By DEBBIE WACHTER MORRIS
Just as the honey bee may someday be endangered, so are Lawrence County’s granges.
Elenore and Walter Rodgers joined the Mahoning Valley Grange more than a year ago and have since become some of its hardest working members.
Elenore, 71, built an exhibit on the disappearance and importance of honey bees, which placed second at the Lawrence County Fair.
The booth contains a display of food items containing honey and information she derived from the Internet about why bee colonies are dying off. A compact disc player provides the constant drone sound of the bees.
Elenore and her husband also entered a variety of crafts for judging in the grange contest, and nine of them won blue ribbons. One is a miniature log cabin that Walter, 74, built. Elenore’s specialty was a set of 27 crocheted and framed Christmas ornaments that clinched best of show.
“The Pattons are great new members,” said Richard Jacobson, a 57-year-member of Mahoning Valley Grange, who also is state deputy.
Once a family farm organization based on moral and ethical values, the state grange now struggles to maintain its membership.
In past years, the state grange lost thousands of members, he said, but it instituted activities and recruitment to rebuild the membership, and it started an incentive for juniors to join the state group for a dollar.
However, since the fair started 54 years ago, Lawrence County has lost half of its local granges, with six remaining, Jacobson said. As some have closed, the members have joined other local granges.
Locally, New Wilmington Grange closed its doors two years ago and sold its hall, and since January, Eastbrook and Big Beaver granges have folded. The county organization — Pomona Grange — no longer has a junior program for youths.
“They can’t survive and afford their buildings,” Jacobson said.
Youth involvement also is lacking, Elenore pointed out.
“Old age is catching up with us and no young people are taking over,” Jacobson agreed.
Most granges meet in their own halls, many of which are historic buildings.
Still existing in addition to Mahoning Valley are Liberty, Plain Grove, Pleasant Hill, Westfield and East New Castle, which no longer has a hall and meets in members’ homes or restaurants.
Scrumptious pot-luck dinners, home-cooked by the members, are historically a grange trademark, and the clubs undertake public service projects; host square dances; take turns making apple butter; create educational exhibits; and staff the grange building at the fair as some of their activities.
Mahoning Valley, one of the largest and most active locally, has about 100 members and has switched from an agricultural organization to one of community service, Jacobson said.
For example, the auction of a quilt and a planned rabies clinic will benefit the Mahoning Township Volunteer Fire Department, he said.
The Pattons pointed out that they, like other new grangers, are active retirees looking to fill a void.
“We only live a stone’s throw from the hall,” located on Sky Hill Road, said Walter Patton, whose parents belonged to the grange.
Elenore pointed out the grange has been enriching, and she and her husband, have cultivated many friendships.
She has known Jacobson casually since high school, but as grangers, they have become good friends.
“Everyone is friendly, everyone has fun and we’re a grange family,” she said. “We love it. We really do.”
By DEBBIE WACHTER MORRIS