By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Thanks to the Knights of Columbus, a father and son have grown in their relationship and in faith.
Lee Iben, 47, and his son Niko, 19, members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, became Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus together in November, after joining the Catholic men’s organization the previous spring. Both men say being able to share their religious convictions and spend time with one another in service projects makes their participation feel even more significant.
“It’s nice to be able to go through this with my son,” Lee says.
The father came to the Knights of Columbus after receiving an invitation from fellow attendees at a Pure MENtality conference at St. Wenceslaus in March. At the time, he wasn’t very familiar with the organization — “many men don’t know much about the Knights of Columbus beyond the Tootsie Rolls,” he says, referring to the candy given during an annual fundraiser for people with disabilities.
So he started researching. The more the father of four learned about the Knights’ values, especially those of marriage and family, the more impressed he was. “This is what I stood for,” says Lee, owner of Iben Studios, LLC in Iowa City.
The invitation also came when he was looking for a spiritual boost. “I feel everyone reaches a point when the chips are down and you either get stronger, fade away, or, worse, become totally complacent,” the former Protestant says. “Obviously, the last two options are not what God expects of us.”
So Lee invited Niko to join, too. At the time, “I was trying to strengthen my own faith and relationship to the church,” says Niko, an art and Spanish double major at the University of Iowa. So he accepted the invitation.
The men became Third Degree Knights of Columbus in September. But they’d decided that if they were going to join the organization, they’d “keep on going,” Lee says. So two months later, they became Fourth Degree Knights during a ceremony in Altoona.
Knighting a father and son together is rare, says Iowa Knights of Columbus State Deputy Pat O’Keefe. “It’s very motivational to see that.”
Because of the regalia they wear on special occasions, Fourth Degree Knights often offer the most visible example to other men, Lee says. Providing that example is partly what motivates Niko, co-director of a Squires council at St. Wenceslaus for boys ages 10-18. Niko’s younger brother, Christian Iben, 11, belongs to that council.
“I really enjoy working with kids,” says Niko, who has helped coach soccer at his alma mater of Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. “I see myself as a role model for them. I’d like to be someone they can talk to if they have a problem,” and help them realize their potential for leadership, he says.
“I’ve got a good role model,” he adds, gesturing toward his dad.
Niko already has answered a request from another father in the Knights of Columbus to talk to a Catholic 15-year-old, who joined the Squires after meeting with Niko. “Sometimes you just need a young person,” Lee says.
O’Keefe says Niko’s age makes him “unique” among Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus. “That’s our future. If we don’t get the young people, we won’t exist,” says O’Keefe. “I wish we had a lot of role models like him.”
The Ibens say their involvement in the Knights of Columbus has changed themselves. “It’s made me more grounded in what I believe in,” Niko says. He says it also has given him more opportunities to put those beliefs into action, as he has during the Tootsie Roll Drive and an ongoing can collection for the pro-life Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City, and as he will for Special Olympics events there.
Polly Iben, Niko’s mother, says she’s noticed the difference in him since he joined the Knights of Columbus. “I see him really at peace and a real maturity coming out in him. When he goes to these functions and sees men who are new husbands and fathers, it shows him life beyond college. It shows you can be a good, Catholic man and be an interesting, educated person.”
She says she’s proud of her husband and son. “It makes my wife feel good that when we go out, we’re going to a Knights of Columbus meeting,” Lee explains.
Niko says he and his dad are closer now. As Niko goes through college and begins his adult life, Lee observes, “it’s nice we can share this experience.”