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McIntosh Grange celebrating hall reopening

ROCKFORD – The McIntosh Grange in Rockford will offer a free lunch and open house next Saturday to celebrate the reopening of its First Avenue hall.

Everyone is invited to the event, which is doubling as a food drive for the Rockford Food Bank. Attendees are encouraged to bring a food donation.

The hall, shuttered by water damage for several months, has undergone extensive renovations. Volunteers replacing the building’s cracked ceiling discovered the cause of its saddle-backed roof, which led to a major overhaul.

“We had several cracked rafters that had to be reinforced or replaced,” said Carol Evans, Grange secretary. “We had to jack up the roof to replace them, and we decided while we were there to do some other things.”

The resulting project involved redoing the electrical wiring, re-Sheetrocking the walls, insulating the building and revamping the heating system to take the chill off. There’s still a lot of work to be done, Evans said, though the group’s budget has been stretched pretty thin.

McIntosh Grange is one of the older community service groups in the Rockford area. Among other things, the 40-member group provides dictionaries to all grade-school students in the Freeman School District and coats for the underprivileged. It also participates in a week-long summer camp. One of the purposes of the open house is to spread the word about what Grange offers to area families, both as a local group and a national organization.

The National Grange is the nation’s oldest national agricultural organization, with roots dating back to post Civil War reconstruction. Its 300,000 members provide service to agriculture and rural areas on a variety of issues, including economic development, education, and legislation designed to preserve rural America. Over the past 137 years, it has evolved to include nonfarm rural families and communities.

The local group actually started in the long-gone community of McIntosh, northeast of Rockford, but moved to town more than 40 years ago, for several reasons, including the appeal of running water.

The 60-foot building at 319 S. First Ave. has been a Grange meeting hall since the early 1960s when it was bought at a military surplus sale at Geiger. The 40-member Grange also leases out the building for private parties for $100 a day.

After the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. open house, Grange members will travel to the Good Samaritan Center in nearby Fairfield to honor Doris McPhearson, a Grange member for 75 years.