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Longtime fire police captain, Michael Knies, dies at 97

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    Michael Knies

Published July 11. 2019 04:35PM

As a 97-year-old fire police captain and an active volunteer in his native home of Lansford, Michael Knies received a lot of questions about whether he would ever slow down.

He’d respond by echoing his doctor’s advice:

“Every six months, I go for an examination and they say, ‘keep doing what you’re doing,’ or else I’m gonna kick the bucket I guess,” Knies said in an interview last year.

“Mike,” as most in town knew him, faithfully followed his doctor’s advice.

A Navy veteran and retired blacksmith whose career began when coal was still king, Knies was a fixture in Lansford until a few months before his death Thursday morning.

Knies was the oldest member in the history of Lansford’s American Fire Co. No. 1, but he was always content with his role as fire police captain.

Even at 97, he would stand in the middle of busy streets making sure that the firefighters only had to worry about the danger of the fire in front of them, not the traffic passing by.

“When you got a guy like that, that you know you can depend on, you have nothing to worry about,” said George Krajnak Sr., a former chief of American Fire Co.

His dedication impressed current and former firefighters.

Krajnak said it will be hard for anyone to eclipse Knies’ mark as the oldest active member of the company.

Not all drivers are happy to see fire police blocking the route to their destination. But Knies always did his best to give drivers information about the incident that was happening so they knew why they were being rerouted, Chris Ondrus, Lansford Alive board president recalled.

Answering the call

Knies didn’t find his second calling as a fire police officer until later in life.

He worked for decades as a blacksmith starting as a teenager in a shipyard in Philadelphia. After serving in the Navy, Knies became a blacksmith for Lehigh Coal and Navigation until it closed.

“They would have to repair the coal company’s equipment. A lot of it was hand forged. He was a very talented man,” said Bruce Markovich of the Lansford Historical Society.

Knies’ energetic approach to life didn’t just stop with the fire company. He would share his blacksmith experience with younger generations at the No. 9 Mine and Museum, where he was vice president for many years. He maintained his own blacksmith shop at his home as well.

Markovich recalled that in his 90s, Knies would watch the reality blacksmithing show “Forged in Fire” and point out the inaccuracies.

He would visit the historical society often and share stories and memorabilia.

A couple months ago, he donated to the museum a century-old flag from American Fire Co. No. 1.

A gatekeeper

Knies could recall moments from decades ago — like when he saw the famous Dorsey Brothers play a dance at the former Lansford High School because their dad was the band director at the school.

“They took over the band, they played four to five numbers, and away they went. I was there that time,” he recalled. “They were OK.”

His son Michael said Knies loved to work in his garden. At various times he was featured in the paper for growing garlic and massive butterbeans. He was always willing to share that bounty with neighbors, as well as wine which he produced.

Knies was a longtime member of the Catholic parishes in the valley. St. Michael’s was his family’s church. He shared 65 years of marriage with his wife, Julia, who died in 2012. They had two children.

Last year, he was recognized with the William H. Bayer Lifetime Achievement Award from the Carbon County Chamber, and the Black Diamond Award from Lansford Alive.

Knies demonstrated strength and resilience which is uncommon at his age.

Markovich recalled Knies once demonstrating his daily workout routine. He did leg lifts, used an ab roller, and did other calisthenic exercises.

“Most people couldn’t get through this workout, and he did it every day,” Markovich said.

He drove his own car often even at 97.

His son Michael recalled that during his dad’s illness, doctors were consistently impressed at how Knies didn’t fit the typical description of a 97-year-old.

“Last time he saw his cardiologist, his cardiologist told me, ‘I’d sign up for his deal,’” the younger Knies said.

Knies is survived by two children and grandchildren.

Funeral services for Knies will take place Tuesday at noon at St. Joseph Parish of the Panther Valley.

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