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story.lead_photo.caption Tony Diaz of Fairfield Bay holds the plaque he received April 28 for being named Arkansas Knight of the Year. Diaz, 80, was honored at the state Knights of Columbus convention in Bentonville. He is a member of Knights of Columbus Council 8815 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

Tony Diaz of Fairfield Bay declined invitations for years to join the Knights of Columbus, but when he did, he made up for lost time.

Diaz, 80, was named Arkansas Knight of the Year on April 28 at the state convention in Bentonville.

“I still can’t get over receiving the award,” he said.

It was a perfect early gift for his April 30 birthday. That celebration came on the heels of his 53rd wedding anniversary to his wife, Ann, on April 24.

“I didn’t find out about [the honor] till the night of the convention,” he said. “Knights get all different kinds of awards. I was listening to it, and all of a sudden — everyone calls me Tony — I heard the name Anthony, but I just didn’t think about it. The wife says, ‘That’s you.’ I said, ‘That’s me?’ She said, ‘Yeah, get up there.’ It caught me completely by surprise. There were a lot of guys, some great guys in [the statewide councils].”

George Kelly, the grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 8815 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Fairfield Bay, said Diaz has been an active participant in the organization.

“Tony has been more responsible than anyone else in bringing into our order new members, including yours truly,” Kelley said.

He is proud that a member of the Fairfield Bay chapter, which has 39 members, received the honor, Kelley said.

“He was nominated by me to be the state grand knight — you can’t get any higher than that,” Kelly said. “He’s the best knight in the whole state of Arkansas, and there are probably, 6,000 to 10,000 knights. It’s a very, very impressive award.”

Diaz grew up in Chicago, where he had a career as a meat cutter for Jewel food stores “for years and years” before retiring in 1993.

He and his wife bought a time-share property in Fairfield Bay in 1989, and they retired to the community in 1993.

“I liked the people and enjoyed the area and thought it was a great place to move to,” he said.

It was; however, they left Fairfield Bay in 1997 and moved to Florida for eight years.

“We went through three hurricanes and one tornado, and I said, ‘Maybe somebody’s trying to tell you something,’” he said.

The third hurricane in 2004 did the most damage, he said, and they rebuilt their home. The tornado did slight damage to their property, he said, but not as much as the hurricane.

In 2005, Diaz said, they had been to visit his sister-in-law in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and they were going up north to see their grandchildren, he said. They stopped and looked for homes in Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans.

“We always loved New Orleans,” he said.

Diaz said his wife asked if he wanted to “stop at the Bay and say hi” to their friends. “We got to talking to our old friends again. The wife said, ‘Do you want to look at a house?’”

They found a home they liked in Fairfield Bay and put their home up for sale in Florida. The house sold in three days. They moved to Fairfield Bay on his wife’s birthday, Aug. 9, 2005.

While they lived in Illinois and Florida, church parishioners asked Diaz to join the Knights of Columbus, an organization for Catholic men, but he said he declined. When the Diazes moved to Fairfield Bay, fellow St. Francis of Assisi Church parishioners asked Diaz to join the Knights of Columbus, and he also thanked them but said no.

One day in 2006, Knight Mike Fields asked Diaz to join, and he did.

“I was always busy and traveling, and I always thought it would take up more time than I actually had, which I found out it wasn’t,” he said. “You can be as busy as you want with the Knights or as laid-back as you want.”

A member of the color guard and a greeter, Diaz has held many elected offices in the organization, including deputy grand knight, grand knight, recorder and faithful navigator of the fourth degree.

He said it may sound complicated, but the Knights of Columbus mission is simple.

“It’s an organization, a bunch of guys who believe in helping their community,” Diaz said. “We don’t distinguish Catholic or non-Catholic. If a person needs help, we try to help them. That’s also what I like about the Knights; we don’t see any religion separation. The Knights just help people and make the world we live in a better place. We’re not political in any way. We’re there to do the best we can.”

At 10 a.m. today in the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church Hall, the Knights will host a Mother’s Day breakfast for women in the church, as well as guests.

Kelly said the organization supports children with intellectual disabilities in schools in Van Buren and Cleburne counties and sponsors activities such as a free-throw contest for students in the Shirley School District and supports the Shirley Food Pantry and Van Buren County Foods 4 Life in Clinton.

The Knights of Columbus in Fairfield Bay represents the chapter with floats in Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades. A color guard, of which Diaz is a member, participates in funerals for fallen members.

”We support the Care Caps [organization], women who make caps for women undergoing chemotherapy, and we help them load their sewing machines onto the trailer after sew-ins,” Diaz said.

He said the knights hold a Halloween dance and other fundraisers. Fish fries are held during Lent as a community event.

Kelly said the Diazes represent “the best of the best,” and they are invited to the national convention in Baltimore in August.

Diaz said his goal for the group is “to help as much as I can and everything else, and wish them longevity.”

“I’d like to see every Catholic church member become a Knight,” he said. “The first priority is, you have to have a good sense of humor. The guys will start riding you some way or another.

“It’s a great organization. It’s not what you think it is; you’ll enjoy it.”

Diaz said it took him awhile, but he’s happy he finally figured that out.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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