The grange hall was established in 1867 to promote the building of rural America through grassroots activates and community involvement; and until the late twentieth century it would have been rare to not know a member. Grange halls once in almost all fifty states now only exist in thirty-five states, leaving the future of granges in question.
But, ask Mossyrock local Miranda Panuska, an ambitious 22-year-old, fourth generation grange member on her mother’s side and fifth generation on her father’s, what she thinks about granges on the decline and she will tell you she is doing something about it.
“The grange has given me so many skills and opportunities, and I am going to use those to do all I can to keep growing and spreading the word of what the grange community can do,” said Panuska.
Panuska was recently voted one of the youngest state officers, officially starting her on her path to be able to voice her goals for the future of Washington state granges and doesn’t plan on stopping there.
“My future goal would (be) to be State Master, and influence and help grow the grange into the future and help raise awareness of the grange nationally,” said Panuska.
Panuska’s State officer title is the State Flora, a symbol celebrating traditions and the beauty of rural life. The position is a tribute to the goddess of flowering plants, and puts Panuska in charge of the infamous Rose Drill at the annual grange convention, where a group of 7- to 18-year-old boys and girls perform a symbolic dance in tribute to new members at the 6th level of membership, (the national level), and give each a rose at the end of the ceremony.
Panuska has been a part of the Rose Drill multiple times and has, “spent many summer camps practicing routines, so it isn’t a surprise for me to get to be in charge of it at my age,” she noted. “And, it is good for the grange, I have changed the music up a little, and this year I have changed the kid’s costumes from each of them wearing pink, to each of the girls wearing a different color dress and the boys will wear khakis and Hawaiian themed.”
The change to non-grange members may seem small, but for a community grounded in strict traditions, change, even the smallest, can be hard — but members recognize it is necessary for the future of the grange.
“I have spent 54 years in the grange and can remember the girls practicing every Sunday from January until the convention,” said Marilyn Armit, Panuska’s grandmother and a third generation grange member. “Now they begin practicing just a month or two before, and have changed up the music, taking the piano away and playing a compact disc, also letting boys dance on stage with the girls too; which isn’t bad, it’s just different.”
Armit says children have more distractions than she did growing up and if changing things up keeps them involved and motivated than it is for the good of the grange and the community.
“There is television, video games, amusement parks, it is hard to get kids involved in community events, so, I am so proud of my granddaughter and the dedication she has put into the grange, it has been wonderful to see,” said Armit. “She has a bright future and so will the grange and our community, because of it.”
With the dwindling numbers state representatives are really beginning to focus on and develop their youth based programs, camps, and educational-based workshops.
“We are really trying to attract the youth of members and non-members,” said Dan Hammock communication director of Washington Granges. “If we can teach the importance of what the grange does in the community, and the leadership skills and tools, scholarships, camps, and other programs, the more likely it is that the grange with flourish in the future.”
Hammock said the upcoming Grange Convention at Ocean Shores is open to the public, for most of the activities, including a raffle and art contest where anyone can enter paintings, clay, sewing, or any other type of handmade artwork to win multiple prizes.
“It is a fun convention and a great way for people interested in what the grange is; to members, and to see first-hand the greatness of the group and what it can do,” said Hammock.
Sara Potter is a freelance journalist living in Centralia, with her husband and two daughters. She loves learning about all types of health and fitness, inside and outdoors.