Deer Lagoon Grange looks to boost membership, awareness Saturday

The exterior of the grange hall during renovations in the 1930s. -
The exterior of the grange hall during renovations in the 1930s.
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The Deer Lagoon Grange is preparing for a Saturday night party they hope the entire community crashes. The only requirements are to bring a hearty appetite and an even healthier interest in community.

The Deer Lagoon Grange will look toward the community's future Saturday by bringing back a blast from the past: a booster night complete with a chili and chowder cook off.

At the booster night, grange members will share the history of the grange system and of the Deer Lagoon Grange in particular. They'll discuss current community involvement and show this year's grange efforts at the fair.

But it won't be all grange, all the time.

The grange hopes to boost talk of other activities in the community, and service organizations and clubs such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Whidbey Pebble Pushers.

The booster nights were once a regular occurrence at the grange until about the 1960s and '70s. The heyday for booster nights came in the 1940s and '50s; times when grange activities were going strong.

"Booster nights were typically held in the fall, when everyone was going back to school and when they were starting other activities like Boy Scouts," said Chuck Prochaska, Deer Lagoon Grange president.

Times have changed, the grange members know. There's plenty more activities to occupy families and the grange doesn't have its former appeal.

Prochaska wants to help change all that.

"People's impression of us is that we're a 100-year old organization. If we're not dead, we should be," Prochaska said.

"Be we're just as important to the community today as we were when we first started, if not more," he said.

Recent years have seen a golden era of revitalization for the grange hall.

In 1999 renovations uncovered the hall's old but still beautiful maple floor. The hall's kitchen and other amenities were also revamped for continued use.

This helped bring a boost to the grange from increased rentals, which Prochaska said are vital to keeping the group going.

"While increasing membership and awareness for grange activities are always a plus, maintaining income from grange rentals is always important," he said.

Because of the grange's restoration efforts, the Deer Lagoon Grange placed second in the Washington State Grange's annual improvement contest.

August 2004 saw the Deer Lagoon Grange bring three computers to the grange to help support the state and national granges' mission of education and spreading telecommunication to rural areas. To do so, the grange was one of 20 sites chosen in Washington to participate in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's three-year rural access to technology project.

The Deer Lagoon Grange celebrated the building's 100th birthday in October 2004. The hall was originally built as the home of the Lone Lake Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1904. The grange took ownership in 1935.

Previously, the grange met at Bayview Hall, its home since its founding in 1927. The reglorified centennial building is now a landmark listed with the Island County Historical Society Museum.

In August, the grange was in its prime at the Island County Fair, where it took top honors for best educational display.

The grange showing was not only a plus for the grange, but also for the fair and for the community, Prochaska said.

Part of how the Island County Fair receives funding from the state fair board is by meeting different criteria, and one covers educational displays.

"Our participation in the fair not only helped spread awareness for the grange and its mission, but also helped the fair continue to be a vital part of this community," said Bob Jimenez, grange member.

Jimenez said he sees the grange continuing to educate the island about its fair.

"Many people out there don't even know about the premium points," Jimenez said. "People can make their products, bring them to the fair and make the fair a better fair, and get some sort of monetary reward if they win."

A leadership visit from state grange officials in August was an opportunity for the grange to welcome in other leaders and talk of working together in the future.

"Part of our goal of that day was to build alliances with other organizations out there serving the community," Prochaska said. "I think the seeds are planted and the mutual cooperation will be there when needed."

Last month the Deer Lagoon grange's dictionary project helped distribute more than 400 dictionaries to south and central Whidbey students. They hope to give out another 500 dictionaries to Oak Harbor students, if the grange finds sponsors for the project.

But even with all the ups of recent years, certain things -- such as membership -- are down at the grange. The Deer Lagoon Grange currently claims 40 members. Decades ago, membership could be 100 or more strong, with entire families involved and a junior grange membership flourishing.

"The things we're experiencing aren't just true to the grange," Jimenez said.

"Overall, people's commitment to different organizations and projects is stretched," he said.

Prochaska and other grange members would like to see the community's priorities shift back to the community.

"We want the voice of the people to be heard," Prochaska said. "The direction we head after Saturday, as far as activities and future mission, depends on the membership. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

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