Granges began as secretive organizations requiring members to memorize passwords so the gatekeepers would let them into meetings.
While granges are now open to the public, some things still are shrouded in mystery, such as why the Fords Prairie Grange’s charter was suspended this year.
Former Washington State Grange leader Duane Hamp told The Chronicle that it was suspended because of an internal issue. Tom Gwin, the current State Grange master, declined to comment further on the suspension.
Gwin did say Fords Prairie, which is at 2640 W. Reynolds Ave., Centralia, was seeing declining membership and was down to four members.
Now, the grange is reorganizing. Five officers were selected at last week’s meeting, and Gwin appointed as master Shavanna Burlingame, who is the membership director for the State Grange.
The appointment rattled a few members who wanted to see their former grange master, Shirley Kimball, back at the helm.
“If we were to go back and the same people went back into the same positions, I’d be back there in six months reorganizing again,” Gwin said.
Burlingame said that the grange has done a lot of community service in the past, and if it gets its numbers up, it will be able to do even more. Gwin said Fords Prairie Grange needs to focus on “creating an environment that will attract new members.”
Gwin hopes the group will work with the local FFA chapters and the community to learn what interests them.
“We want a new, fresh, younger group,” Burlingame said.
Gwin said the key will be to plan programs that will interest a broad spectrum of participants.
“The intent of the grange is to have a wide range of ages and a wide range activities that multiple people can enjoy,” he said.
Denise McCartan, treasurer with the State Grange, said another issue she is seeing with granges in general is that while the history and traditional ceremonies that have Masonic roots are important, the meetings need to catch up to the 21st century.
“In order to get new members, we’ve got to modernize,” McCartan said.
Historically, the grange was created by farmers to provide an organized voice to lawmakers about agriculture and other rural issues. Granges across the country continue to appeal to their legislators on those issues.
The Lewis County Pomona Grange, which is comprised of 13 local subordinate granges and State Grange representatives, will continue to work with Fords Prairie to reorganize during the next year.
“I see promise, I see hope, and if we can continue working in that direction, I think Fords Prairie will be around for a while,” Gwin said.
Fords Prairie meetings will be held at 7 p.m. the third Monday of the month. December’s meeting will be a planning meeting with regular meetings beginning in January. The grange also will host a potluck and game night open to the public the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m.