By Andrea Barkan
Pilot staff writer
It takes dedicated volunteers to make a community cornerstone, and the Chetco Grange a Brookings-Harbor fixture since 1930 has just that.
At a special meeting Jan. 7, longtime volunteers George Gates, Frank Kelley and Bernadine Kelley were honored for decades of service to the nonprofit organization.
Frank and Gates have been grange members for 50 years. Bernadine was recognized for 65 years of grange membership.
John Fine, Oregon State Grange president, and Larry Rea, state Grange deputy, visited during the local award ceremony.
"We're here to help these folks celebrate their longevity in the Grange," Rea said.
Longevity seems almost synonymous with Grange organizations, which were started after the Civil War in 1867 as a support system for farmers.
Since then, grassroots Granges throughout the nation have provided opportunities for community gatherings.
Grange halls are a community resource, Rea said. Since granges are nonprofit, they can rent out their halls at affordable rates.
Grange members also lobby at the local, state and national levels. They shape legislation according to the principles that guide each individual grange.
According to The Grange Web site, their primary legislative objective is to represent views of rural residents and the agricultural community.
The Grange is for anybody who has an interest in agriculture, Rea said.
"And if you put your feet under the kitchen table, you have an interest in agriculture," he added.
The first Oregon Grange was organized in 1873. Now there are 210 granges in Oregon. Rea said 37 states have Granges.
In 1930, Brookings-Harbor resident Margaret Frazier started the local Grange, according to "A Sentimental Journey with The Chetco Grange" by Everett Melbourne King.
King described Frazier as "an early resident and descendant of pioneer stock."
As soon as it was formed, 71 members joined The Chetco Grange.
It wasn't long before Grange members wanted a hall.
"Almost immediately as 1931 dawned, the Grangers demonstrated their intense pride individually and as a group by setting forth to build a grange hall of their own," King wrote.
It was the Depression and there was no money to buy property.
But resident Stanley Wagner and his wife offered the present site of the Grange Hall, for a trade. They agreed to donate the land if Grange members would build a quarter-mile long road from the highway to their home.
"The Grange members were endowed with boundless energy and enthusiasm!" King said.
"It is equally certain that they also were possessed of considerable optimism. Even though the finances of the new organization were in very low state during these depression times, all members voted to accept Wagner's offer," he wrote.
The Chetco Grange Hall was built in 1934.
King wrote that early grange members supported the burgeoning Rural Electrification Administration during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, which eventually manifested locally in the form of Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative.
Rea said older members have spent years involved with the Grange, as illustrated by the three honored last week.
The challenge for Granges today is attracting new members.
"We are a mature organization," Rea said. "We need to keep bringing in young people."
According to the Grange Web site, a variety of social, leadership and educational opportunities for members of all ages have been made available throughout the organization's history.
"Our organization is not just the building," Fine said. "It's not just the organization. It's the things that happen."
For information, visit http://www.grange.org.