PAWLEYS ISLAND—When Len Vercellotti was a boy growing up in Illinois, he would peer longingly into a cedar chest where his father Joseph, a fourth degree Knight of Columbus, stored his sword and regalia.
He fondly remembers the charitable work his dad did with the fraternal organization, and spending Saturdays at the local Knights’ hall watching movies and shooting pool.
Those memories and his father’s example made a lasting impression.
On July 20, Vercellotti, now 80 years old and a fourth degree Knight himself, was named South Carolina Sir Knight of the Year, an award given for his dedication to his community, parish and Assembly 3272, covering Georgetown and Pawleys Island.
Vercellotti lives on Pawleys, where he and his wife Theresa are members of Precious Blood of Christ Church.
He said the award means a lot to him because he considers it an honor just to be a Knight.
“The Knights of Columbus is an important building block for building strong communities and strong families,” Vercellotti said. “The work members do, especially with youth, is remarkable.”
He grew up in Illinois but spent more than 35 years in Pittsburgh working for Westinghouse. It was there that he fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a Knight when he joined a council at a suburban church in 1962.
He and his late wife Marita moved to Pawleys Island after he retired in the 1990s, and he quickly became active both in the Knights and parish life.
A passionate dedication to the pro-life movement and saving unborn children drives him.
He said he and Marita first began pro-life work in the early 1970s and continued when they moved to South Carolina.
The Birthright crisis pregnancy center on Front Street in Georgetown is one of the fruits of their labor. He and Marita founded the center in 2002, along with close friend Lorraine Dwyer, fellow parishioners and Knights from Council 11028. He continued to volunteer there after Marita’s death in 2005.
Birthright offers counseling plus help with basic needs such as diapers, and maternity and baby clothes. The center also helps women find resources to continue their education. Volunteers set up two-year relationships with the women they serve so the mothers can receive help through the baby’s first year.
“You can talk about the subject of pro-life all you want, but at some point you have to go ahead and do something,” Vercellotti said. “We felt Birthright was something important we could do. We try to help women facing a crisis pregnancy realize they have an alternative to abortion. No one is ever turned away.”
To date, Vercellotti said Birthright has helped about 2,200 women and volunteers have documented about 227 “saves,” meaning a woman who was abortion-minded chose instead to have her child.
“I’m really pleased to have received this award this year because it shows statewide that once again the Knights recognize the impor-tance of work for the unborn,” Vercellotti said.
He also serves as chairman of the pro-life committee at his parish and has helped coordinate many pro-life activities for the local Knights.
In recent years, he also found a way to incorporate his love for music and his country into his work with the Knights. Vercellotti plays clarinet in the Pawleys Island Concert Band, and for five years has involved the band in the popular Pawleys Island Knights of Columbus Fourth of July celebration, held at Precious Blood of Christ.
“One of the principals of the fourth degree is patriotism, and our assembly felt we were lacking a patriotic event, so I started it as a labor of love,” he said. “It’s a nice chance to showcase members of the community and salute our veterans.”
More than 300 people regularly attend, and the assembly presents awards for patriotism to local residents.
In his free time, Vercellotti enjoys playing golf and spending time with his five children, grandchildren and great-grands.
Joseph Ferreira, of Pawleys Island, has known Vercellotti for 18 years and is impressed with the quiet persistence of his fellow Knight’s work.
“There’s no vanity or pride with anything Len does,” Ferreira said. “He does what he does because it is right as a Christian. You sense in him a deep conviction, a quiet sense of urgency. He has a deep-seated passion for what is right, yet it’s not something he imposes on you. Nothing is about him — it is about what is right.”