Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
It was 92 degrees as I pulled up to Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Lakewood Ranch, and in weatherman terms, it felt 104 because of the humidity.
I expected to find a Knights of Columbus work party toiling away in the heat, but I didn't expect to find 79-year-old Rich Macklin among them.
Macklin, a career law enforcement officer before retiring, obviously has a certain toughness ingrained, and he wasn't about to let the elements slow down the Knights' record of having completed at least one work project for 43 months in a row.
Besides lending a hand, Macklin also serves as inspiration, or as a reminder to the other five guys in that day's work party that you're only as old as you feel.
That was a good theme for the six guys who showed up Aug. 8 since all were retired. If they have all the aches and pains associated with having lived a little, they didn't show it. Despite some difficulties with their project, it was smiles all around.
And, by the way, there wasn't a carpenter or contractor in the bunch.
Nonetheless, they built a roof over a church porch and added a vent to the side of a building. They explained to me they all have been homeowners who have lived in a generation where you took care of your own around-the-house woes, or at least you didn't call for the plumber until water rose to the height of the window sills.
They might not be construction experts, but they can swing a hammer, cut some lumber or push a wheelbarrow. It proves invaluable because the church can take the saved funds and use it for something more valuable, such as helping those in need.
Our Lady of the Angels has 234 registered Knights, and the work group said about 45 of them are active when it comes to volunteering for the regular monthly projects. Then, of course, you've got the 15 to 20 diehards who seem to be involved in most things.
Ironically, at a time when retired folks are staying closer to home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Knights have been as busy as ever, including their work on six Habitat for Humanity projects since March. Of the regular volunteers, nobody is shying away from the work details, pandemic or not.
"They're always able to find things we can do in a safe manner," said Knight Mike Mahan of the Habitat for Humanity projects.
Gordon Shellhaas described the Knights as being "fortunate" that Habitat for Humanity has kept the volunteers engaged even if some of the projects have been limited in terms of what can be accomplished under pandemic conditions. When their Habitat for Humanity projects are complete, they also knock out work around the church, or head out to accomplish other tasks in the community.
One of the church projects was painting the 450 concrete parking stops in front of each space in the lot. Unlike some of the other church projects — such as disinfecting on a regular basis during the pandemic — the parking stop paint job was more noticeable to the parishioners. The Knights have received a lot of compliments for that job.
But they don't work for attention. The goal is to be part of something special in giving back to the community.
That attitude, and their sheer amount of volunteerism, has been noticed outside the parish. The President's Volunteer Service Award presented the Knights in July with the Silver Status Award for their projects and volunteer hours. The Knights were nominated by Habitat for Humanity.
The award was accepted by John Joly, the Grand Knight who plans many of the projects and also participants in the labor.
Included in the note from President Donald Trump's office was this: "One of our nation's greatest strengths remains the compassion of our everyday citizens, who give so willingly of themselves and their lives for the benefit of others."
The Knights appreciate the award, but they will go forward, recognition or not.
"This is our parish, it's what we are supposed to do," Shellhaas said.