When the Canon Rev. Harold Knight reached his 99th birthday last year, he wanted to skip it.
The longtime resident of Mesa’s Historic Fraser Fields neighborhood and former longtime priest and rector of the city’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church said he wanted to turn 100 instead.
But skipping that 99th birthday wasn’t possible or necessary as Rev. Knight now really is set to celebrate his 100th birthday on Thursday, July 26. The landmark occasion will be followed by a special service at St. Mark’s, 322 North St., on Sunday, July 29 that includes a reception and a dinner at the church Knight saw grow from a small congregation in a desert town to a large suburban church. Knight and his wife of 41 years, Edithanne, will be joined by their three children, a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Knight retired from St. Mark’s in 1977, the year he was Mesa’s Citizen of the Year, and then assisted at St. Barnabas of the Desert in Scottsdale for the next 20 years, until 1997. A supporter of youth who also was active in the East Valley community with organizations such as the Mesa Senior Center, the Salvation Army, United Way and a former past president of the Mesa Council of Churches, Harold still is remembered in the community and well recognized when he makes it to church for holidays and special occasions.
“He’s a wonderful man with high morals and ethics who is well respected in the church and community,” said Kathy Cheatham, communications director for St. Mark’s.
Harold also played tennis until the age of 85, the year he said he “fully” retired. He and Edithanne now are looking forward to the celebration.
“I’m just sitting back and seeing what happens,” Harold said of the upcoming auspicious occasion while relaxing in his home, wearing a white dress shirt and a bolo tie. “I didn’t want anything too taxing as I tire easily.”
That’s understandable, but you wouldn’t know that he’s turning 100 because of his power of recall and the way he easily moves around his house.
Harold was born in 1912 — the year Arizona stopped being a territory and became a state. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Harold’s earliest memory is watching with his father a parade of men marching off to serve in World War I. Since then, he’s lived through the Great Depression, seen three more major wars, and saw a man land on the moon. He also performed the marriage of his son, Douglas, and daughter-in-law, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
As a youth and not so long ago, Harold’s hobby was conjuring and card tricks, something he learned from watching others and the many “magic” books in his library.
But far from being sleight of hand or memory today, Harold still well remembers the things he did and enjoys the things he does: reading from his extensive library in his study where he hangs out, writing poetry — “My 88th Birthday” poem is a classic — in which he vows not to grow old or show it because he simply will “outgrow it,” and perhaps he has.
He also works crossword puzzles with Edithanne, a former concert pianist, when they’re not making sure that a couple of stray cats they’ve adopted get fed outside. In their home with pictures of family covering the walls, the couple shares an occasional kiss, a testament to remaining committed to each other over so many years.
Knight’s history with St. Mark’s also runs deep as he not only saw the church grow, but Mesa grow from a desert town of 26,000 when he moved to Arizona to about 450,000 today.
Knight was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1949, and moved to Mesa soon after answering an ad for a church seeking a rector in the southwest in the late 1950s when the church was on Pepper Place.
Harold applied for it and Arthur Kinsolvey, then Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, came to New York to interview him and sold him on the wonderful weather and making the move.
“I had to look at a map,” Harold said. “I didn’t even know where Mesa was.”
The church has a heritage, Harold said. “I did it because it was a part of me. It’s been quite the adventure, but I couldn’t have done it alone. I always felt there was something more, some other forces behind me.”
So after celebrating his 100th birthday, what’s Harold going to do next?
“I’m going to start working on the next 100 years,” he said.
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