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Around The Grange
Westfield Grange disbanding
 

By Claire Michalewicz, Middletown Press (5/21/11)

  MAY 22, 2011 --

For nearly 125 years, members of the Westfield Grange have gathered to advocate for farmers, give to the local community, and socialize. But as its membership dwindled, the 18 remaining Grange members decided to close down.

At their last-ever meeting, held at the Third Congregational Church on Thursday, the Grange members voted to turn their charter over to the state Grange, before singing a final song and packing up their regalia.

Jody A. Cameron, the president of the Connecticut State Grange, said the organization was founded after the Civil War, as a way to unite people in the North and South through agriculture. The Westfield Grange was incorporated in November 1886.

“As agriculture has changed, so has the Grange,” Cameron said. As the number of farmers in the country decreased, the organization’s main focus turned to helping people in the community.

Secretary Mildred Paddock, who’s belonged to the Westfield Grange since 1944 and the Southington Grange for 12 years before that, said the Westfield members came to the decision to close gradually, over the past few months. She said members were seriously considering it by March, and they made their final decision when their Grange master, Jim Bachand, suddenly died in April.

Paddock noted that the membership had declined over the years, as people moved away from farming and became busy with other activities. “We weren’t getting any new members anymore,” Paddock said. “People don’t join organizations anymore.”

“It’s a different world now,” said Phyllis Redford, the Grange master. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just different.”

When she joined, Paddock said, “There was no television and not a lot of radio. We did our own entertainment.” She said different Granges had meetings on different days of the week, and people would visit the meetings to socialize and play music.

“It’s really a family organization,” Paddock said. She said she initially joined because her parents were members, and she met her husband through the Grange.

Paddock said the Westfield Grange met at the Third Congregational Church when it was first founded in 1886. Over the years, it moved to different locations, including the former Westfield School and Moody Elementary School. In recent years, the Grange returned to the church for meetings.

“We’ve kind of gone full circle,” Paddock said.

Phil Prelli, Past Master of the Connecticut State Grange, said that despite the closing of some Granges in recent years, that doesn’t mean the organization is dying. Connecticut has over 60 active Granges, he said.

”Connecticut is actually a very active Grange state,” Prelli said. And in other states, more and more local chapters are being formed, both to address farmers’ concerns and to help out community members through charity.

“It’s an organization that’s based on service,” he said. “It’s always had a community service contingency to it.”

During Thursday’s meeting, the Grange members also made the difficult decision of what to do with the organizations possessions, including their songbooks, sashes, and other paraphernalia. Prelli suggested donating them to the State Grange, which could distribute them to another Grange that needed them.

At Paddock’s suggestion, the group also voted to donate three armchairs to the church that had housed them for so long.

The Rev. Norm Erlendson thanked the Grange for the chairs, and offered a blessing for the Grange members.

“We do acknowledge the years of service and good work,” Erlendson said. “We pray for all who have been here today, as well as those in the past. Thank you.”

This was the second Middletown Grange to close in the past few years – the Mattabassett chapter closed in 2005. Redford had been a member of that Grange since 1939, and she came to Westfield after it closed. Paddock and Redford said they and the other Grange members planned to join another nearby chapter, probably the Hemlock Grange in Portland.

“It’s been a rough couple of months,” Paddock said. But, she added, the Grange members would continue seeing each other and serving the community at another Grange.

“We’re old but we’re plugging along,” she said. “You have to do what you have to do.”

 
 
 
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