Category Archives: November 23

It’s Christmas Fair time at a Grange that has become an important community center

Carol Paulsen

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.”

Tammy Willey working on the Window Dressers project

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

History of the Grange

December 4th of this year will be the 150th anniversary of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, commonly known as the Grange.  Born out of the interest following the Civil War to assist in the rebuilding of the Southern farms, it is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope.

Oliver Kelley was an employee of the federal Department of Agriculture and was sent to the southern states to review the post-war situation.  Being a federal employee, especially from the North, his presence was not well received.  However, he gained favor with Southerners who shared his membership as a Freemason.  Southern Masons provided him with the contacts as he toured the war-torn South and was shocked by the outdated farming practices. He saw the need for an organization that would bring people from the North and South together in a spirit of mutual cooperation and, after consultations with other interested parties, the Grange came into being.

In its early years, the Grange was devoted to educational events and social gatherings. The organization was unusual for its time because women and any teen old enough to “draw a plow” were encouraged to join. The importance of women in the organization was reinforced by requirements that four of the elected positions within a locally chartered grange could be held only by women.

The Grange has always focused on policies, not partisan politics.  One of its specific objectives states, “We shall earnestly endeavor to suppress personal, local, sectional, and national prejudices, all unhealthy rivalry and all selfish ambition.”  Some of the policy changes they championed were lower rates charged by the railroads and the beginning of rural free mail delivery by the Post Office.  The Grange also endorsed the Temperance movement and women’s suffrage.

When the Grange first began it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry.  It also borrowed from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings. There are seven degrees of Grange membership—the ceremony of each degree relating to the seasons and various symbols and principles.

The first Grange in town was the St. George Grange at Wiley’s Corner, founded in 1903.  The Ocean View Grange in Martinsville followed in February of 1906.

 —John Falla

Berries birds like in winter

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Winterberry

Start with some wind, add a little rain and then cool down the temperature a bit. Mix all this up in November and what do you get? Canopies that were once robustly covered with green leaves start to peel apart. Leaves suddenly (or not so suddenly) drop from their perches, falling and dancing their way to cover lawns and inspire raking sessions. Obstructed views open almost overnight, and in some places worlds of nutrition and sustenance, previously sheltered, are exposed as fruits, seeds, and nuts are in clear view for wildlife of all kinds. Yes, this is a wonderful time of the year.

Cruising the roads of St. George these days it’s hard not to notice leafless shrubs covered in red berries. And while there are several species of shrubs with red berries, the luscious fruits of the deciduous winterberry (Ilex verticillate) seem to dominate the roadsides. A member of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae), winterberry branches can be covered with berries which will remain on plants well into winter. This trait gives the species its common name.

Cedar Waxwing

Medium to large sized song birds such as waxwings and thrushes (Hermit, Swainsons and American Robin predominantly) can converge on a winterberry thicket and pick it as clean as their gizzards will let them. Mimic thrushes (Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Grey Catbird) defend individual shrubs from other birds and mammals, claiming the fruit to be for their bills only. In fact, just the other day I was accosted by a Grey Catbird who didn’t like strangers getting too close to its claimed winterberry shrub. I bet that catbird stays north until those berries run out. It didn’t seem like it was going to give up that tasty food anytime soon.

Another berry some birds like is the good ole bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) from the wax myrtle family (Myricaeae). A small shrub with waxy leaves, bayberry grows groups of black berries in globular clusters. The berries have a white wax covering that results in a grayish appearance for the berries.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The wax covering of bayberries prevents most songbirds from accessing the fruit or obtaining any nutrition from eating them, but  bayberries are highly attractive to one of my favorite songbirds—the Yellow-rumped Warbler (aka Myrtle Warbler or also lovingly known as “butterbutts”).  Yellow-rumpeds are unique in the warbler world for producing an enzyme that allows them to digest wax and thus as a species they view bayberry as an extremely valuable food source. With limited competition for the berries, butterbutts are known to overwinter along the coast of Maine years when bayberry fruits are bountiful. They regularly overwinter further north than other warblers in North America largely because of their connection to bayberry.

Both bayberry and winterberry are native to Maine and are recommended for yard landscaping to encourage observable wildlife by providing animals with food and habitat. Regardless of whether it’s in your yard, along a road, or in the woods—late fall is an exciting time to keep your eyes on those winterberry and bayberry shrubs, and on what songbirds and animals might be eating them! Enjoy!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen