April 28, 2005
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On the cover: Bayside Grange
Working on a building; building
ON THE THIRD SUNDAY MORNING
IN APRIL, a fine sunny day, the line for breakfast at the Bayside
Grange stretches out the door, past the recently painted porch
and into a jam-packed parking lot. Grange member Don Wolski is
selling tickets; his wife, Maggie Gainer [photo below left]
, is bustling around somewhere inside.
Jacqueline Debets, executive
director of Humboldt County Community Development Services, assists
Wolski at the door. "I think the Grange breakfast is a great
thing," said Debets, who is there as a volunteer, although
she is not a Granger. "It builds community. I'm all about
that. It's a beautiful example of something simple that gets
people out talking to each other enjoying a meal together in
a community facility."
A look at the building's calendar
shows that there's a lot more going on at the Grange than quarterly
breakfasts. The building has become a de facto community center
for Bayside. In recent weeks, it has hosted a Humboldt Folk Life
Society event and two gardening workshops. This coming weekend,
renters include an anti-war coalition and a rock `n' roll band
throwing a CD release party. And as former board member Gainer
and other Grangers point out, the hall has become a focal point
for the revitalization of the Bayside community.
While the Bayside Grange thrives
thanks to a dedicated core group of members, most Granges across
the country are not faring as well, and many have faded into
A poster in the anteroom of
the Dow's Prairie Grange in McKinleyville asks, "What kind
of Grange is ours?" and offers a list of comparisons between
living and dying Granges: "Living Granges are constantly
improving and planning for the future; dying Granges meet and
eat, then depart for another month. Living Granges always have
calendars that are too full and a parking lot too small; dying
Granges don't have those problems."
It may be too early for a diagnosis,
but a recent public dinner held at the Dow's Prairie Grange definitely
did not fill the parking lot, and the only things on its calendar
right now are weekly Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings.
Bayside Grange No. 500
In the interest of full disclosure
it should be noted that this reporter was once a member of the
Dow's Prairie Grange. In the early '80s my girlfriend and I were
regulars at the Sunday Grange breakfasts. When we decided to
marry, I spoke with a Grange board member Kate Ramey about renting
the hall for our wedding. She told me it would cost around $100
-- then offered me a deal. If I would join the Grange I would
get a reduced rate for the rental, just $10. At the time a year's
dues were just $10, so becoming a Granger saved me $80.
I paid further dues by carving
about 20 turkeys one afternoon while helping the Grange cater
a dinner celebrating the opening of the then-new Arcata Airport.
Not long afterward, I attended my first meeting. Almost no one
showed up and I was the youngest person there by several decades.
When I asked why people were Grange members, I was told that
most kept up their dues for the low cost Grange insurance and
did not participate in activities.
I did not return for future
meetings. My membership lapsed.
That was more than 20 years
ago. Today the Grange movement as a whole seems to be slipping
further into a state of decline along with other fraternal organizations
that are long past their heyday. Membership rosters at many Granges
lean toward the senior citizen age group, and others have simply
folded for lack of interest.
During the height of Grange
revitalization in the 1940s and '50s, the organization had close
to 1 million members in approximately 7,000 Granges. Today membership
has fallen to 205,756 nationwide in just 3,000 active Granges.
At left: Bayside Grange building
crew in the 1940s.
At right: Bayside Grange repair crew, 2002. L-R: Rich Simpson
(Grange Master at the time),
Ellen Monterie, long time hall manager Diane Almand, Susie Van
Linda Simpson, Lorraine Enriques, Maggie , Treasurer Lisa Nelson,
Carole Wolf, Bill Thompson, Craig Mooslin, John Moore. Photos
courtesy Bayside Grange
The National Grange traces its
history back to 1867. Founder Oliver Hudson Kelley, a Minnesota
farmer turned Post Office bureaucrat, was asked to survey the
state of agriculture in the South following the Civil War. Kelley,
a Freemason, had a vision of an "agricultural brotherhood"
with ceremonial trappings modeled on fraternal organizations
like the Masons. By 1875 the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, as
the Grange is officially known, had more than 850,000 members.
Working for the interests of
farmers, the organization formed buying cooperatives and fought
against the monopoly power of the railroad magnates and their
associated grain storage facilities. Lobbying by the Grange helped
spur the regulation of the railroads and other public utilities
and ultimately led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce
Commission in 1887.
As advocates for the rural population
in general, the Grange demanded equal treatment by the U.S. Post
Office and Rural Free Delivery routes were established by the
end of the 19th century. Before that, there was no postal delivery
to rural addresses; mail had to be picked up in town.
According to local historic
resources consultant Susie Van Kirk, Humboldt County organized
its first granges in 1873 at Arcata, Table Bluff, Ferndale, Rohnerville,
Hydesville and Elk River. None of those granges survives. All
faded away early in the 20th century as the first wave of Grange
Top: While Sunday morning started
with a presidential crew at the stoves, including Rollin Richmond
from Humboldt State and Casey Crabill from College of the Redwoods,
by the time we made it to the kitchen to be served, young Allie
Brater (foreground) was flipping pancakes along with Arcata City
Councilwoman Harmony Groves while caterer/musician Brett Shuler
scrambled eggs and tofu. Grange board member Laura Chapman scrapes
plates in the background. Bottom: Diners enjoy the breakfast.
Photos by Bob Doran
The next surge of interest in
the Patrons of Husbandry came with the Great Depression in the
1930s, which is when all of the granges still active in Humboldt
County were established. Again the movement encouraged cooperatives
or credit unions; the Grange also provided low-cost insurance.
Bayside Grange No. 500 received
its charter on Jan. 1, 1933. In the beginning, activities took
place in the old Bayside Temperance Hall at Bayside Corners,
now the home of Mistwood School. In 1940 the organization purchased
3/4 of an acre next door and began work on the Bayside Grange
Hall, which after years of labor by volunteers was officially
dedicated on Sept. 30, 1943.
Fast-forward 55 years to 1998.
Maggie Gainer was at a turning point in her life. She and her
husband, Don Wolski, had recently adopted a baby. She had left
behind a job that involved traveling around the country working
on community development projects to take a position at Humboldt
State that involved less travel. Wanting to learn more about
her own community, she attended a potluck event at the Bayside
"They were showing a slide
show on some of the historic homes around Bayside," she
recalled. "We thought that sounded like fun, so we walked
over with our baby daughter and a hot dish. It was so cool; it
was a lot of the older people from the neighborhood, many of
whom I knew, others who I recognized but didn't know too well."
The program was informal, with
short remarks about the various homes followed by comments from
anyone in the room who knew more about the house.
"There was something about
it I just can't describe. When we left I was feeling really emotional.
I told Don, `This is our community. This is the place to raise
our daughter, a place where we belong.'
"At the time Lloyd Kendall
was the Grange Master. He said, `We're really trying to reach
out, to bring more people in, get more people involved.' I was
at a point in my life where I wanted to be more grounded in my
community of place, so on the way home I decided I would get
Gainer noted that the Grange
Hall was not in very good shape back then. "It looked close
to being boarded up. The building had a lot of problems. To make
a long story short, I joined the Grange, started helping with
fund-raising and I got a lot of my friends involved."
Among her friends was Susan
Anderson. "I had to re-recruit her. Susan was involved in
the Grange about 15 years earlier, but felt turned off. At that
time they wanted people to join, but they didn't want any new
ideas for ways to do things."
Van Kirk was recruited and set
about researching the history of the Grange with help from Suzanne
Guerra, a professional historian who would eventually become
Master of the Bayside Grange. The end result was placement on
the California Register of Historical Resources.
Other new recruits showed up
"like magic," Gainer said. Soon after she took a look
at the organization's books and realized that the Grange's accounting
system was woefully out-of-date, new Sunny Brae residents Lisa
and Ray Nelson joined up.
"Lisa was an experienced
bookkeeper and Ray had been a licensed contractor. He ended up
leading the building committee and Lisa became our treasurer.
It's been just like that since I got involved."
The injection of new energy
has paid off. The building is looking much better with a new
stove in the kitchen, sound baffling added in the dance hall,
and most recently a new paint job on the exterior. Beyond the
cosmetic changes, the Grange has renewed its former role.
"The building is literally
the center of the community," said Gainer. "It's become
sort of a rallying cry, an organizer's mobilizing tool. More
and more people are realizing that it's a valuable community
hall, not only for Bayside but for anyone who likes to dance
and for others outside our community."
