December 26, 2010 in Idaho

New leaders revive once-dying grange

They have plans to keep it robust
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

“This is going to be my new life,” said Karen King, left, of Coeur d’Alene, as she talked with Angela Thompson, of Post Falls, about the Cloverleaf Grange in Post Falls on Dec. 17. Attendance at the grange – established in 1906 – is currently on an upswing.
(Full-size photo)

Yellow lights shone from the Cloverleaf Grange’s windows on a recent snowy evening, and the parking lot was full of vehicles.    Two dozen people gathered inside for a Christmas potluck. They also were celebrating the comeback of Idaho’s oldest grange.

Not too long ago, the Cloverleaf Grange’s future was in doubt. Membership in the grange in Post Falls had shrunk to 22 members – only a handful of whom were still active.

In April, Idaho State Grange Master Donald Billmire sent a letter to the grange, saying he was “regretfully” taking action to revoke its charter.

A few months later, Kim Tompkins stepped in as the grange’s new “master.” Tompkins, 36, recalled how much fun she had attending old-fashioned Halloween and Christmas parties at the Cloverleaf Grange with her grandparents. There was too much history in the weathered building to walk away from, Tompkins decided.

Over the past century, the grange on McGuire Road has hosted political debates, cowboy-themed church services, rummage sales and dances. A framed charter on the wall says the Cloverleaf Grange was established in 1906.

“This is the oldest operating grange in Idaho,” Tompkins said. “You see so much of the agricultural heritage just going to the wayside. …You don’t want to lose that history.”

To reinstate the charter, Tompkins and others had to recruit 15 new members. The Cloverleaf Grange now has a small, active core. But the task facing members is a tall order: Reinvent the rural institution for Kootenai County’s increasingly urban population.

Founded after the Civil War, the Grange movement mobilized farmers to advocate for progressive causes, such as rural mail delivery and antitrust laws for railroads. Over the years, granges stayed active in grass-roots politics. They also became social centers for isolated farm families.

Tompkins hopes to recruit some families with children to help diversify the Cloverleaf Grange’s graying membership.

“When I look around, I’m the youngest person here,” she said. “It’s a fraternal organization, so it’s not for everyone.”

Billmire, who recently stepped down as Idaho State Grange master, said Cloverleaf is one of five dying Idaho granges revived in the past two years. When a grange becomes inactive, he tries to recruit a “go-getter” to take over leadership.

“We sure appreciate that lady,” he said of Tompkins.

Tompkins credits her team. Most the Cloverleaf Grange’s new members have accepted board positions or stepped into other leadership roles. They’re busy envisioning a future for the grange. New member Jeanne Herzog likes the idea of holding dances at the grange. Her husband, Tim, can picture forums for political candidates and small car shows. Other ideas include a farmers market and summer concerts.

And the building itself needs quite a bit of work, Tompkins said. The uneven floor is a testament to foundation issues and the roof is due for a professional inspection.

At the Christmas potluck, however, members celebrated what they’ve already accomplished: Saving the grange.

Sharing in the triumph was Annie Davis, of Post Falls, whose family has attended events at the grange since 1939.

“I’m a mouthy old lady,” Davis said. “I said, ‘They’re not going to tear down my grange’… I stamped my feet and squealed.”

Karen King had never attended a grange meeting before, but she saw an advertisement for the potluck and showed up with a dish of homemade dumplings.

“I need a life,” King said. She’s recently retired and wanted to meet new people and expand her social activities.

King, who likes to cook, immediately found her way into the grange’s kitchen. She was charmed by the old-fashioned pump that serves as the sink faucet, the wood-burning range – “isn’t it gorgeous?” – and the friendly welcome of grange members.

“I feel right at home,” she said.


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