FORT BRAGG, 1/2/21 — Mendocino people rarely put on suits and formal dresses, but they made an exception on a chilly Saturday night in June 2018 for the spiffy Bob Ayres’ Boonville Big Band. The performance delighted a packed supper crowd at the Inglenook Community Center with swing, southwest and bebop numbers. The stage was packed tight with musicians, and people encircled the crowded dance floor. More sat in the theater seats around the inside of the Grange Hall. All the mismatched pots and pans from the potluck had been cleaned out. Volunteers from the Fort Bragg-Inglenook Community Center were getting ready for Sunday breakfast the next day. The concert looked like any other in a generations’-long string of successful shindigs at the old Grange, where such fun had been going on since 1949.
But unlike in the half century prior, those putting on the concert were no longer Grange members, having renounced/been stripped of that status during a seven-year court battle. Supporters of the National Grange say they had been locked out of the old Grange hall by ex-Grange members who joined the California Guild movement and then created the Fort Bragg-Inglenook Community Center. The National Grange supporters, the Fort Bragg Grange chapter, were holding meetings in homes and restaurants as a lawsuit that would allow them to retake the hall worked its way through the courts. Grange members on one side and Guild members on the other found themselves torn by a “divorce,” with each group calling itself the California State Grange for a time. These battles, usually involving admired and civically active community members on both sides, have been played out in courthouses and historic grange halls all over California, but finally appear to be coming to an end.
That end is foreshadowed by the National Grange and its California Grange organization winning case after case over the California Guild, its local halls and community centers, reclaiming both in and out of court six of the seven Mendocino County Granges that had left the fold and more statewide. Most recently, the Garcia Guild organization and hall in Manchester was handed back to the National Grange. While the “divorce” has been portrayed in the press as a fight between the organic-anti-GMO California Guild and the 153-year-old National Grange, friendlier to big agriculture, the lawsuits filed in most of California’s counties have come down to a basic property rights dispute that is being won by the National Grange. The National and California State Grange make the case that the halls belong to their beloved Grange organization, not to a movement determined to establish community ownership of halls. The Grange side says the halls are already locally controlled — by a group that has existed for more than a century rather than by a new organization that might turn out to be temporary and close down.
Seven years ago, the breakaway California State Grange/Guild movement had most of the California local granges behind it, but losing a huge wave of litigation has turned that sentiment upside down. First the Guild faction lost the right to the name California State Grange, then they began to lose halls in lawsuits, including three in Mendocino County. Courts are now finding the California guilds and former guilds had no rights to the halls they occupied.
The Grange reclaimed its historic halls from guilds in Fort Bragg and Redwood Valley in 2020, while the end of a lawsuit against the Garcia Guild in Manchester was negotiated out of court with the hall being surrendered in the last hours of 2020 to the National Grange, with concessions to local leadership. That means all seven of Mendocino County’s historic grange halls are now back under the control of the National Grange and its California subsidiary, the California Grange. This marks a radical reversal from 2013 when just one local grange, the Whitesboro Grange, stuck with the national organization.
Attorney Jeff Skinner, representing the California State Grange, said that no individual guild had won a case against the California Grange. Community halls and guilds in California’s small towns have been quietly handing titles back to the National/California State Grange and its local chapters. More than 15 lawsuits have been resolved over the past 18 months out of court, said Lillian Booth, secretary of the California State Grange. More came back into the fold without a suit being filed. For the guilds and community halls still fighting, the reorganized California State Grange has filed motions for summary judgment against them in 10 more cases (and counting) with hearing dates set from this week through April, Booth said.
Part of what’s made this fight so confusing and difficult to follow is that so much of it has revolved around the name “Grange,” a vaunted and much beloved term with roots in the Populist movement of the 19th century. After the National Grange revoked the charter of the California State Grange in 2013, that revoked California State Grange had the support of most of California’s local granges. But the National Grange sued in federal court to make that group stop using the name “Grange.” Thus, the organization was renamed the California Guild. Communities across the state reformed their grange chapters as guild chapters, claiming control of historic grange halls, with new energy and often new members.
