This Grange changes with the times

Facade of the 116-year-old Copake Grange building at 628 Empire Road. Photos contributed

COPAKE—Copake Grange #935 is back from the brink of extinction.

After years of declining membership and inactivity, people are joining in droves and the group’s upcoming event calendar is bursting with entertainment, sales, food and a festival.

What is going on? Did the Grange suddenly become hip?

It’s connected to the revitalization of the Copake hamlet; an effort to keep the Grange building open for community use and the camaraderie being part of an organization can provide.

Just last year, the Grange was in dire straits. With only five members showing up for monthly meetings, not enough for a quorum of seven, which meant the group could no longer conduct business or vote on measures—and therefore could take no action.

If the group was inactive, the building at 628 Empire Road was in danger of being taken back by the New York State Grange, which owns it.

To prevent that from happening, a group of eight Grange members assembled in July 2017, elected new leadership and the resurgence began.

“It’s very simple,” Copake Grange President Christopher Quinby told The Columbia Paper this week, “I grew up going to the Grange. My parents voted there. It was the polling place. After they voted, we’d stay there and have a nice dinner. It didn’t seem right that the Grange could be gone” so he and others decided “to see if we could save this place.”

After nearly a year, instead of just a handful of members, there are now 59, not quite the 80 charter members the Grange had in October 1902, but still on the rise.

Jeanne Mettler, a Copake Town Board member, serves as secretary and Marcia Becker, a member of the Town Planning Board is treasurer. The archaic titles like, “Worthy Master” and “Overseer” are gone.

Committees were formed: finance, building and maintenance, programs, hospitality, public relations and fund raising.

The Grange just wrapped up a busy weekend with a successful community theater production and a plant sale that had to close early because they sold out of merchandise.

Copake Grange members Glenn Pupa and Jane Peck carry the organization’s banner in the Roe Jan area Memorial Day Parade May 28. Photo contributed

And after years of coming in second or third with its exhibit at the County Fair, the Copake Grange won first prize last year.

Only three Granges are listed on the State Grange register in Columbia County: Copake, East Chatham and Mellenville. Mr. Quinby said the Mellenville Grange has dissolved and lost its building, which is now the subject of negotiations to possibly become a post office. The East Chatham Grange doesn’t have a building, but meets at the firehouse, he said.

What is the Grange anyway?

Founded in 1867 by Oliver H. Kelley, The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, a national organization, has its roots in agriculture. According to a slide presentation by Ms. Mettler given at a Grange open house last year, after returning from a mission to assess the damage done to farms in the south following the Civil War, Mr. Kelley, a “’Yankee” by birth, was able to communicate with Southerners, who were otherwise suspicious of him, because of their mutual membership in the Masons.

While they could talk about farming all day, politics was another matter. “I concluded great good would result from bringing the farmers of the country together in a fraternity… which would have for its object the mutual benefit and interests of the men who till the soil, the bone and sinew of this great Republic,” Mr. Kelley said of his vision.

But the Grange has many aspects, Ms. Mettler said, it is fundamentally non-partisan and men and women have always had equal rights in the Grange.

*The National Grange advocated for women’s suffrage, at the urging of Susan B. Anthony

*From the earliest days of the Grange—women were in positions of leadership

*In 1957 Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about her membership in the Grange as she was awarded a pin for her membership of 25 years,” according to the presentation.

The mission of the Copake Grange coincides with that of the National and State Granges, and includes to “provide a non-partisan space where all are welcome, and to serve the needs of the community. Members value the historic significance of the Copake Grange, and they carry that legacy forward in making the Grange a vital part of the community.”

Copake Grange goals include:

*To maintain and update the historic Copake Grange building located in the Hamlet of Copake, which is the only Grange building still being operated as a Grange organization in Columbia County

*To be financially self-sustaining

*To provide a meeting place for various community activities, such as community dinners, performing and visual arts, private parties, public forums, and other events in support of the Roe Jan Community

*To investigate immediate and long range needs of the community and advocate for them. Examples include the needs of farms and farm workers, affordable housing, child care, elders, healthcare, infrastructure, conservation and energy, transportation, and charitable giving.

With its diverse and burgeoning membership, the Copake Grange is not without growing pains, said Mr. Quinby. “We’ve gone from 5 members to 59 members with 59 opinions about what we should do. It’s tough trying to work with 59 opinions and make something cohesive out of it.”

But that’s a good problem to have.

To join the Copake Grange or learn more speak to any Grange member or visit www.copakegrange.org.

To contact Diane Valden email

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