Left: the main hall of the Bayside
Grange building. Right: The old and the new stoves at the Bayside
Photos by Bob Doran
Today Suzanne Guerra serves
as Grange Master, although the Bayside Grange also calls her
the board president since the members do not really adhere to
the traditional titles and fraternal rituals, such as specific
greetings, secret handshakes and the use of symbolic regalia.
Guerra's husband, Jack Surmani, is the
hall manager, paid by the Grange to handle rentals and upkeep.
He recently took on the same role at Dow's Prairie Grange where
he is an associate member. [Photo
below left: Jack Surmani in front of Dow's Prairie Grange]
"They still have regular
meetings at the various local Granges," said Surmani, noting
that most of the 12 Granges that remain active in Humboldt County
"still have the feeds, breakfasts."
"The Dow's Prairie Grange
is holding on to more of the traditions [than Bayside], holding
on to the rituals. Sad to say, the membership there has dwindled,"
and the members are not all from McKinleyville, some come from
Eureka or Arcata. "People are happy to have a fraternal
organization even if it only has a few members."
The Bayside Grange on the other
hand has grown strong with its nontraditional approach. "We're
maintaining the building. We're building community," said
Surmani. "Are you going to make us prove that we're doing
the ritual? Because we're not."
Grange meetings typically include
a talk by a guest lecturer. At the last gathering of the Dow's
Prairie Grange the lecturer came down from Lake Earl Grange in
Del Norte County to talk about issues being addressed by the
state Grange organization: among them, support for beach access
including the use of four-wheel-drive vehicles, hunting geese
on farmland to control their population and doing away with the
Endangered Species Act.
approach at the Bayside Grange is a bit different. Guerra points
out that among the basic principles of the Grange is stewardship
of the land. "We take that seriously and try to do that.
There are various interpretations of that, just as what's patriotic
to some people is chauvinistic to others."
Emphasizing that it is her personal
opinion, Guerra bemoans "the co-opting of Grange movement
by agribusiness. That's not what it was like before; it was to
help farmers network with each other.
but we are very aware of the fact that we carry on a tradition.
We may be different from some Grangers but I'd say we're more
like what rural America is becoming."
The emphasis at the Bayside
Grange is on sustainability. Just last week Surmani picked up
an award from the county honoring the organization for achieving
"zero-waste" at the community breakfasts.
Bayside strays from the typical
Grange path in other ways. Said Surmani, "Another issue
that comes up is who we share our building with. Last year we
rented the Bayside Grange to the Forest Defenders for a fund-raiser."
The local group stages protests against logging that include
"There was an ad in the
paper for the event. I got a call from our regional rep asking
me, `Why are you renting the Grange to those eco-terrorists?
We don't rent to terrorist organizations.' We explained that
we are not promoting anyone's agenda, but we are not an exclusionary
"I think there was a fear
there: `We Grangers stand for these values and other values are
outside the Grange.' The Grange is supposed to be open to all,
and I find it offensive when they want to be exclusionary."
Similarly the higher-ups might not be like the
anti-war forum scheduled for this Friday night at the Bayside
Grange. "If they found out, they might interpret it as being
against the government," Surmani said. "When you swear
allegiance to the Grange, you have to swear allegiance to God
and country. I guess that means you're not supposed to talk about
it when you disagree."
sashes in storage at Dow's Prairie Grange]
Because the Bayside Grange does
not always agree with the greater organization's lobbying efforts,
there has not been a major effort to enlist new members since
the bulk of dues collected go to the state and national Grange.
As another Grange recruit, Paula Yoon, put it, "They encourage
participation, but they don't exactly encourage people to join."
Yoon is putting her skills as
a trained sociologist to work on the Grange-sponsored Bayside
Community Assets Survey, an effort initiated by Gainer with help
from HSU grad students.
"We're looking at the Bayside
community and what folks want to see happen in the next 10, 20,
30 or 40 years," said Yoon. "It started as a survey
that would focus on Grange members, but they decided to step
out of that box and look at the whole community. I have little
doubt that the survey will show that the Grange is seen as a
center for the community."
