Saco Grange #53 was recently honored by the City of Saco and by York County Commissioners with the Spirit of America Award. Some members, wearing banners, paused for a photo with Saco City Council and others, including Mayor William Doyle and some of the Saco Legislative delegation at a City Council meeting in October. Grange members wearing banners are Peggy Berry, Sandra Leeman, Dawn Tarbox and Bob Leeman. Andrew Dickinson Photo/City of Saco

SACO — Saco Grange no. 53 has been a landmark in the community for 147 years, since it was organized  in Saco by the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry in 1847, part of a growing movement that swept the country.

These days, those who are familiar with the organization and the hall at 168 North St. have no doubt attended one of their famed bean suppers, a craft fair, or some other event.

Close to shuttering its doors seven or eight years ago because of dwindling membership, Saco Grange no. 53 is doing well these days, with more than 50 members on the roster, said grange Secretary Sandra Leeman.

Saco Grange #53, part of the community for 147 years, was the recipient of a Spirit of America Awards this year by Saco City Council and by York County Commissioners. Tammy Wells Photo

They are a busy bunch. While agriculture remains part of the grange’s purpose, these days, the focus has shifted to community service, said Leeman. Members like that, she said.

“We’ve turned the corner,” said Leeman.

They have, and people have taken notice — not only recognizing the present resurgence but the long history that binds the organization to the community.

Advertisement

In October, Saco Grange no. 53 was recognized by the City of Saco with a Spirit of America Award, and in early December, by York County Commissioners, which present the awards annually.

The grange’s contribution is large and varied. When COVID-19 prompted changes in how community organizations delivered services, the grange changed too — offering their first take-out bean supper in the fall of 2020 that drew 100 people eager to sample grange beans again.

They hold raffles to benefit various organizations — like when a quilt donated by the grange’s quilt club that was raffled, with proceeds going to a local food pantry.

Plant sales benefited Cultivation Works.

Country Jam sessions benefited Volunteers of America Huot House that provides transitional housing for homeless veterans.

Proceeds from four craft fairs were divided among Saco Middle School’s adopt a family program, the pantry at C.K. Burns School, My Place Teen Center and Courage Lives.

Advertisement

There were agricultural displays at Acton, Ossipee Valley and Fryeburg fairs.

The Saco Grange no. 53 Quilt Club sewed 80 bed runner sets for the Ronald McDonald House and are now making quilts for the “We Honor Veterans” program for hospice veterans.

The knitting group makes hats for cancer patients.

The grange supports Project Linus, providing space for gathering the quilts and afghans destined for Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and Sweetser, and for families in need through local hospitals. Back in March, the grange sponsored a chicken raising class.

And the list goes on.

Dawn Tarbox is the grange’s director of community service. She is in charge of checking to see what the community needs, devising ways the grange can help meet them, and making sure there are enough volunteers to execute the projects.

Advertisement

One program that she is particularly fond of, that grange members hope to bring back in 2023, is the community clothing give away that takes place over two days. COVID-19 dashed plans to hold the event over the last couple of years, said Tarbox, but she is crossing her fingers it will be able to take place in January 2023.

Tarbox has been involved with Saco Grange no. 53 for seven or eight years. She had been there for an event, and liked it. After reading they were low on active members, “I said ‘sign me up,'” she said. “‘I’ve been there ever since. I love it.”

Sandra Leeman and her husband Bob, who is currently serving a third term as master of the Grange, joined at about the same time.

‘My mother, Patricia Berry, grew up in the Grange,” said Sandra Leeman. “She got me, and my husband involved. When I was being voted in, there were seven or eight active members.”

She said the group at the time was close to shutting the doors. But they persevered; some former members came back, and new ones joined.

“It was hard work to keep it open,” said Bob Leeman. “It is mostly community service now, and that is what gets people joining.”

Meetings are the second Tuesday of the month, either at the Grange Hall or online, as COVID-19 continues. For more information, email: [email protected].

Other Spirit of America Award winners this year were: community volunteer David Flood of Biddeford; Arundel Fire & Rescue; those who work for Old Orchard Beach Fire Department and for Old Orchard Beach Police Department; Kennebunk Parks and Recreation Department; and community volunteer Claire Julian of Kennebunkport.

Additional York County recipients include Newfield Volunteer Fire Department and Newfield Rescue, and volunteer Gloria Dyer, also of Newfield; Community Volunteer Diann Perkins of Cornish; the Leach family of South Berwick; Buxton Fire Chief Nathan Schools; community volunteers Joseph Palmer, and John and the late Beth Mattor, both of Hollis; Youth Full Maine in Dayton; community volunteer Leo Ruel of Lyman; community volunteers John and Elizabeth Champion, and the Pittiglio children, all of North Waterboro; pandemic volunteers and essential workers of Shapleigh; Waban in Sanford; and the York Rotary Club.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: