Mike Wiedemer of Good Shepherd Church in Decherd was recently honored by the Tennessee Knights of Columbus as the State’s Knight of the Year.
Wiedemer joined the Knights in 1982, in Tullahoma, but made the rounds as active duty military for 32 years. “Every two years I moved around the country, changing my Council membership, until I came back to the Tennessee area,” said Wiedemer. “I joined the Winchester Council, 3431, and decided to keep my membership there, because I knew I was going to be moving around even more rapidly but ultimately returning there.”
He did return in 2004, and has been a member of the Winchester Council ever since. He is now retired from the military, doing part-time consulting on “his schedule” so he can devote most of his time and talents to the Knights, whose mission to help people and communities is close to his heart.
“I’ve always thought that one should give back to others, and to other organizations that support folks,” Wiedemer said. “The reason I stayed in the military is the reason I joined the Knights of Columbus in the first place. Service to others is important.”
And he has participated in quite a bit of it at Good Shepherd Parish and beyond. Seven years ago, Council 3431 asked Good Shepherd Pastor Father Jean-Baptiste Kyabuta what he would like the Knights to focus their energies on, and he suggested supporting the parish school, which eventually closed this spring. “So we undertook to do all the maintenance and cleaning of the school,” explained Wiedemer. “Some of us would go into the classrooms and help teachers with specific lessons. We’ve also participated in the major fundraisers for the school for the last eight years.”
Through the council, Wiedemer also helps maintain and raise funds for The Cowan Home, a group residential house for adults with intellectual disabilities. This is a transition program; the residents are individuals on the verge of being able to move from supported living to living independently. On-site staff, provided and funded by the state, help residents determine whether they’ll be able to successfully live on their own.
The Home’s capital assets are donated by the Knights of Columbus, including a large van used for transportation and community integration.
Still, one of Wiedemer’s greatest passions is his strong belief in the sanctity of life. Over the last year he was deeply involved in trying to get the pro-life amendment to the Tennessee Constitution passed.
That passion comes from his commitment to the Catholic faith. He has been active as a Catholic lay minister in numerous duties since 1977 – as a parish council member, as a lector, and as a Eucharistic minister.
Wiedemer, along with several of the Knights, was part of a group in Franklin County who organized church leadership from all denominations throughout the county. “We hoped to get their congregations well educated on the features of the law, and what the amendment was all about,” said Wiedemer. “That way they could make an educated and informed decision in terms of voting on the amendment.”
The group distributed flyers and were present at all polling places. They held monthly meetings at various locations throughout the county, and gave presentations at several rallies.
“I think the grassroots efforts in this case were enormously successful, not only through the efforts, but also through the prayers of the people,” said Wiedemer. “The amendment passed, even though we were outspent by Planned Parenthood about 10-1.”
It’s not hard to see why Wiedemer was selected as Knight of the Year. Besides his pro-life advocacy and his volunteering for the Good Shepherd School and Cowan Home, he has served as Grand Knight of the Winchester Council for three years, and is currently its Pro-Life Program Director. At the parish he is trainer for all Eucharistic ministers and lectors, as well as the Knights of Columbus altar servers. He’s also the chair of the Good Shepherd Scholarship Committee, which grants up to four-year college scholarships to qualifying high school seniors.
He is also on the Knight’s ceremonial teams that conduct initiations for all four degrees of the Knights of Columbus, and is the conferring officer and team leader for the Third and Fourth degree teams. Starting July 1 he began serving as the Ceremonial Chairman for the state.
As a retired Air Force general and the former commanding general at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in nearby Tullahoma, the patriotic component of the Knights is of particular importance to him. “Once a year I have the opportunity to serve on the state panels for Senator (Bob) Corker for all of the applicants from Tennessee for the military academies,” said Wiedemer. “I’m also on the Governor’s Aerospace and Defense Advisory Committee that helps retain and attract aerospace and defense industries to the state.”
Each one of the Knights of Columbus Councils – there are about 100 in the state – has the ability to nominate one of its own for State Knight of the Year. The accolade is then voted on by District Deputies and approved by the State Deputy, culminating in an award plaque being bestowed at the annual state Convention held in the spring.
This year’s recipient was not expecting the acknowledgement. “It was a very pleasant surprise,” said Wiedemer. “It’s a great honor and privilege to be recognized by such a great group of patriots and volunteers.”