New digs for South Fork Grange

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainLeft to right: June Colony, grange secretary; Vicki Crane, head of the grange building committee, and Rhee Lathrop, the grange member with the longest continuous membership. The ladies are standing inside the framing that will come down to create a hall space in the new South Fork Grange location.

LOSTINE — The South Fork Grange is rising from the ashes and planning a Founders Day to beat all.

When their grange hall burned to the ground in February 2014, the 22 grangers of South Fork Grange vowed to be back — and now they’ll be hosting the “The Sheepherder’s Ball” on Founders Day, Oct. 10, in the new digs.

The new hall is on Rosewell Street in Lostine and is a house expansion gone wrong for the original builders, but just right for the grangers.

“We did a lot of looking at other places and then working on this one to see if it was usable,” said grange secretary June Colony.

The “house” began life in the ’50s as a tiny dwelling with nothing much to recommend it. It was expanded upon in the ’80s and at that time an excellent foundation was put in and the inside of the large expansion was framed, but not finished. Then, it sat for 30 years.

The property was a good bargain for the grange. It started as eight lots (1.5 acres) and a number of buildings, but after a very long negotiation, the seller agreed to split off the house/expansion and two lots for the grangers. Two usable outbuildings came in the deal.

The grangers had limited funds — they’d sold their old lot to Norton Welding and the state grange had held funds from the sale of the Wallowa Grange in trust for them. They had enough money to negotiate with, Colony said, and in the end, “The owners were really generous with us,” said Colony. “We closed in June. The foundation is top-notch, the building is entirely suitable — it’s just ugly right now.”

But ugly is fixable and best of all the interior framing can be safely removed to create a large hall.

A work party is scheduled for Sept. 25 starting at noon. Refreshments will be provided and volunteers are asked to bring hammers, crowbars and work gloves.

The good thing about the strange design of the building is that the tiny house can be remodeled so that sliding doors open into the hall. With those doors closed, the little house serves as a meeting room which will eventually have handicap access bathrooms and a full commercial kitchen. The benefit of that is that, when meetings are held, grangers don’t have to heat the entire hall, just the little house.

Savings like that are important, said Colony, because the grange exists to serve the community. “Our money goes through and out the door,” she said. “We support FFA, the fairgrounds, personal needs in the community, seed swaps and more. We give scholarships for everything from art and camps to agricultural education.”

When the remodel is completed the building will house a spacious community hall suitable for dances, weddings, anniversaries, political debates, water meetings and many other community gathering needs.

The grange is footing the bill for a new tin roof and upgraded septic system and Wildhorse Foundation has provided a $15,000 grant to cover the cost of Phase I projects: wiring, insulation, sheetrock, windows and flooring work.

Phase II of the remodel will include the installation of a commercial kitchen. Wiley Frei, owner of Main Street Grill in Wallowa, recently purchased the Odd Fellows Rebekah Hall in Wallowa and donated the entire commercial kitchen to the grange. Grangers are petitioning Wildhorse Foundation again for a grant to bring that up to code and install it along with the two handicap accessible bathrooms.

“We’ll be completely ready to be part of the community again by spring,” Colony said. “The bathroom and kitchen that is already there is sufficient to take care of immediate needs.”

In the meantime, the hall will be ready for dancing to the music of Homemade Jam, 7-10 p.m. Oct. 10 at 317 Rosewell Street, Lostine. It’s a family dance with pie and ice cream social.

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