BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN Joe Kittok has been volunteering in his hometown of Delano since he was a teenager.
“My earliest recognition is that I rode on the hood of a car in the (4th of July) parade, and I was holding a sign of some kind,” Kittok said. “ . . . The carnival used to hire young people to sell tickets for the rides. I did that for several years. I was 14, maybe.”
In recognition of his many years of volunteer service, the General Federated Women’s Club of Delano is recognizing Kittok as Citizen of the Year at a banquet Saturday, April 27, at the Delano American Legion Post 377. The event will include a social at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:30 p.m., and a program at 7 p.m. Tickets may be purchased from any GFWC member or at the Downtown Beauty Salon during open hours Wednesday through Saturday.
“When I got back from the service in 1971, I worked with Al Fink making popcorn in the grandstand, at first with the Athletics, and then he drafted me to work the 4th of July,” Kittok said.
That same year, Kittok became a member of the Delano Sportsmen’s Club.
“At that time, we were building a new clubhouse,” Kittok said. “I helped with the framing and finishing of the clubhouse.”
He continued volunteering and, about 20 years ago, he was elected to be secretary.
“Since then, I’ve been secretary, president, and I’ve been treasurer since about 2007,” Kittok said.
One of his missions was to improve communications between the club and the public.
“At first, I put my phone number on all signs and literature, then I forwarded calls to my cell phone, so I could answer calls right away, rather than having to listen to another message machine,” Kittok said. “This way, I can answer right away, make some notes, and we’re on our way.”
He gives his wife, Jan, credit for lining up 50-plus volunteers to man the club’s bingo stand during the 4th of July.
The celebration is a big part of his life. He has been a member of the 4th of July Committee for a number of years, and recently joined the steering committee.
He has been involved with the local Catholic parish throughout his entire life. His level of involvement increased after a 1989 retreat, which he called life-changing.
“The message of the retreat was, ‘We’ve all been blessed and should use those blessings . . . and abilities to help the church and the cause of Jesus Christ,’” Kittok said. “Before that, I was kind of in a holding pattern. I was filled with information, but not knowing what to do with it.”
His involvement increased and he went on to the University of St. Thomas in 1997 to become a deacon. He was ordained in 2000.
“I don’t get compensated for being a deacon,” Kittok said. “I’m a volunteer helper to the bishop, assigned to my home parish, and I help there however I can. It’s been very fruitful for me. I get to meet wonderful people of like mind, and we all help in whatever way we can to further the parish’s mission.”
One of those people pulled a prank on Kittok this April Fool’s Day.
“Somebody put my home phone number on the answering machine at church and forwarded all the calls to my home,” Kittok said. “ . . . We kept track of all the calls that came in. At noon, I went over there and said, ‘These people are trying to get a hold of you.’ She said, ‘I wondered why the phone was so silent.’”
He is a member of the American Legion, the VFW of Wright County in Montrose, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Order of Foresters, and Catholic United Financial.
In addition to his volunteer service, Kittok also works as a gravedigger and Delano’s dogcatcher.
Though he is compensated for digging graves, he also considers it as a type of ministry, as he prays for everyone he buries and those left behind.
As dogcatcher, he takes the opportunity to let people know the rules of caring for dogs in Delano.
He does not shy away from work or human interaction.
“I like to stay busy,” Kittok said. “The meeting of people, to me, is a wonderful experience. I realized before I was educated on it that I was an extravert and gregarious. It thrills extraverts when there’s a line and there’s another extravert behind you and, before you know it, you’re having a conversation about who knows what. My wife will say, ‘Who was that?’ ‘I don’t know, just a guy I met in line.’”
He encourages others to get involved.
“Don’t be shy,” he said. “If you feel it’s something you want to do, go ahead and do it. There are always going to be naysayers in your way. Don’t let them be obstacles to your happiness.”
He said he was humbled by the recognition, calling it motivation to keep moving forward.
“That’s my joke, that I can’t quit now,” Kittok said. “I’ll remain Citizen of the Year for a good long time now. I need to be an example to others. Come to think of it, that’s what I do as a deacon, to be an example. I think every good citizen is burdened with that responsibility.”
A long list of individuals have preceded Kittok as Citizen of the Year:
Loretta Diem in 1978, Mary and Bill Wallisch in 1979, Cliff Lundsten in 1980, Dr. Pierre Guilfoile in 1981, Angie VanLith in 1982, Jack Schumacher in 1983, Phil and Helvie Carlberg in 1984, Don Gilmer in 1985, Perry Ditty in 1986, Horace Keplinger in 1987, Gerhard Meiners in 1988, Char and Jim Iten in 1989, Bill Diem in 1990, Winnie Sinkel in 1991, Mary Robinson in 1992, Don Hamilton in 1993, Maria Logsdon in 1994, Rich Ditty in 1995, Art Zitzloff in 1996, Ann and Jim Lundsten in 1997, Jon Hanson in 1998, Cliff and Sandy Simon in 1999, Scott Shoutz in 2000, Carol Lundeen and Gordy Wetter in 2001, John Tackaberry in 2002, Gail Sinkel in 2003, Wayne Estby in 2004, Margaret Parsons in 2005, Dave and Gary Zitzloff in 2006, Donna Anderson in 2007, Clarence “Deacon” Bruhn in 2008, Ted May in 2009, Steve Gilmer in 2010, Dave Carroll in 2011, Jack Lynch in 2012, Dale Vander Linden in 2013, Debbie DeBeer in 2014, Lloyd Griep in 2015, Carol Plocher in 2016, Frank Muckenhirn in 2017, and Terri Mills Harris in 2018.