03/05/07 — Granges struggle to attract, keep members

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Granges struggle to attract, keep members

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 5, 2007 1:54 PM

Lloyd Massey wasn't present when he joined the Brogden Grange -- from behind a table at a local school, his parents signed his name to a piece of paper, making his membership official.

It was 1936.

"They went to that meeting and came back, told me they put my name on the role," he said. "They thought it would suit me just fine."

And for the past 70 years, it has.

Massey, now 90, remembers those first few meetings.

"After I joined the Grange, I got along all right," he said. "The purpose of the organization, in the beginning, was to work for the benefit of the community, to make country life more livable."

Like many of the Brogden chapter's members at the time, Massey came from a long line of farmers.

He still lives on the land that has seen vegetables and livestock flourish since the Civil War.

"I live on a farm that my great-grandfather bought in 1834," Massey said. "We've had a little bit of everything -- corn, soy beans, sweet potatoes, ice potatoes -- all those things from the beginning of it all to the end. And always, we've had some cows and hogs."

His membership in the Grange meant he could make a difference in the community, he added -- and come together with other members of his rural hometown.

"On a national level, the organization, it came to be for the purpose of binding the nation together," he said. "The Grange in our community has always been very faithful. We work with anyone who needs it, trying to make life better."

Over the past seven decades, Massey and his associates have mentored young members of the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America, assisted teachers and ministries, helped found the Wayne Dairy Co-Op and reached out to other young people in need.

But somewhere between the meetings, functions and community service activities, the group started to lose its momentum.

The old got older and young people in the community became less interested in joining the group, Massey said.

At its peak, the Brogden Grange had a membership of 125-plus. Today, fewer than 40 names appear on the role.

"When we got to 125 or so, in the county then, at that time, there were 12 Granges," Massey said. "We're down to about six now."

"I've seen it happen on the local level, I've seen it happen on the state level and I've seen it happen on the national level -- a guy like Lloyd Massey got in it and he stayed there and stayed there and stayed there," he added. "When he used up all of his ideas, he began to fade away."

He admits his mind is a far cry from what it once was. The fire and passion that once motivated him to do good things in the community, though, burns stronger still.

This 90-year-old won't ever turn his back on an organization he said changed his life.

"It's more necessary today than it was when we got going," Massey said.

More people find themselves in need every day, he added. And until that changes, the Grange will always be a necessity -- and a blessing.

"Why, when I worked as a membership person I would come up to those boys and they would say, 'That's just a farming organization,'" Massey said. "I said to them, 'Well, do you eat anything? Where do you get your groceries from? The farm. Then you're interested in the Grange. If you eat, you're bound to be interested in agriculture.'"

It is an interest, he would argue, that is common in most everybody. And sometimes, common ground can propel members of a group toward greatness, he added.

"You have to be interested in helping your fellow man and interested in creating a better place in which to live," Massey said. "If you make your community better, you'll make it a better state and a better nation."

That is his simple hope -- that through unity, his local Grange can make the world better for future generations.

"They need to recognize that they cannot accomplish much by themselves," Massey said. "It's only when you work together for the betterment of our community that you can do great things. We've got to come together to advance society the way it ought to be advanced."

It's a decision every young person in Wayne County and across the nation should make, he added. After all, not everyone has parents that would sign them up to change the lives of others for the better.

"I've been thankful a lot of times about it," he said. "They sure did me right, didn't they?"