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Around The Grange
Montana Grangers serve rural America

By Tetona Dunlap, Valley Journal, Montana (9/7/11)

  SEPTEMBER 22, 2011 --

Ray Salomon joined the National Grange in 1946 at the age of 14. Salomon had the same voting rights of adults twice his age; it was one of his first experiences with decisions that made local and national differences. Sixty-five years later Salomon serves on the Montana State Grange executive board.

“I grew up on a farm in Pablo, my mother and father were members of the Grange,” Salomon said. “My oldest son lives on that same farm today.”

Darlene Salomon also grew up on a farm in Charlo, her parents were “Grangers” but she did not join until after she married Ray. 

The National Grange is the oldest national organization dedicated to agricultural and rural areas. It is also a fraternal order known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. As many as 200,000 members provide community service, economic development, education and legislation to support rural America. Formed after the Civil War, the organization was created to give citizens the opportunity to improve and influence the nation’s farms, agriculture and rural lands. 

The Salomons are members of Montana's Round Butte Grange chapter. There are 45 members in the Round Butte Grange and there are 15 Grange chapters in the state with around 600 members total.

The National Grange was one of the first organizations to give women equal voting rights. 

Darlene serves as the Junior Grange Activities Director and was honored as the 2009 Granger of the Year for the Round Butte Grange chapter. 

Every year in July Darlene heads a four-day summer camp for youth, ages 5 to 14, to learn various crafts, skills and history. At the age of 14, children can join the Subordinate or local Grange. 

“Family is important,” Ray said. “If we don’t have family involved it’s hard to do anything.”

The Subordinate Grange is built around the community and elects its own officers and controls its own affairs. The next level is the Pamona Grange or county, then the State Grange, which represents both the Subordinate and the Pomona Granges. The National Grange is the parent branch of all the levels.

Each year, a list of more than 1,400 issues of concern are published and distributed. Some issues of concern include expanding telecommunications services in rural areas, improving access to and the quality of rural health care, improving the quality of rural education and enhancing public safety and Homeland Security in rural areas. 

“We are in rural America even if you live in Great Falls or Billings,” President of the Montana Grange, Marty Billquist, said. “We (the National Grange) have fought hard to improve rural life.”

The Grange is also heavily involved in community service. The Round Butte Grange chapter is currently raising money to put dictionaries in all third-grade classes in Lake County and Dixon. The effort is called “Words for Thirds” and all 15 Granges across the state are involved.

“Kids need to know the meaning of words before they can spell them,” Darlene said. “They may have spell check on their computers but that doesn’t help if they don’t know which word to use.” 

Last year they raised money to buy 400 dictionaries, this year they need to buy 377 dictionaries. The Grangers also recently supplied Ronan and Pablo Elementary Schools with supplies such as notebooks and crayons.

“Often kids don’t have these supplies and it is really helpful and beneficial,” Principal Frank Ciez of Pablo Elementary said of the donations. 

The National Grange headquarters are located in an 11-story building across from the White House in Washington, D.C. It serves as the non-governmental headquarters for agricultural and rural families. Grange policies are established by Grange membership at the county and state levels. 

The 73rd Annual Convention will take place in Ronan Oct. 6-8 and the 145th Annual National Grange conference happens Nov. 8-11 in Tulsa, Okla.

Anyone can be a member of the Grange. They hold two meetings a month, the first Tuesday at 7 p.m. and fourth Sunday at 1 p.m. The meetings are usually held at the Museum of the Rockies Round Butte Gymnasium.

“You don’t have to be a farmer to be involved and we are non-political,” Ray said. “We are always looking for members.

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