Traveling down the long, winding Skookumchuck Valley, farms and residences skirt the roadway but little is seen that could be called a community center. The valley is an arm of the Tenino School District, but in its infancy the folks who lived out in the valley were self-sufficient pioneers and farmers, whose nearest neighbors lived over on the next homestead. A small, one-room school house, The Ticknor School, which is now located next to the Tenino Depot Museum, was the only gathering place for social events and programs in the rural neighborhood. But something more formal was desired, which led to the organization of Skookumchuck Grange #584 in 1915 with 43 charter members.
It did not take long for the Skookumchuck Grange members to set about building a hall. The dedication of the Skookumchuck Grange Hall took place on May 1, 1916, and in progressive Grange fashion, the worthy master, Mrs. Amanda Prince, was presented the keys.
In the June 1, 1916 edition of the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Grange News an unknown author from the Skookumchuck Grange writes, “The best of good feeling prevails, and we feel certain that our new hall fills a long felt want in the community, which has never before had a place where the entire neighborhood could meet socially.”
Many longtime Tenino residents have pleasant memories of Skookumchuck Grange fundraising dances, which were followed by a midnight dinner and were well attended in the early days by Tono coal miners. Dances occurred twice monthly.
Some fun timeline facts for the Grange explain that they hosted the Tenino Fair in 1916 and purchased a Victrola in 1920. Hester Whalin was attacked by a bear following a Grange dance in 1929. During the depression cotton was shipped to the Grange to help southern farmers, and quilting and mattress-making parties took place. In the late 1930s and 40s, several groups routinely used the hall including Future Farmers of America, 4-H clubs, the Jersey Breeders Club and the basketball team. In 1949 a report was shared concerning trouble with a beaver, and in 1955 the Grange dances were suspended for hunting season.
I sat down with two Grange members, Debbie Sporseen and Judy Logan, who in addition to being current members are both related to charter members of the Skookumchuck Grange and descend from Skookumchuck pioneers.
Judy Logan has attended Skookumchuck Grange her whole life. “I can remember sleeping on the bench,” she recalls, while her parents attended dinners and meetings.
While there is nothing particularly remarkable about the exterior of the building, when you step through the front doors, you are greeted by a beautifully kept dance hall complete with a stage. The walls are lined by handsome old benches and the scene inspires images of dancing.
“We have a wonderful facility. We’re premier,” suggests Judy.
Today, instead of dances, the hall is more likely to be rented for organization meetings, receptions and family reunions. In addition to renting out the hall, the Grange also holds two major fundraisers each year: the Summer Barbeque and Auction and the Fall Harvest Dinner. They are both remarkably well-attended events with great food and local pies for dessert.
While the funds raised are in part used to keep the hall in working order, most monies go back to the community.
“We work real closely with the FFA,” explains Debbie. “We do scholarships every year. Those kids who went to nationals, we gave them $750, plus Pomona gave them $200. So, $950 went their way. And during the Harvest Dinner, they also set up a booth to raise funds for the trip.”
Another way the Grange supports Tenino’s FFA is through Plus Value. “Those that go to fair,” says Debbie, “who are also selling their animals there don’t get enough (money) for those animals, so we give them an add-on value for each animal. $50 per animal is what we are able to afford right now.”
Traditionally the Skookumchuck Grange used to donate dictionaries to the Tenino Schools, but dictionaries have become somewhat obsolete. This year, the Grange alternatively donated money to purchase headphones for the school’s Chrome books.
Geraldine Maxfield, the FFA coordinator at Tenino High School, had this to say about Skookumchuck Grange: “I would love to share with you how amazing the Skookumchuck Grange is. The Grange and the Tenino FFA share a common interest: advocating for agriculture. Both organizations have forged a great relationship over the years.” Geraldine lists the following as some of the different things that the Grange has done for the Tenino FFA and its members:
Scholarships for graduating seniors in the FFA.
- Financial support for travel to the National FFA Convention for FFA members.
- Financial support for FFA members to purchase animals for their Supervised Agricultural Experience projects.
While Debbie and Judy are proud of the Grange’s history and current place in the community, they would love to see it grow and inspire a new generation.
“We need outreach to get people involved for the benefit that’s here,” says Debbie. “We do have people who are interested in farming and the Grange has quite a bit of legislative clout from the county level clear to the national level. The Grange puts in proposals every year and they have been instrumental in changing laws. So, it’s a great place for people to come together as a voice with a common interest.”
“And, it’s also about what the Grange adds to the community. We have people moving here to be part of a community, and I think that’s something we have to offer,” Debbie finishes.
And even now, in times of crisis, the Grange is a designated Red Cross headquarters.
Skookumchuck Grange has spent over 100 years bringing people together and making the valley a better place to live. Here’s to the next 100 years.