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Around The Grange
RI Grange President welcomes chance to promote Grange

By Arline A. Fleming, South County Independent (RI) - 1/13/11

  JANUARY 14, 2011 --

Some 124 years ago, a South County farmer, Jeremiah Peckham, having read about an organization called the Grange in his December issue of the New England Homestead, wrote a letter to the neighboring Massachusetts State Grange leader, inquiring about “the purpose, workings ... and everything pertaining to the Grange...”

By the first week of January 1887, a reply was received, which was followed up with an invitation for the Massachusetts man to come to South Kingstown in person to “explain the merits” of the group to interested local farmers.

By March 18, 1887, the first Grange was formed in South Kingstown, called Narragansett No. 1, with 31 male and 16 female members. By the end of the year, 15 Granges had formed in Rhode Island – including groups in Davisville, Perryville and West Kingston – and a State Grange leader was named to oversee the enthusiastic local residents.

Jeremiah Peckham, the Kingston farmer who wrote that first letter, became that first state leader, beginning a century-long tradition that has come full circle with yet another resident taking on the job, the newly installed  Stephen W. Logan.

A North Kingstown native who grew up in the Slocum area and now lives in West Kingston, Logan will lead the 1,000-member organization during the next two years, a time, he predicts, that might find the group on the upswing after several decades of decline. 

“Part of being state Grange master is being a motivator, getting people going,” Logan said.

“People are turning to the Grange. We are exactly what people in the community are looking for.”

Logan and his wife, Claire, who heads up the Richmond Grange, wonder if the keep-it-local trend in terms of buying food and items produced locally might have a positive effect on what people are searching for from within their own villages and towns.

“People are looking to join something that’s vital in their own communities,” Logan predicts.

But Logan, 66, acknowledges there will be hurdles, not the least of which is a longstanding confusion about the function of the Grange.

Claire Logan offers an anecdote from a recent doctor’s office conversation in which she mentioned the Grange to a stranger, and that person assumed she was a farmer.

“You don’t have to have a farm in your backyard to be a Grange member,” Claire said, acknowledging that the almost 150-year-old organization has agricultural roots, but grew into a political force, an educational and social resource for rural populations, and in recent years, a community service-driven organization.

“We are the only organization that welcomes the entire family,” she said, and women have been included in membership and as officials from the very start. The Logans have three children who were all often brought to Grange functions.

Still, the Logans wonder if the Grange’s agricultural roots might help bring it the same success as Rhode Island’s farmers markets.

Ironically, neither Steve nor Claire comes from Grange or farming backgrounds (though they met while working at a farm, Schartner’s). It was Steve’s supervisor at the University of Rhode Island who in the 1970s encouraged the young couple to take part in Narragansett Grange No. 1. The late G. Edward “Hap” Prentice invited them to meetings, which at the time were held on Columbia Street, Wakefield.

“We weren’t joiners,” Steve recalled. “But Hap kept at it.”

Within a short time of signing up in 1982, though each being shy and hesitant, Steve and Claire became officers.

“I never wanted to get up and speak in front of people,” Steve recalled.

“We were scared to death,” Claire agreed. That particular Grange was in the planning stages at the time for its 100th anniversary as Rhode Island’s first Grange, which meant officials from the national office in Washington, D.C., would be coming to town to honor them.

Both Logans made it through the event, learning how to face audiences more comfortably. Eventually devoting more than 25 years to the organization, they both say they’ve met friends from all over the nation as a result of their membership.

 “I’d do it all over again,” said Claire. “We’ve met so many great people and learned so much.”

There are 21 local Granges in Rhode Island, “and the state master is responsible for all of them,” said Scott Sherman, outgoing master and a fourth-generation member of the Portsmouth Grange.

Sherman said the position “is equivalent to a 40-hour-a-week job, sometimes more. It’s a challenge but it’s interesting.”

“Steve Logan has a wonderful attitude and he is building his teams to continue the successes of the Grange in Rhode Island,” wrote National Grange President Ed Luttrell in an e-mail Tuesday.

Being named state master usually means putting in many years beforehand serving in other capacities, such as secretary and treasurer, which Logan has done. He also has served as chairman of the annual Washington County Fair, held each August in Richmond. Many of his volunteer Grange hours were put in while working full time and raising a family.

After graduating from North Kingstown High School in 1963, Logan went to work, eventually putting in some 35 years at the university in various capacities from campus officer to electrician. His retirement days are now earmarked for Grange business.

Though only on the job officially since October, Logan said he has enjoyed the position so far. In addition to increasing membership, one of his goals is to make the Grange in Rhode Island more visible.

“The Grange does an awful lot of good that people don’t know about,” he said, noting how winter coats were gathered by one group and donated to a foster parents organization, while another Grange held a dinner and raised money for a local family in need.

“It takes a lot of patience, and knowledge of the by-laws,” he said of his new position. “It’s a big job.”

Logan paused, before adding: “I guess I’m just not much of a relaxer.”

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