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MD Pomona Grange selects first woman leader

By Ike Wilson, Frederick News-Post (11/18/10)

  NOVEMBER 28, 2010 --

The Grange appeals to Donna Wiles on several levels.  When the farm-family fraternity was organized in 1867, a woman Grange member had an equal vote in the organization although she did not have the right to vote in the United States.

A 13-year-old has the same vote and the same voice as an adult member of the Grange, and children are never discouraged from attending a Grange meeting, Wiles said.

"When the children get a little loud, we just talk a little louder," Wiles said.

The organization recently selected Wiles to be the first woman master of the Frederick County Pomona Grange in Maryland. She has been a Grange member since 1970.

Though the Grange is the oldest agricultural organization in the United States, membership in the organization is not limited to farmers.

"We have people in all walks of life who are members," Wiles said. She said President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, and the poet Robert Frost were members.

"We are still active in agricultural legislation, but also are involved in education, health, transportation and many other issues affecting Americans today," Wiles said.

Another appeal for Wiles is that the fraternity emphasizes community service.

"There is always a Bible and a United States flag present during meetings," Wiles said. "God, country and family are a way of life for Grangers."

Wiles said she has made lasting friendships over the years with people from all over the country thanks to the Grange. She said she finds the community service projects to be a source of accomplishment.

"We help out those less fortunate than us or when someone has a time of need."

Before her two-year term as president is up, Wiles said she wants Frederick County Pomona Grange to become a household word in the county.

"I want the citizens of Frederick County to say 'Oh, you belong to the Grange,' not 'What is the Grange?'" Wiles said. "We are so busy helping our communities that sometimes we forget that we have a county that could benefit from our help, especially in those communities that do not have a community Grange."

Increasing membership is high on her wish list for the local Grange.

"Many people are afraid of joining a fraternal organization because they do not understand what it is all about or they have heard things about an organization that are not true," Wiles said.

The Grange founders were Masons who started the organization after the Civil War to help farmers in the South recover, Wiles said.

The Grange boasts a proud record.

Most people are not aware that the Grange was instrumental in mail being delivered in rural communities as opposed to retrieving it from the post office, Wiles said.

"We also were instrumental in the development of the Extension Service and the Future Farmers of America," Wiles said.

Today, there are Granges in 36 states and the District of Columbia with a common goal of providing a service to communities, Wiles said.

In addition to her role as master of Frederick County Pomona Grange, Wiles is secretary of the Maryland State Grange and has served in a number of other positions. Those include overseer of the local Grange, lecturer of Carroll Manor Grange, youth co-chairwoman of Linganore Grange, secretary of Frederick County Pomona Grange and lady assistant steward of Maryland State Grange.

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