Activity: Council 6099, Holy Family Council in Chattanooga, Grand Knight Craig Bodnar.
- Youth Activity: Council 12633 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City, Grand Knight Donald G. Hoyle.
- Knight of the Year Award: presented to Thomas H. Dega of Council 16088 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade.
- Family of the Year Award: presented to the family of Patrick and Libb Greg of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova.
- Lifetime Achievement Award: presented to Charles Logsdon of Council 9168 at St. Luke Church in Smyrna.
State chaplains for the Tennessee Knights of Columbus are Father John Orr, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Madisonville, and Father Bartholomew Okere, pastor of St. Henry Parish in Rogersville and St. James the Apostle Parish in Sneedville.
Father Orr has served as the lead state chaplain for the Knights of Columbus in Tennessee.