It’s official: April 2017 will be known as Island County Grange month.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson proclaimed the new designation on Saturday afternoon as the Deer Lagoon Grange celebrated its 90th birthday at the organization’s historic building off Bayview Road.
Despite being nearly a century old, Price Johnson suggested the group remains as vital today as it was in the early 20th century.
“These kinds of groups are integral to keeping a sense of community strong,” Price Johnson said. “The Board of Island County Commissioners encourages members to continue to highlight the granges in our community.”
The grange hosted an open house in front of “grangers,” members of the public, and representatives from community organizations that work with the grange, such as the Island County Historical Society. The celebration was an afternoon of reflection on the grange’s history and a look forward to what the future holds for the group and its partners at the fair and historical society. The grange also presented its annual community citizen award to Anita Smith for her volunteer project, Quilts for the Brave. Smith then presented quilts for two veterans.
According to Grange Master Chuck Prochaska, the Deer Lagoon Grange’s roots are directly linked to that of South Whidbey. It was originally established “around 1910,” by community movers-and-shakers at a time when there were five granges on the South End alone. All five shut down when the United States entered World War I, but aiming to bring the community together, the original charter members brought the Deer Lagoon Grange back from the dead in 1926. The group has since been composed of historically significant people from South Whidbey, including former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Albert Goss.
The organization wasn’t always in the best state though, Prochaska said.
“When I came to the grange around 2000, the hall was a mess,” Prochaska said. “The roof of the building was leaking, the floor boards were in poor condition, you name it. Things have changed since then, and this grange has seen a lot of love, and I’d like to see that continue.”
These days, Prochaska told the audience, the grange continues to be heavily involved with the Whidbey Island Fair and community service, which takes the form of legislative advocacy and renting space to groups like Smith’s quilters for veterans. The grange has sway with state legislators, said Prochaska, since many like former Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen were grangers. The group has recently advocated for education reform, such as reimplementing cursive handwriting into the school curriculum.
“The grange is one of those groups essential to the community,” Smith said. “They volunteer the space I use for my quilt program. We don’t pay the grange, and we don’t pay for materials, either. They facilitate us.”
Although membership is at a steady 22, Prochaska says the community will only benefit from increased numbers. More will increase the group’s capabilities, and Prochaska hopes to introduce additional youth programs. But most importantly, he hopes to spread good citizenship.
“Personally, I believe groups like the grange are key in that we promote family values, support communities and maintain some of the morals most of us believe are critical to the future of our nation,” Prochaska said. “Good citizenship is a key value and it really does take a community to make that happen. That’s what we’re trying to promote.”