At lunch with the knights Op-ed

| 13 Jul 2015 | 03:12

Eastsider Lawrence Keavey, 84, had a heart attack. The retired president of a major commercial art company was worried it might keep him from the monthly luncheon, three days later, of his boyhood social club, the Knights A.C. The doctors at New York Presbyterian put three stents into Larry and told him it was OK to go to the lunch.

Other Knights who had been expected to attend could not. Mark Harrison, 84, who designs and sells electrical turbine power generators, called to say he was stuck in New Jersey traffic. Orthodontist Herbert (Zindu) Schrieber couldn’t get back in time from Florida. Milton Greenfield, a retired engineer who worked on the first nuclear submarine, also couldn’t make it.

The Knights A.C. was started 70 years ago with 10 members, mostly 13 and 14-year-olds. They met weekly in a downstairs room at the Young Israel Synagogue on Walton Avenue. Westside psychologist Harold Rubin, the spark-plug who organizes the monthly luncheons. described the boys’ families as “a varied group from different socio-economic levels. We had a father who was a dentist, one was a deputy mayor of New York, another a bookmaker, a lawyer, a fur industry worker, a headwaiter, a beer salesman, etcetera.”

Founding Knights member Jay Fisher introduced Roberts Rules as the club’s operating procedure. The weekly dues, 10 cents. Fisher, since deceased, started his own law firm and represented Leon Klinghoffer’s family in suing the PLO for his murder during the Achille Lauro hijacking.

Eventually, the Knights membership would grow to 22 people, only 11 still alive. Now some meet for monthly lunches, occasionally at Tony’s DiNapoli restaurant on West 43rd St.

Larry Keavey remembers a childhood of “baseball cards, marbles, yo yo’s, spinning tops and collecting newspapers for the war effort,” Harold Rubin recalls Knights hanging out in Joyce Kilmer Park, at Willie’s candy store, Addie Vallin’s ice cream-candy establishment. CPA Harvey Bayard, an Eastsider who attended the luncheon, remembers a bunch of Knights on a Bronx building roof using binoculars to watch the Billy Conn-Joe Louis heavyweight championship fight in Yankee Stadium.

The Knights grew up in an area with baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, a quarter-mile cinder running track, bowling alleys and pool rooms. But, the Knight’s most frequent sport was stickball. The street game stopped while cars passed through the block, or whenever a police car was spotted. Unfortunately, stickball was illegal, windows could be broken. When cops caught Knights playing stickball they confiscated the stick (a cut-off broom handle) and sometimes whacked a Knight behind the knee with it.

The past 12 months have been tough on the Knights. Among those who died were Leonard Rosen, one of New York City’s most prominent attorneys and Carl Gurevich, arguably the most colorful of the group. A football player at De Witt Clinton H.S., Carl became a neighborhood legend as a street fighter. A problem for the Knights was that 30 yards up the street from some of their home buildings was All Hallows, a Catholic High School. Harold Rubin says when the Catholic boys came out of school at 3 p.m., they sometimes whacked at the Knights with broken-off car antennas. The All Hallows boys always picked fights with us, recalls Harvey Bayard, and at the time their high school guys were older and bigger than we were. Bayard says Gurevich came out of his building as a snowball fight turned rough…ran across the street and started to beat the crap out of them.

Most of the Knights were drafted into the army during the Korean War. Harold Rubin and a still-feisty Wally Shapiro who attended the luncheon, became MP’s. My older brother Lou, also a Korean vet, was a Knight. He died last year of a degenerative disease; his last contribution to the country was donating his brain to science.

I was too young to be a Knight, but with the passing of so many in the club I’m invited to fill a seat at their monthly luncheons. With the dark humor often expressed about declining health and mortality at the Knight’s luncheons, being with them now is a bitter-sweet experience.