Gainer left her position on
the Grange board a few months ago to focus her attention on a
new auxiliary fund-raising organization, Bayside Pride. "The
Grange is not a 501(c)3 [nonprofit], and that has hindered our
fund-raising," she said, explaining that as an agricultural/fraternal
organization the Grange falls under different tax rules that
do not allow tax-deductible donations.
Gainer's hope is that the Pride
organization will also open new avenues for grant funding, and
not just for the Grange, for community projects throughout Bayside.
She points out that the building
renovation is far from complete: For starters the exhaust fan
in the kitchen needs to be replaced and the building foundation
could use some work. All in all, the Grange "wish list"
of improvements total about $250,000.
Gainer admits that she has a
somewhat selfish personal reason for wanting the Grange to thrive.
"When my kid is a teenager, I want a place that has such
a draw and attraction for her that she'll want to go there --
without a car. I think that every community in Humboldt County
should have a place kids can get to without driving."
As she looks forward she sees
future Grangers. "We want to accomplish the major repairs
needed so that we can turn our fund-raising efforts to
programs and services -- for youth, seniors and the community
in general. While most Bayside youths no longer are involved
with showing farm animals and 4-H activities, they are very active
in teen theater, choirs, musicals, bands and learning a variety
of forms of community leadership.
"This summer, we plan to
organize with Bayside teens [putting together] a teen focus group
to learn about what they'd like to see at the Grange Community
Hall and what they'd like it to become. After all, it's not just
about the community building, it's about building the community."
with the DELTA NATIONALS at the Grange
by Bob Doran
INVITING HIS MOTHER TO JOIN
THE CELEBRATION of The Delta Nationals CD, Get Out! this
Saturday night at the Bayside Grange, the band's bass player,
Ross Rowley, asked his mom if she had ever been there before.
told me, `When I was in high school we went there every weekend
and danced.' She said all of the dance halls had regular dances
back in the '40s. Mostly they were geared toward ethnic groups:
The Swiss had the Swiss Hall; the Runeberg Hall was open for
the Scandinavians, the Italians had their hall, and so on and
so forth. Each of them had a band almost every weekend, especially
in the summer months. The places were referred to as dance halls
rather than community halls."
Right: The Delta
Ross Rowley, Dave Ryan, Steve Irwin and Paul DeMark.
Delta Nationals drummer Paul
DeMark notes that he was a member of the Bayside Grange for a
couple of years. "There was a big push to get involved and
Maggie Gainer recruited me. They were talking about having more
music there so I got involved. We did a benefit for the Grange
restoration fund along with The Compost Mountain Boys about four
years ago, about a year after [our] band formed."
DeMark noted that all sorts
of bands have been using the hall lately: the funk band, Bump
Foundation, held a CD release party there; the Celtic quartet
Good Company celebrated the release of their latest disc last
Sunday in conjunction with the Grange breakfast.
DeMark sees the hall as a valuable
public resource. "It's a fantastic hall and I wanted to
make whatever contribution I could to make sure it would stay
open. It's an old-style Americana kind of dance hall; you get
that feel when you play there."
The retro feel is a perfect
fit for the Delta Nationals, a band exploring the roots of classic
American rock `n' roll, soul and country music. "It fits,
just as us playing live at the Moose Lodge for our CD fit. It's
an authentic, classic kind of venue."
DeMark and Rowley agree: The
Delta Nationals are a dance hall kind of band.
"I grew up in Willow Creek,
and when I started playing music, you didn't play bars, you played
dance halls," said Rowley. "Now here I am doing it
again. What we're doing as a band is trying to evoke a time period.
I'd like to go back and pretend it's that time again."
Those who have seen Rowley play
with The Delta Nationals know what that means: When he takes
the stage, like the rest of the Nats, he's wearing spiffy, retro
threads. Ross tops it off with an oft-times gravity-defying
"Our band rarely plays
in bars," said Rowley. "We have become more of a society
band, meaning a band that plays functions at the invitation of
some social group, as opposed to playing bars where you basically
have to go after the gig. We are hired to provide dance music,
that's the intention."
The Delta Nationals celebrate
the release of their debut, live CD Get Out! at the Bayside Grange
on Saturday, April 30. Celebrations Catering offers a Southern-style
fried chicken dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. for $10. Following dinner,
the band plays for dancing until midnight, including a set featuring
the CD's songs from start to finish. Admission is $5. CDs $10.
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