Drought of members

Drought of members

Cheryl-Anne Millsap Correspondent

On the top of Five Mile Prairie, a Grange that once boasted Saturday night dances that packed the hall, and popular canning contests, now struggles to find enough members to hold the monthly meetings.

“It’s sad to see this because this used to be such a vital part of the community,” Grange Master Larry Lawton says. “In a lot of ways this was the community.”

In the Spokane Valley, however, the Tri-Community Grange is attracting new members by changing its traditional role in the community.

The Tri-Community Grange, a relative newcomer after being organized in 1933, is near Newman Lake. Grange Master W.R. “Bill” Fautch is proud of the way the Grange has changed with the life of its neighbors.

With fewer than 200 dues-paying members, the Grange boasts an active crew of about 25.

“That’s pretty good for a Grange to have come to the meetings regularly,” Fautch says.

He makes the point that the Grange has had to adapt to the times.

“The ritual work seems to turn people off,” Fautch says. “So we use the basic Robert’s Rules of Order to take care of business, and we open every meeting with the American flag ceremony.”

The Tri-Community Grange has also stepped up to take the place of a town hall, providing meeting space, free of charge, for the volunteer fire department, as well as the Newman Lake property holders association.

The Grange hall also serves as a polling place for elections.

A free yoga class is held there each week.

Fautch, who is retired from the Kaiser rolling mill at Trentwood, has been a member of the Grange since moving to Newman Lake in 1964. His wife Marge is the current secretary of the group.

Fautch believes the survival of the Grange will rest in the ability to adapt to a changing society.

“We have stepped up to meet the needs of this community,” Fautch says. But he admits that those needs are still evolving.

“This is the dichotomy of progress,” he says.

“People like simpler times and things like the Waltons,” he says. “But the first thing they want to do when they move out to the rural area is pave the roads and bring suburbia with them.”

One transition has been that members no longer look to the Grange for entertainment and socialization.

“People have the TV, the radio and the club down the road with the new band,” he says. “They are bombarded with entertainment.”

He admits there is sometimes conflict between those who are seeking the rural lifestyle and those who have always lived it.

“The old-timers say, `We’ve always done it this way,’ and they don’t like to change,” he says. “But we’re in transition, and it has got to be a priority to move on or we’re going to die on the vine.”

The Five Mile Prairie Grange is also trying to change with the times but has had less success.

Grange Master Lawton, a 54-year-old dentist with a practice in the small town of Rosalia, and wife, Joy, 49, are young by Grange leadership standards. Both grew up in Grange families and chose to raise their children the same way.

Larry Lawton has been a member of the Five Mile Prairie Grange, which was organized in 1929, since he moved to Spokane in 1975.

Joy was raised in Colville, and the Grange was the centerpiece of her social life as a small child.

“Saturday was Grange day,” she says, recalling all-day Grange meetings and potluck dinners.

“After we ate, we would sing and dance,” Joy Lawton says. “I learned to dance on the toes of one of the older Grange members.”

The Five Mile Prairie Grange has 80 dues-paying members and averages six to eight members at a meeting.

Now the Five Mile Prairie Grange is facing tough decisions. Maintenance projects for the building, plus heating costs in the winter, takes money the Grange doesn’t have.

Ironically, building is booming on the prairie. Developments, many with palatial homes, are bringing families as well as more traffic and higher property values to the scenic area.

This is particularly bittersweet for the remaining members of the Grange.

Longtime members Elmer and Betty Dunham have lived on the prairie for more than 40 years. They raised a family and farmed their property while Dunham earned a living as a carpenter.

Now, surveying the changing landscape, Dunham reflects on the changes that have come through the years.

“The thing is, these people want to live in the country, but when they get here, they want everything like it was in the city,” he says.

Larry Lawton agrees.

“What so many people are chasing is represented in the Grange,” he says. “This is God and apple pie stuff.”

The Five Mile Prairie members have scaled back on the rituals of the Grange and are willing to look at ways to attract the few families that are moving up to the prairie, but they admit it is hard to get people interested.

“It’s becoming too urban, and people are too distant and too busy to be neighborly anymore,” Lawton says. “And that leaves us mourning the passing of a wonderful way of life.”

This sidebar appeared with the story:

FAST FACTS

Area Granges

There are 23 Granges in Spokane County. For more information contact Bob Shea at 239-4462 or check out the Washington State Grange Web site at www.wa-grange.org.

Copyright 2003 Cowles Publishing Company

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