Home on the grange

Neighbors continue a tradition begun 100 years ago

You won't rack up a lot of mileage on a Saturday night trek to the Yankton Grange, but you will travel back in time about a hundred years.

'We're 30 miles outside Portland, and we're in a whole different universe,' says Alana Probst, a member of the group's executive committee.

Built a century ago as a social gathering place for farmers, the shingled, two-story building stands on a quiet stretch of country road.

Founded in 1867, the Grange is an agricultural organization with branches in rural communities throughout the United States.

'Most granges have died out,' Probst explains. 'They didn't bring in youth to keep them running.'

But the Yankton branch still buzzes with activity. 'The granges that have survived don't have as many agricultural roots,' Probst says. 'They have adapted into community-oriented organizations.'

The grange keeps people coming through the door by holding 'Saturday Night Live,' an evening of food, live music and dancing that takes place on the first Saturday of every month.

The parties kick off in the downstairs dining room. After making their way through the buffet line, people settle at folding tables to enjoy homemade soups and pies. Grange members are justifiably proud of their culinary offerings:

'I don't call it potluck,' Probst says. 'It's blue-ribbon food as far as I'm concerned.'

After a last bite of lemon meringue pie, the dinner crowd heads upstairs for music and dancing.

The rectangular gathering hall is a cross between a hunting lodge and a ballroom. A huge moose head hangs on one wall, looming over the wooden dance floor. An elevated stage stands at the front of the room, where a group called The Stone River Band cranks out Hank Williams' 'Your Cheatin' Heart' and several couples get up to dance. Patriotism is in full swing here, too: The band wears red, white and blue bandanas, and many of the regulars sport 'God Bless America' T-shirts.

Between dances with his three daughters, regular Dale Savage says: 'I look forward to this every month. It's so relaxing.'

A Hollywood production crew recently committed the Yankton Grange's down-home charm to celluloid during the filming of the television movie 'Don't You Cry for Me.' The upcoming film, which stars Alan Arkin, includes a dance scene filmed at the grange in January.

Puppeteer Michael Curry, a St. Helens resident whose work has appeared in Broadway's 'The Lion King' and the recent ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Olympics, also belongs to the Yankton Grange. He occasionally stops in to play his mandolin.

A trip to the grange, Probst sums up, 'is like going back in time. It's about everything good neighbors do for each other.'

The members provide entertainment for one another, too. 'It's like a soap opera of another time,' she says. 'All the lives are connected.'

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