April is Grange Month and Wallowa County has an estimated 250 active grange members, a number that will jump dramatically in June of 2004 when the Oregon State Grange Convention will be held locally. This will be the first time since 1989 that the annual convention will be held in Wallowa County, and some 800 to 1,000 additional visitors are expected to attend.
Grange is a family-oriented, politically active organization created in 1867 to help promote rural agriculture concerns after the Civil War. Though Grange does not endorse political candidates nor contribute to candidate campaigns, it does have a primary legislative objective of representing the views of rural residents and the agricultural community,
"Grange is much more than potlucks and picnics," says Bev Smith, Pomona Grange Master for the past two years. Pomona Grange is the countywide Grange organization which looks after the interests of the active Grange halls in Wallowa County.
Several Grange halls, including a number in the immediate vicinity of Troy, have shut down over the past 80 to 90 years, but at least five are still active. The Liberty Grange east of Joseph and the Hurricane Creek Grange west of Joseph are still thriving as is the South Fork Grange in Lostine. Though smaller in numbers, the Imnaha Grange and North End Grange at Flora continue to meet. The Wallowa Grange is in the process of consolidating its members and assets with the South Fork Grange.
Local Granges range in size from 20 to 80 members and act as a community center where residents gather for educational events, dances, potlucks, picnics, town meetings, political rallies and other meetings.
National Grange, known officially as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, is similar to the Masonic Lodge and open to members 14 years of age and older. Junior Grange is available to youth ages 5 to 14 and coordinated locally at the Liberty Grange.
Wallowa County Commissioner Ben Boswell is a longtime Grange member and supporter. He says that through the efforts of National Grange, the Future Farmers of America group was begun nationally and the position of Secretary of Agriculture came into being. He describes Grange as a grassroots organization where local ideas can become part of the larger picture. Boswell says that the state and national Grange's stance in regards to the reintroduction of wolves was incubated in Wallowa County.
Smith, who has been active in Grange the past 10 to 12 years and is a past Master of the Liberty Grange, says she knows several local individuals who have belonged to their Grange for over 50 years. She says that it was through the efforts of Wallowa County granges putting pressure on the Oregon Public Utilities Commission that phone calls from Imnaha to Wallowa and from Joseph to Wallowa became local calls. She says that the Hurricane Creek Grange has refurbished the cemetery located by the Joseph Airport. She claims that it was through the influence of the National Grange that school buses, to enhance visibility, are routinely painted in the color yellow.
The Grange Women's Association (GWA) serves meals, makes quilts for needy families and makes blankets and caps for infants. "It is always something to do with the family," says Smith.
During the Thursday of each Wallowa County Fair the Grange annually honors one Grange member and one non Grange member for their community service.
Pomona Grange Master Bev Smith is always anxious to sign up new members. This is especially true at present with the Oregon State Grange Convention on the horizon. To join or learn more about Granges in Wallowa County call Smith at 432-4373.