Louise Chwascinski can still remember the first time she saw the women of the Washington Knights of Columbus Auxiliary in action.
It was the early ’80s, when Diane Meyer was the group’s president. Chwascinski and her husband had moved to Washington a few years earlier, and a friend, Dorothy Kleekamp, had been encouraging her to get involved with the Auxiliary.
“Then she brought me to a Communion breakfast . . ., and I thought, ‘These women know what to do!’ ” recalled Chwascinski. “After that, I got involved.”
Looking back she said it’s hard to imagine her life in Washington without the Auxiliary. The group has provided her some of her closest friendships and even taught her how to cook.
Catering has always been the Auxiliary’s main source of fundraising. The women make and serve the meals for weddings, dinners, funeral lunches, Christmas parties and other events, many held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, but even some that are elsewhere.
For 70 years now, the women of the Knights of Columbus Auxiliary have fed the people of Washington and, in turn, provided for the community.
In the beginning, the women gave the money they earned to the Knights to pay for the hall, but later they began raising enough to donate their proceeds to other causes too, mainly the local Catholic schools and students.
Over the years, the Auxiliary has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Catholic education in Washington, said Chwascinski.
Currently the group gives $5,000 annually to each of the three Catholic grade schools — St. Francis Borgia, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Gertrude.
That amount began as just $1,000 for each school, and has been as high as $10,000, said Auxiliary President Chris Feldmann.
The Auxiliary also donates $5,750 each year to St. Francis Borgia Regional High School to combine with like donations from the Knights Council and Board to provide some-two dozen scholarships for SFBRHS students.
The women give money to help in other ways too. The upstairs kitchen in the current Knights of Columbus Hall (built in 1984) was selected and paid for by the Auxiliary, noted Doris Sullentrup, a past president.
“We had to furnish everything for the kitchen,” she said. “It was over $65,000 worth, that was in the ’80s, and we never borrowed a penny to pay for it.”
Chwascinski said she can remember using vacation time to take off work to do legwork researching things for the kitchen. Doris Weber recalled how she went with then-president Roberta Dobsch into St. Louis to purchase all of the needed appliances and equipment.
And that was just for the upstairs kitchen. Later the Auxiliary paid to have a kitchen and dumbwaiter installed downstairs to accommodate events held in the lower level.
At the old Knights of Columbus Hall at Second and Jefferson streets, the kitchen was in the lower level and the food always had to be brought up the stairs for events, which was extremely stressful, members said.
Other things the Auxiliary has paid for at the Knights of Columbus grounds include the barbecue building, pavilion renovation, a portion of the air-conditioner replacement, the entrance sign, fence around the pond and the lower parking lot.
The women also have paid for decorating of both the old and new halls. This included wallpaper, blinds and replacement shades and the addition to the halls for storage.
The Auxiliary also has donated to community groups like the Franklin County Area United Way, American Heart Association and Vitae Society.
Currently the Auxiliary is raising money for the Knights of Columbus prolife/ultrasound initiative through dessert sales and events like a washer tournament, dartball tournament, bunco night and Ladies Night Out event. The group has pledged $4,000 and already has donated half of that.
“This group of ladies is never afraid to try anything when it comes to raising money for a good cause,” Feldmann commented. “I can’t wait until I retire so I can be up here (at the hall) more.”
Organized in 1942
The Washington Knights of Columbus, Father Seisl Council 1121, was established in May 1906 with 55 charter members, but it was almost 40 years later before the women’s Auxiliary was organized.
The Knights, who had been meeting in various buildings of St. Francis Borgia Parish, purchased their own hall in 1942 — the Old Town Hall, also known as the Krekel building, at the corner of Second and Jefferson streets. The building was in need of renovation and repairs, which were done mostly by the Knights.
To help in that cause, the women came together that year to organize the Seisl Ladies Auxiliary to “work with and for the men” of the Seisl Council.
There were 43 charter members, with Martha Hettenhaus elected the Auxiliary’s first president.
In the early ’40s, the Auxiliary catered two or three dinners each year. By 1946 they had added banquets and weddings.
The food was always made from scratch, recalled Eleanor Eckelkamp, who joined the Auxiliary two months shy of her 18th birthday in 1955.
“We plucked many a chicken,” she said.
Back in ’55, the Auxiliary still held initiation for the incoming members, Eckelkamp noted. The women had to do silly things, like ride a horse backward and walk a path blindfolded.
The annual Communion Breakfast was another Auxiliary tradition that ended about 15 years ago. Every October beginning in 1943 the Knights showed their appreciation for the ladies Auxiliary by preparing and serving them breakfast after Sunday Mass.
Quilting is another Auxiliary tradition, although it’s changed a little over the years. The women now hold a marathon quilting session once a year, beginning on a Monday and continuing into Tuesday with quilters taking shifts.
The finished quilt is then raffled off as a fundraiser.
‘The Social Thing to Do’
Currently the Auxiliary averages about three weddings a month, said Feldmann. That’s nothing compared to years past, when some Auxiliary members can recall catering three events in one weekend — Friday and Saturday night and then Sunday afternoon.
Already this year the Auxiliary has catered some 85 to 90 events at the KC Hall, plus another 23 funeral luncheons, the women said.
These events, especially weddings, mean long hours at least seven or eight, members said — from 2:30 to 9:30 p.m. for many weddings and from around 8 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. for daytime events.
It’s exhausting work, the women said, but at the same time, surprisingly fun.
“It’s always an experience, fun times,” said Doris Sullentrup. “You work like a dog, but you have fun doing it.”
In fact, the social aspect of the Auxiliary is what attracted many ladies to the group in the first place. Women joined with their friends or joined to make friends.
“In ’61 when I joined, it was the social thing to do,” said Sullentrup.
The meetings, which were always held the first Tuesday of the month, were known as “Ladies Night Out.” Once the meeting concluded, the women went over to the bar for a social hour.
Feldmann, who has only been a member for three years, said that tight-knit feeling is what drew her in.
“I’m hooked!” she remarked.
“It’s such a good organization, and they do such good things. It makes me proud to be part of it.”
The Auxiliary has for years gotten together for social outings, like trips to see shows at The Muny and to Hermann to see the Christmas decorations at St. George rectory.
Many of the ladies laugh over that memory. It was the year an ice storm hit and the bus the women took was stuck en route when Highway 100 was closed down for a period of time.
“When we converged on that gas station, we bought anything we could — food, water — because we hadn’t had dinner and we were all starving,” said Feldmann, laughing.
“We pulled into the parking lot at 2:30 a.m.”
Laughing, no doubt.
Oldest in the State
The Seisl Auxiliary is believed to be the oldest in the state of Missouri.
Over the years, membership has swelled to as high as 230-plus members. Currently membership is around 175.
That includes five women in their 90s and a couple of older teenagers, said Sullentrup.
The Auxiliary is always looking for new members, the group said. Women must be 18 years old and either the wife, daughter, mother or unmarried sister of a Knight.