Last Modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 1:31 PM
SULPHUR — Under the pavilion at Heritage Square, a group of residents gathered to revive a part of Louisiana history long forgotten. In the late 1800s, the country’s first nationwide farm organization, the National Grange, formed. With several chapters sprinkled throughout the state, the organization planted its roots in the region, before disintegrating over time.
Tuesday, the National Grange’s new Southwest Louisiana chapter held its first meeting in the area in more than 100 years. The National Grange describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan, fraternal organization that advocates for rural America and agriculture.”
Before the start of the event, which was led by Amanda Leigh Brozana, communications director for the National Grange, the new members discussed everything from what they hope to accomplish with the chapter to the trials they face getting others to understand exactly what the group represents.
John Banks, the deputy of the local chapter, helped organize the inaugural event. He said he was hoping to spread the word about an organization that Louisiana history has forgotten.
“We’re getting the first chapter organized in Southwest Louisiana. We’re the first chapter in the state in over a century, and that’s important,” Banks said. “People forgot about it. We want everyone to remember what this is all about. It’s about helping the community and teaching the younger generation good standards and good American values.”
Banks said the group has changed with the times, creating programs and endeavors more appropriate for the area now. In fact, he talked about how in several historic ways, the group was ahead of its time in 1867.
“Actually, the Grange was the first organization in the country at that time that mandated women be present at meetings. They emphasized and encouraged the rights of women during that time,” Banks said.
The National Grange was one of the first nationwide organizations to encourage that positions of power within the group be held by women. An emphasis was also placed on the youth in the organization through the Junior Grange, a way for the young members to learn how to be community leaders.
Dusty Saucier, a member and the voice for the National Grange preamble, talked about how sometimes phrasing can make people prematurely judge what an organization like the Grange can offer local communities.
“People will see the word ‘fraternal’ and think of us as something we’re not. What we are is a brotherhood of people coming together for good,” Saucier said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, orange, green, religious or not religious, that’s OK. We don’t force anything on anyone at all. We just want to gather people who want to do better for the community.”
Saucier talked about how he feels times have changed. Gone, for the most part, are the days when kids could play safely in their neighborhoods and the parents didn’t have to worry about them. He even laughed about how he remembers making sure he got home before his parents called his name more than once in the neighborhood.
“This organization has grown with the times. We look for answers to problems that people have now, and we find ways to address them,” Saucier said.
As a whole, the organization focuses on addressing the problems within local areas where chapters are located. Almost like a city council for an area, the local chapters meet to identify problems and then go about finding the proper channels to propose solutions.
Emma Hobbs, a new member, said she hopes to emphasize community gardens in the neighborhoods and at local schools. As one of the driving forces behind the growth of the Sulphur farmers market, she said communities can get a lot out of public gardens.
“These are things that people can enjoy. Kids and adults can all get something out of having community gardens,” Hobbs said.
Amanda Bird was also one of the new members. She said she came to the event because she liked what the organization represents and that she knew, down the road, it would be a great endeavor for her young daughter.
“I’m really excited for what this could mean for the community. There are a lot of possibilities,” Bird said. “There are so many wonderful opportunities to help the youth through this as well. It’s important to me that we have that family type of atmosphere in the local community. That’s important.”
The Southwest Louisiana chapter is still mulling ideas for an official name. By the end of the meeting, members were leaning toward Magnolia as the name of the chapter. The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 19 with a time to still be determined. Curious residents in the area are encouraged to visit the National Grange website to learn more or email John Banks at email@example.com.