By Mike Lang
When the last of his children left home six years ago, Leon Gratkowski gave in to one of his long-standing desires: he bought a motorcycle. He’s never regretted it.
“Bikes kind of grab you. Once you get on it you don’t want to get off,” he said in a recent interview.
He liked riding so much he convinced his wife, Karen, to give it a shot. Now she rides regularly with him. He owns a 2005 Harley Davidson 1200 Custom.
Another passion in Gratkowski’s life is the Knights of Columbus. He is a member of the Brother Vincent Council in Smyrna and is a past state treasurer.
About a year ago, he found a way to combine the two interests, and Knights on Bikes was formed in Delaware. It’s a chapter of the national Knights on Bikes, which was founded in 2005. Their motto: “In God We Trust and Ride.” There are currently more than 20 chapters, including one in Canada.
Gratkowski, 57, heard about the national group and figured there were other Knights among the 33 councils in Delaware who were like him. He envisions an organization that will complement the Knights, conducting benefit rides and other charitable endeavors. He serves as the group’s president.
So far, there are 12 members from eight different councils. The other officers are Barry Swain, vice president; Frank Zeranski, secretary; Julio Hernandez, treasurer; Jim DeCarlo, road captain; and Oblate Father John Spellman, chaplain.
Swain, a member of the Holy Angels Council in Newark, has been riding for more than 20 years. He said when he rides, “it’s me and the road.” He and a friend have been to 43 of the 48 contiguous United States, with plans to visit the other five, in the Pacific Northwest, in the future. Being on a bike is intoxicating, he said.
“It’s just the ride. Just me and the country,” said Swain, 55, who rides a Harley Davidson 2008 Softail Custom.
“When I was a kid I always wanted a motorcycle,” he said. “When I got older, I was able to buy one. I just started riding with a couple guys I knew. I was a member of the Harley owners’ group here in Delaware. I rode with a lot of friends there.”
The Knights on Bikes are actively seeking new members, having placed notices in Knights of Columbus publications and parish bulletins. “With 12 members, there’s not a lot you can do,” Gratkowski said.
Swain believes there are many more men out there who would be interested in combining their Catholic faith and a love of motorcycles who just need to know there is an organization that fits this description.
One of the things they may do is hold “stuff the helmet” collections at various intersections for charity. In the longer term, Gratkowski said, they’d like to put on a bike show and hold a few rides for fraternity.
“We want to have a good time with our bikes while still doing our charity work,” he said. “There’s a lot we can do and have fun doing it.”
Each Knights on Bikes chapter has a vest; the Delaware chapter’s was designed by the national organization. The only eligibility requirements are that a member be a Knight and either own a motorcycle of any kind or anticipate owning one within six months.
Those interested in joining the Knights on Bikes should contact Gratkowski at email@example.com.