For 75 years, members of the Sequim Prairie Grange have helped keep the rural, small town mindset alive.
To celebrate their milestone, about 50 people gathered on Aug. 9 in Macleay Hall at 290 Macleay Road to honor the past and present efforts of community service and promoting togetherness.
At 86, Sequim’s Helen Bucher is the longest tenured member of the grange after joining with her family in 1946. She’s participated in much of what Sequim Prairie Grange No. 1108 has to offer including fundraisers, potlucks, horseshoes, and she even held a State Grange position as State Flora. But what stands out over the years is the fellowship.
“Many of us come from farming backgrounds, but we’ve come together to work on community service,” Bucher said.
“It’s great working with these people and making the friendships you’ll have for a lifetime.”
It’s likely you’ve been to the grange for one of its many events including ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, holiday events, and much more. Sequim Prairie Grange officially began as an organization on Aug. 9, 1942, where about 30 chartered members met in the Carlsborg Schoolhouse and after meeting a few times in the Dungeness Women’s Club House, they began using the Macleay School as a permanent home, which had been built on land donated by Donald Macleay, a timber investor. The school was unused from 1937-1942.
Grange members and the Macleay Community Club built an addition to the building between 1947-1948 and grange members purchased the building and its five acres and outdoor kitchen in 1965 for $8,500 from Sequim School District.
A Grange history
Washington State Master for the Grange Tom Gwin attended the 75th anniversary for Sequim’s grange and commended its leadership and service.
“Thirty-eight masters (organization leaders) in 75 years shows an example of how to keep brains active while rotating leadership,” Gwin said.
Sequim Prairie Grange is rooted in the national fraternal organization The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, which has about 300,000 members nationwide.
Robert “Bob” Clark, current and past Sequim Prairie Grange Master, said President Andrew Johnson commissioned Oliver Kelley, with the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture, to travel the southern U.S. after the Civil War and assess the situation for farmers.
On Dec. 4, 1867, in Washington, D.C., seven men and one woman, Oliver Kelley’s niece Caroline Hall, met and formed the Grange to bring farmers together, report grange members.
“From the word ‘Go,’ women were part of the grange,” Clark said.
“Every position in the grange can be held by a woman but there are four positions that men can never hold.”
Advocating for women’s right to vote and rural issues such as creating fire districts, bringing in utilities like electricity and telephone services were high priorities, he said.
Grangers also helped start 4-H, FFA, and bring Home Economics in schools.
Clark said members discuss a number of things at their meetings but they don’t endorse political candidates but do endorse issues.
He said the Sequim Prairie Grange helped advocate for eliminating a long-distance phone rate between Sequim and Port Angeles, and they pushed for an open primary in elections for voters to choose any candidate regardless of party affiliation.
The Grange was partly modeled after the Freemasons, Clark said, with secret passwords to enter and an intricate membership process. But in Sequim, members voted in 2003 to become a contemporary grange, which keeps some rituals but allows the public to attend meetings and events.
In the late 1990s, Clark said the National Grange began efforts to update the organization with some minor changes and promote more membership.
With its roots in agriculture, Sequim’s economic climate continued to change as well. Clark, who joined the grange in 1957, said when the Sequim Prairie Grange began it was made up easily of 90 percent farmers like him and his family.
“With the change in our population, I can probably count the number of farmers in our grange now on one hand,” he said.
Sequim Prairie Grange has more than 200 members including five generations of the Bekkevar family, which fellow grangers say is rare to find at any grange.
Clark’s daughter Kim Moulson has been a member for 40-plus years and still sees it as a community-minded group.
“It may have started as a farming organization but it continues to bring the community together for activities for all ages,” she said. “For me, it’s like a giant family.”
She said the grange keeps grassroots efforts like raising beef and teaching canning to younger members alive. One of her efforts to start a Junior Grange ran for a few years and it led to the ongoing Pumpkin Party and Country Fair around Halloween each year.
Sequim Grangers say granges across the country have closed but Sequim stays busy year-round.
Clark attributes its longevity to an acceptance of change from a traditional one to being more public.
“We stay active,” he said. “We’ll be planning our next year’s calendar next month.
Sometimes we even change that, if there’s a need. A few years ago, we voted to have a fundraiser for (a man in the community with cancer).”
Going forward, Clark said he hopes members’ efforts continue to inspire people to join.
Each month is packed with activities at the Sequim Prairie Grange whether they are sponsored by grange members or community members.
Dances are monthly with the next ones at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Sept. 17. Its twice-annual Flea Market also runs 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16.
Ice cream socials run monthly each summer from June-August, and in the fall the grange hosts a “Things to Do” meeting on Saturday, Sept. 30, for community members to learn about different clubs and organizations.
Its annual Pumpkin Party and Country Fair runs the evening of Oct. 28 and its Handmade Christmas Fair all day on Dec. 2.
Fundraisers support a number of organizations in the community and club members also provide joy quilts through the Sunbonnet Sue Quilt Club for first responders to provide to children under duress.
The Sequim Prairie Grange meets the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m.
For more information, visit www.grange.org/ sequimprairiewa1108 or email [email protected] Call Valerie Ellard at 360-683-5622 about hall rentals. For more on the National Grange, visit www.nationalgrange.org.