This year, on the morning of Saturday, December 2, Carol Paulsen will arrive at the Grange Hall in Wiley’s Corner by 7am “to get the coffee pot going.” She’ll bring two double batches of cinnamon buns—six dozen—that she’ll have mixed up earlier that morning and will set them out to rise. Then she’ll start making the muffins that will later be for sale on the food table. Her cinnamon buns will be fresh out of the oven when the Grange’s annual Christmas Fair opens at 9am.
It’s a routine Paulsen has followed for many years. As the busy day hums into high gear, she will be joined by other Grange volunteers, each tending to their own set of tasks.
“We have a good crew—everyone pitches right in and helps,” Paulsen says. “We have a good time doing it and I won’t say there’s anybody is the boss of it, everyone just pitches right in and does what they see needs to be done.”
Paulsen, now a grandmother of adult children, grew up across the road from the Grange Hall and has been a Grange member since she was 14 years old. “There was nothing else to do in those days and we could walk across the road to the weekly Grange meetings, which I remember seemed quite long. But afterward the grownups would go downstairs and have coffee and we kids would stay upstairs with a record player and dance. All the kids in the neighborhood would join once they turned 14 for that reason.”
The Christmas Fair is one of two major annual fundraisers for this Grange (a harvest fair occurs in October). Twelve tables are available for rent by people who have things to sell—lots of handmades along with a variety of collectibles. Paulsen and the other kitchen volunteers are hard at it all day: first, supplying soup, biscuits and hot dogs for lunch and then after about 3pm, when most of the fairgoers have left, preparing dishes for the Grange supper that begins at 5pm, to which other Grange members will also bring dishes to share.
In recent years the money generated by the Christmas Fair has gone into an extensive program of repairs and renovations to the Grange Hall itself. “We’ve raised all the money to fix up the Grange Hall by having our monthly suppers and having our fairs,” Paulsen says with a note of pride. Building rental fees have also provided income.
With the Grange Hall now in good physical condition—and with the programmatic shift away from the Grange’s historic focus on farming that has occurred over the past several decades—the Grange’s members have begun turning their attention outward to other community needs. In this regard, Tammy Willey, who in addition to serving on the St. George Select Board is both secretary and treasurer of the Wiley’s Corner Grange, points out the organization’s recent decision to create a fund that the teachers at the St. George School can use to purchase materials for use in their classrooms rather than paying for these supplies out of their own pockets. “The community has supported the Grange as we made upgrades at the Grange Hall, so we thought now it is time to give back to this great town. The Grange sends money to the state Grange to support the Howes Nursing Scholarship and to support junior Granges, but we decided the teachers at our school also need support.”
Another recent community-minded Grange project has been the Window Dressers Community Build. Grange member Barbara Anderson, who began volunteering for Window Dressers in 2012, has been a driving force behind getting the Grange involved in this non-profit program aimed at providing energy-saving window inserts to participants at no cost except a voluntary donation and some volunteer hours if possible. The frames for St. George were built at the central production facility on the ground floor of Lincoln Street Center in Rockland and then transported to the Wiley’s Corner Grange where volunteers did the taping, wrapping and finishing work.
“We had 176 inserts to build for about 15 homes and for the vestry area of the First Baptist Church, which is where they hold services for the smaller congregation all winter,” Anderson says. “We started measuring windows in June, when we first had only about five orders. As word spread, we took on more and more requests including a few from Thomaston and Owls Head, but most of our customers for this build are from the St. George peninsula.”
Anderson adds a personal observation about the good the Window Dressers project brought to St. George. “My impression is that those who volunteer generally have a good time, feel rewarded by all they produce and definitely appreciate the ‘community’ provided by a community build. I saw new friendships develop and old acquaintances re-acquainted.”
Willey agrees that the relationships people develop are one of the most important reasons the Grange continues to be a healthy organization. She recounts her own experience by way of proof. “I got interested back during the St. George Bicentennial because we were selling T-shirts and throws and I got talking to the ladies up here. I remember sitting next to Cindy Montgomery, who has since passed away, and talking about the Grange and what they do and then I started coming to the meetings to see what was going on. I think it was the people who drew me in the most because everybody was so friendly and community-oriented.” After a pause she adds, “Yes, that’s what attracted me to the Grange, the people.”
Paulsen sums it up succinctly. “It’s a good building to have in the neighborhood—[these days] it’s a better community thing than a Grange thing.”—JW
PHOTOS: Julie Wortman