It stands like a vision from the past – a large square structure where dogs are trained, Boy Scouts hold meetings, and the life of rural Rochester moves slowly from one generation to the next. But the sign on the building tells a more important story – one that connects Rochester to the entire country: Rochester Grange #257.
On August 19, the Rochester Grange membership held its annual fair. On display were the best examples from local gardens and kitchens and of crafts made over the long winter months, the achievement of individual effort in a variety of categories.
The annual event gives residents and members the opportunity to show off their talents in growing vegetables and flowers as well as arranging them in decorative ways, hooking rugs, drawing and painting, canning produce, taking photographs, baking cookies and knitting blankets – the bounty from a community maintaining the principles of an agrarian society.
Herb and Sue LaFleur, respectively chairman and secretary of the Rochester Grange, were busy preparing for the annual ham and bean supper that follows the juried event.
Slowly wafting in the fan-forced air circulating the grange hall were red and blue ribbons attached to giant zucchinis or long stalks of gladiolas. Sue LaFleur said that most of the jurying took place the night before while other categories were completed that morning. The colorful displays certainly harkened back to an earlier time when horse-drawn carriages drew farmers from fields to join others in the annual harvest celebration. But LaFleur said granges were much more than just about farms.
“It began after the Civil War,” LaFleur explained. She said granges were started to help the struggling farmers after the war that had devastated the landscape both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line. “Today we get involved with legislation,” she said.
Rochester Grange also gets involved helping the local and larger community. “Every year, we give the third graders at Rochester Memorial School their own children’s dictionary in a program we call ‘Words For Thirds,’” LaFleur said. She said the dictionaries are something that the students look forward to and get to keep when the school year ends.
And the Rochester Grange’s compassionate consideration of others goes beyond the town lines. “We help with children who are taken into foster care.” LaFleur explained that the membership provides “hygiene bags” filled with such essential items as toothbrushes, soap, face cloths, and shampoo. “When the children are taken into DCF care, they have nothing.” The grange members also collect gift cards, which are distributed to the children. “The teens especially appreciate the cards.”
Regarding the early proactive work granges pursued, LaFleur said that in its history granges advocated for rural mail delivery, railroad expansions, and electricity through political action that influenced legislation. Lobbying on behalf of rural Americans continues at the national level, she said.
LaFleur seemed most proud to share that granges were one of the first organizations that granted women full membership. “Women were always allowed to vote, even before they were given the right to vote, and they could hold office in the granges too,” she said enthusiastically.
Considering that membership to granges has dwindled as family lifestyles have changed, the LaFleurs and the members of the Rochester Grange are steadfast in their belief that the work they do is important to the overall fabric of the community.
From the National Grange website we find the following: Every year, Grange members give thousands of hours to volunteer in their communities and raise millions of dollars for important causes. Grangers attend public meetings, inform themselves of local, state and national issues, and speak for the rights of all Americans, especially those who work in agriculture, producing our food, fuel and fiber (www.nationalgrange.org).
Grange halls throughout the country are also used for other community events and activities. Rochester’s Boy Scout Troop 31 holds their meetings in the Grange, which has opened its door to the Scouts for years. Both organizations recently received special recognition for their community work.
Active duty Rochester resident CW4 Daniel Ferreira, U.S. Army, gifted the two groups with a decommissioned American flag that was flown aboard a Pursuit marine vessel involved in Task Force ODIN in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The flag and accompanying citation honor the guiding principles of the two organizations.
The Rochester Grange meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 7:30 pm. “Everyone is invited,” LaFleur said with a smile. The Rochester Grange is located at 205 Hartley Road.
By Marilou Newell