'Trying to get back to the origins of the grange'
EUGENE, Ore. -- On a recent Saturday night, the Spencer Creek grange hall was swinging.
Silver-haired gentleman twirled their ladies. Eager young men moved swiftly to impress dates.
An 80-year-old dance caller presided over it all, instructing the nervous dancers on the precise way to waltz.
None of this would've been possible until recently.
Membership at the grange hall -- and its counterparts across the state -- had been dropping. The organization was short on cash.
"It wasn't looking too good," said Malcolm Trupp, the Spencer Creek grange master, who grew up in the area and has been involved with the grange for 50 years.
But Trupp said the grange hall reached out. They sought new members who brought in new ideas, from establishing a grower's market to pancake breakfasts and barn dances like this one.
Now the grange is growing once again. Membership is up, if only slightly.
It's a story that's playing out in different parts of the Willamette Valley.
The state's grange halls are but a shadow of what they were in the 1960s and '70s. In their heyday, these buildings served as a center of small town life, doubling as polling stations, emergency shelters and sites for political rallies.
Over the years, the membership aged but new recruits didn't come in.
As a result, membership plummetted.
There were about 30,000 members in the late '60s, said Mark Noah, the grange master for the state. Today, there are maybe one-third as many. And many of the grange buildings themselves have had to be sold and repurposed.
"It's sad to see them go," said Noah, who joined the grange decades ago to court the woman who became his wife.
But in recent years, a sort of grange revival has emerged.
Grangers say it's fueled by the resurgent interest in local agriculture, coupled with a longing for more face-to-face interaction with neighbors.
"Because of technology and people doing things from a computer they're talking to people miles and miles and miles away, but they're not actually talking to people next door to them," said Lisa Hargest, a member of the Mary's River Grange in Philomath.
Until recently, Mary's River was on the verge of shutting down.
Most of the older members had passed away. But a group of 20- and 30-somethings in the area rallied together to save the grange.
They'd seen the building and thought it would be a shame to lose the grange on Grange Hall Road. So they signed up as members, and got their friends to join, too.
Before long, they'd replaced the floor, and started making other improvements.
"We're actually trying to get back to the origins of the grange supporting small farms and being community gatherinng places," said Camille Storch, the young Mary's River grange master.