(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the National Grange and local connections to it.)
by Jim Boyle
The Oliver Hudson Kelley Farm’s place in the history in regard to the National Grange is firmly planted, and it made for a fitting backdrop to help begin the process of celebrating 150 years of the agricultural family fraternity.
Modern-day grangers gathered there recently for the Midwestern Regional Youth Conference. More than 70 Grange Youth members took part in the exemplification on July 13 of the first four degrees of the Grange at the living history farm.
The historic presentation was seen by more than 400 attendees gathered for the outdoor event.
Cast members wore period dress for the exemplification.
“Our young people really took to heart their role in bringing to life a piece of our history and conferring to the audience the base values of our Order,” National Grange President Ed Luttrell said after the event.
The eight degrees – four each for men and four each for women – spanned more than five hours.
“In 1873, those joining the Grange would take each degree separately,” Luttrell said. “It could take four or more months to become a full member. Between each degree, candidates were expected to talk about what they learned and reflect on how it applied to their lives and morals.”
While the numbers of granges and members has dwindled from nearly 1 million members at its peak to 160,000 nationwide, there are still 2,700 active granges across the county.
Today, new members of both genders are obligated in a shortened version that offers the lessons of all four degrees in one presentation that takes less than one hour.
“As times change, so has the Grange’s presentation style, but the lessons reflecting on our bond with nature, being good stewards and citizens and working hard to build the best future are the same,” Luttrell said.
National Grange Youth Development Director Charlene Shupp Espenshade said the cast members from all across the country learned quite a bit from the experience.
“They got a sense of the lasting principles, but they also saw how dedicated the members of the Grange were in its first years and showed their own dedication by raising funds to participate and taking time to memorize their parts,” Espenshade said. “I think our members who attended the event know that our organization is in good hands with these young members who will soon be the leaders of our Order.”
During the event, attendees collected donations that would amount to $1,550 for the Kelley Farm preservation efforts.
The donation was presented to Kelley Farm officials by National Grange Board Member Joe Fryman and his wife, Tammy, of Nebraska.
Among the next installments in this series will be a report on the newest grange to be added to the national grange. It has 13 members from the Elk River and Minneapolis area in it.