Grange celebrates 50 years in Gardiner

GARDINER — The Rhododendron Grange was formed at the Gardiner schoolhouse with 50 charter members on Sept. 29, 1956.

For the past half-century, grange members have hosted hundreds of box socials and Saturday night dances, baked thousands of pies, strained gallons of spaghetti and flipped hundreds of pancakes to support youth and community projects.

Grange members petitioned the county and built the only public boat ramp that serves the area, and, for 50 years, maintained the local cemetery.

The grange still hosts parties and potlucks, awards scholarships and gathers to celebrate birthdays and Christmas, marriages and anniversaries.

On Friday, grange members gathered at the old schoolhouse to celebrate their own milestone — 50 years of making community memories.

“The grange was the social center for residents of Gardiner, Blyn, Diamond Point and Discovery Bay,” said Mary Lou Forsman.

“They held New Year’s Eve parties, pie socials, Easter egg hunts, Fourth of July picnics with fireworks, Halloween parties with costume contests and Christmas parties with nativity scenes, a chorus and Santa.”

Forsman, a past master, gave a brief overview of the grange’s first 50 years at the anniversary celebration, which drew Grange members from Sequim and Chimacum.

Charter member

The guest of honor was Georgia Knapp, the only surviving charter member of Rhododendron Grange.

Knapp said it was her husband, Allison, who wanted to join the grange back in 1956 because of the insurance.

The couple raised six children on a 40-acre farm down the road.

A Port Townsend native who moved to Gardiner in 1933, Knapp served as Grange secretary for more than a dozen years, she said, and helped mow the cemetery with Florence Norton’s gas push mower.

She also recalled helping Wally Norton set up the Saturday night dances.

“We chaperoned the kids,” she said.

One of those kids was Joan Murray Shields Bennett, whose grandfather started the Rhododendron Grange and was its first master.

Speaking at Friday’s dinner, Bennett said that the grange may have been started for political reasons, but in the 1950s it was the social events that were the draw.

“The grange made the old schoolhouse hum with activity,” Bennett said.

“Those of us who were here at the time remember the Harvest Dinners, the square dances and the parties for the young people.

“The school was decorated, crowded with people both old and young and bouncing with music.”

Grange changes

At Friday’s dinner, the Old Timer Fiddlers provided music.

Speakers included Bev Horan of the grange’s education committee, who announced that in the past three and half years, Rhododendron Grange had awarded $12,500 in scholarships to 13 recipients.

Glenda Clark, deputy master for Clallam and Jefferson counties, presented a 50-year gold sheaf pin to Knapp and also to Gladys Yuell, 96.

Yuell, a musician who plays the piano for Grange meetings, said she originally started attending meetings in Fairfield, Idaho, when she was 16.

“It hasn’t changed,” Yuell says of the grange. “It’s still about the same.”

But according to Bob Clark of Sequim, a past state master, very few traditional granges exist.

That means that the degree work and ritual opening and closing of meetings is no longer emphasized, and archaic officers’ titles have changed. For instance, grand master is now president.

Dick Bekkevar, who joined Rhododendron Grange with his wife, Winona, in 1958, recalled the days when the grange bestowed five degrees in Jefferson County.

“We installed at the grange here for 45 years,” Bekkevar said.

The meetings, held on the second Monday of the month, no longer start with a potluck.

But for Friday’s celebration, the tables were loaded with casseroles, salads and desserts, including Catherine Cole’s pear pie.

Members of the 4-H Rascals helped set up, serve and clean up for the dinner.

The youth — Jamie Schroepfer, 6; Becky Schroepfer, 9; Jake Smith, 9; Triston Holsen, 9; Connor Riley, 14; and Anthony LaJambe, 15 — also led the flag salute and 4-H Pledge.

Joan Ritchie, grange master, presented a 25-year pin for Patricia Bekkevar, which was accepted by her mother-in-law, Winona Bekkevar.

Bob and Joyce Minty were named Rhododendron Grange’s Citizens of the Year for 2006.

The couple is active in the Gardiner Community Club, and Bob Minty took over the cemetery records from the late Einar Forsman, who was head of the grange cemetery committee.

Rhododendron Grange is no longer able to operate the cemetery — a proposition to form a cemetery district is on the November ballot — and the square dance group the grange sponsored spun off on its own.

But the Christmas party and pie socials are still going.

“On January 25, 1957, the first pie social was held, with the proceeds going to the March of Dimes — $24,” Forsman said. “This year, we were up to $275.”

The grange is no longer the “only show in town” like it was 50 years ago, Forsman said, but it is still rated G for general audience.

And it provides a place for people in the somewhat isolated community to form a connection.

John and Kathy Bosi, who moved to Gardiner four years ago from Texas, attended the dinner and plan to join the grange.

“We want to meet people in the community and be part of it,” John Bosi said.

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