HARDIN — A 144-year-old Shelby County organization is about to close down.
By the end of the year, the Compromise Grange of Hardin will have ceased operations. Dwindling membership is taking its toll.
“There were 10 granges in Shelby County. Now, we’re down to two and when we close, it will be one,” said member Melvin Wooddell, of Sidney.
The closing is not unusual. According to Robert L. White, of Fredericktown, master of the Ohio State Grange, about five granges close in Ohio every year.
“Some counties remain fairly strong and some don’t,” he said. At the state level, the grange is a lobbying organization, working with legislators on bills that support the agricultural community.
The Compromise Grange began in 1873 when a group of farmers from Clinton and Turtle Creek townships met to organize a “Grange of the Patron of Husbandry,” according to an undated history of the organization. The 1948 history recounts that early members had many discussions about where meetings should take place. Some thought they should be in the Stipp School and others thought they should be in Georgetown School. Eventually, a compromise was accepted by both camps, and the grange got its name.
“We’re one of the oldest granges in the state,” Wooddell said. “We’re No. 133 in the nation.”
Currently, there are 13 members. There used to be as many as 100.
Following several months of meetings in the Georgetown School, members convened in private homes until the grange acquired a two-story brick building that had once been a hotel in bustling downtown Hardin. When a larger hall was needed, members built what is now the Crossroads hall along the Hardin-Wapakoneta Road. It was eventually sold to the Hardin United Methodist Church.
For many farm families, participating in grange was a way of life from their youth.
“Barb and I grew up as juvenile members of Parkwood Grange. Barb’s mom and dad and Melvin’s mon and dad were very involved in Parkwood Grange,” Rees said.
To become a full grange member, a person had to acquire four degrees by learning grange history, customs and rules. At meetings, officers with titles of master, overseer, chaplain, gatekeeper, lecturer, steward, lady assistant steward, secretary/treasurer and ceres would stand behind stations.
“You had to have a password to get in,” Wooddell said. State inspectors would check out granges.
“We all wore regalia to every meeting,” Ditmer said. The custom continues in granges that are large enough, but, Wooddell noted, enforcement has become more liberal.
When Charlotte Wooddell “married into” the grange by wedding Melvin, she wasn’t required to do any degree work. But even when formality ruled, there was also plenty of time for fun.
“Every grange hall would have dances, suppers, card parties. It was a busy time because people didn’t have other things to do,” Wooddell said.
The meetings featured programs presented by guest speakers or members, and songs, poems, stories and games.
“And plenty of food,” noted Katherine Rees, of Sidney.
“It was a good place to try a new recipe out,” said Charlotte Wooddell, of Sidney.
“How do you spell ‘grange’? F-o-o-d,” Rees laughed.
The biggest annual project, however, was the county fair.
“What brought everybody together was the fair booth every year. Everyone had assignments,” said Barb Ditmer, of Sidney. Each grange exhibited homemade crafts, homegrown fruits and vegetables and home-canned goods, all supporting an annual theme.
Granges also had bowling and dart teams and they played each other in tournaments that went all the way to the state level. Compromise had a barbershop quartet who competed against quartets from other area granges.
“New Hope won every year. Then, one year they didn’t. We won. We got to sing at the state fair and we came in second at the state fair,” Rees said.
There were plays and square dances and homemade ice cream in July. And Halloween was a big deal.
“We always celebrated Halloween and we all got dressed up. The idea was not to know who anybody was, so you didn’t go in as a couple because that would be a giveaway,” Ditmer said.
They also look out for each other.
“If a grange member gets sick, the grange members pitch in to help them,” Charlotte said.
Compromise Grange also supported several causes with monetary donations and volunteers. For decades, it has helped to take care of Hardin Park. After metal was removed from a statue there to help the war effort in the 1940s, the grange replaced it. Much more recently, the grange paid to have a new walkway installed, landscaping updated and a roof .
“We got together at Christmas and made plates of cookies and wrapped them up and took them to people who needed something at Christmas,” Charlotte said.
The group sponsored prizes for bingo games at Fair Haven and gifts for residents on their birthdays.
Now members are making decisions about where to disperse current funds as they shutter operations.
“We want to keep our money in the agricultural and historical fields and in Shelby County,” Rees said. So far, Compromise has donated $2,500 to the Shelby County Junior Fair Improvement Committee to install electricity in the new rabbit/chicken barn; $1,000 to the Shelby County fair board for the fairgrounds grandstand fundraising campaign; $800 to replace a roof on an information board in Hardin Park; and $500 to the Lockington Fire Department.
The group is considering donations to the 4-H Foundation and the Shelby County Historical Society.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.