By Walter Boomsma
“The question has been asked, ‘How long will the Grange live?” I believe it will live as long as it continues to serve the welfare of agriculture and the nation. Whenever it becomes ingrown and selfish, and the members look on it only as a means of bringing them pleasure, entertainment, or profit, it will fade away.”
Those words for today were actually written and spoken in the 1940’s by then National Master Albert S. Goss.
One of the pointed questions asked during our Piscataquis Pomona town hall meeting with now National Master Betsy Huber was, “Given we are a diverse, grassroots organization, what really unites us?” The question may be as important as the answer because the question drives us back to our roots and fundamental principles and policies.
Ironically, just a few days later, a member of the media asked me, “What is your hope for the Grange?” It was one of the few times I didn’t have a prepared soundbite for a reply. After fumbling a bit, I answered, “that it continues to be a vibrant and energetic organization that contributes to our communities.” Feeling that I hadn’t exactly given a great answer, it was that question which later made me pull down some of my Grange books and do some reading and thinking.
Master Goss’s hope can be found in the second paragraph. “But to those who find pleasure in doing something for the common good, the Grange provides an instrument both effective and satisfying. Through it we can jointly find our entertainment and our pleasure in service, while at the same time we can advance the interests of our neighbors and ourselves in the fields of health, education, business and in almost limitless ways. Through the Grange we have an opportunity to give, and the more we give the more we gain.”
If the reporter who interviewed me had the ability to interview Master Goss, I suspect he would have used a redirect in his reply to the reporter’s question, “What is your hope for the Grange?” I think that the master might have replied that he had a belief, not a hope. There’s an important difference in those two words. Master Goss believed, “…it will still be the motivating center from which unlimited community welfare enterprises originate; and it will continue to build and strengthen the farm home as its ultimate purpose.”
One of the many strengths of our Order is an almost uncanny ability to look to the past as we move to the future. When we talk about our Granges, we too often get focused on today’s challenges like how hard it is to get members or the need to “close” for the winter to avoid a heating bill. Perhaps it is time to explore our traditions and our history of success. In the same book I found Master Goss’s prophecy, I stumbled on to this statement: “The Grange has lived and will live because it is founded on the home, the family, and the farm.”
Is that any less true today, some seventy-five years later? Will we continue to live because we are founded on the home, the family, and the farm? One of the reasons I decided to write this “Exploring Traditions…” column every month is my belief that much of our history, heritage, tradition, and practice has application for today—if we are willing and able to understand and apply it.
There’s a song that will be familiar to many… “He’s an old hippie and he don’t know what to do… should he hang on to the old or grab on to the new?” Perhaps we could change one word and make it our opening song at an occasional meeting. “He’s an old Granger and he don’t know what to do… should he hang on to the old or grab on to new?”
The problem is the question is an absolute implying there’s a required a choice between the old and the new. I don’t know about hippies, but Grangers do not need to make an either-or choice. We need to hang on to the old to the extent it makes sense and to the degree it got us where we are. But we also need to grab on to the new if we are going to “be the motivating center from which unlimited community welfare enterprises originate.”
Do you share Master Goss’s belief? Can you see a sign over the door to your Grange Hall that reads, “Welcome to the motivating center from which unlimited community welfare enterprises originate!” That’s better than “closed for the winter.”
 Gardner, C. M. (1949). The Grange — Friend of the Farmer. Washington DC: National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry.
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.