By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The Knights of Columbus may be a fraternity for Catholic men, but Carlos Valdez’ mother, Judith Leon-Velarde, was the driving force behind his decision to join four years ago.
“My mother loved the old regalia. She said, ‘You need to be like that!’” Valdez recalls.
He first heard about the Knights of Columbus shortly after joining the former St. Mary Parish in Davenport in 2015. “I dropped my mother off at Las Posadas (a Spanish-language Advent novena). I couldn’t go because I had to work. When I picked her up, she said, ‘I met a big guy, and he wanted to tell you about the Columbus!’” Valdez said. “That’s what she called it.”
The “big guy” his mother spoke of was Gerardo Huizar, Jr., the council’s grand knight at the time. “He asked if I was interested. I was excited about everything they did. I like to help people.” Valdez joined the local council and, within a few months, worked his way up to the Fourth Degree so he could participate in the Honor Guard and other patriotic degree endeavors.
The Knights of Columbus offered something else the self-described “workaholic” had been missing in his life: the friendship and support of other Catholic men. They accepted Valdez, and his mother, too. She was a constant presence at meetings, conventions, service projects, Masses and social gatherings. “They loved my mother.”
The support of these men became invaluable two years ago when Valdez’ mother became ill and passed away at age 89. Fellow Knights and Sir Knights (Fourth-Degree members) visited Valdez and his mother at the hospital, served as Honor Guard at her funeral, and offered emotional support as Valdez dealt with sometimes crippling grief. “They helped comfort me after she passed away, especially Gerardo and (fellow Sir Knight) Menny Toquinto.”
Following her death, Valdez became more involved in his Fourth Degree assembly, Dr. C.F. Barrett in Davenport. Recently, District Master Michael Gaspers installed Valdez as the assembly’s Faithful Navigator, the highest-ranked officer in the assembly.
Valdez has been using his IT skills and social media savvy to increase the assembly’s online presence and outreach. He recently formed a committee that will focus on outreach to veterans, and he is working on a program to build local awareness for all Knights of Columbus — not just those in the Fourth Degree.
Past Faithful Navigator Vern Vondera said Valdez is the first Hispanic man to lead the assembly; Huizar, Jr., and Toquinto also serve as officers. Vondera said the assembly, which is about 10 percent Hispanic, benefits from “the diversity of thoughts and different ways of looking at things.”
Valdez, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Peru 30 years ago, said patriotism isn’t limited to persons born in the U.S. “It’s about your love of God, love of church and love of country,” Valdez said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from.”
Although Leon-Velarde didn’t live to see this milestone in her son’s life, “She would be very proud and very happy for me,” Valdez said.