Origins of the split
In most press accounts, the movement was spread by excitement over support for mandatory GMO labeling and local farming over corporate food practices and a hall ownership community ownership structure. The current leadership of the California State Grange disputes that assessment. The Grange leadership claims that confusion, rather than rebellion over policy, motivated many local chapters to veer away from the National Grange.
“GMO was never the issue over the split,” said Lillian Booth, state secretary of the California State Grange. “The claim that GMO had anything to do with the Guild-Grange dispute was misinformation and misdirection from the guild. The split was over certain individuals breaking the rules and, when they left the grange, trying to retain the California State Grange’s property.”
The California State Grange continues to work to take possession of all the historic Grange halls, with recent action in court against the current operators of the former Bayside Grange (Now Bayside Community Hall) in Humboldt County on Dec. 17 and against other guilds in places like Chico and Elk Grove over the next month or so, said Skinner, attorney with the law firm Schiff-Harden, who has been arguing and winning summary judgments and cases for the state Grange, including a tentative ruling for summary judgment Dec. 17 against the Mt. Vernon Guild in Auburn.
There are approximately 100 granges in good standing in California, said Booth, fewer than the 185-odd granges that reportedly existed at the start of the fight. However, there is no agreement over the numbers or how many granges were and are active organizations. The active membership in the organization statewide is approximately 5,000 members, she said. The number was reported in grange materials to be more than 9,000 just before the split. “The number of guilds is unknown, but there are approximately 20-25 local guilds still claiming to control subordinate granges and their property,” Booth said. The guilds are designed as locally owned and controlled, but each varies in how title is carried, Booth explained in mid-December. Guild and community center-owned halls that have had to give halls over recently to the state organization are Fort Bragg Grange, Bennett Valley Grange (Sonoma County), Redwood Valley Grange, Muscoy Grange (San Bernardino County), Yankee Hill Grange (Butte County) and the Thermalito Grange (Butte County), Booth said.
Before the big breakup, the once-shrinking Grange movement was seeing a resurgence in popularity due to people joining from an energetic movement toward farmers’ markets, local farming, and opposition to corporate farming and food. Then came the split among the brothers and sisters of the grange, which is the salutation Grangers use for each other.
The National Grange wins in Fort Bragg
In Fort Bragg, the successful suit led by the California Grange and Fort Bragg Grange #672 took back the hall from the Fort Bragg-Inglenook Community Center. This was a pivotal moment in the statewide dispute, Guild members say. The legal victory came with an $80,000 negotiated settlement against the leadership of the Guild/Community Center, including Bruce Broderick, Elmer Whaley and Debbie Baron, all well known as volunteers for community causes. Broderick said the judgment, which amounted to $68,000, plus monies in the bank account, was entirely covered by insurance purchased by the Community Center. Baron declined to comment. Whaley deferred his comments to Broderick. Broderick said the Inglenook Community Center was run by a majority of former grange officers and members. Attorney Jeff Skinner said that the guild leadership took over the hall against the wishes of Grange members. If there was any unified objection to the leadership in Fort Bragg over the past few years , it wasn’t visible at the monthly sales and breakfasts or events like the Big Band concerts. There were radio shows and letters to the editor in which the matter was debated, with people on both sides. As is usual with such organizations, a few members did almost all the work.
Cleone resident Marilla Peeler,another person known for her community involvement, president of the recaptured Fort Bragg Grange #672 and a Grange member since 2004, wants to get the community back into the hall when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and that becomes possible.
“We want to have an open house where we can explain what the Grange is. We can say ‘Yes this is a horrible thing that happened but the grange is still a good organization,’” Peeler said. “The Grange is community-oriented and can do a lot going forward.”
Broderick is sharply critical of the decision against himself, the others and the Inglenook Community Center by Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Jeanine Nadel. “The case moved through the court for a bit as we won a few motions. Last spring the plaintiffs filed a motion for “summary judgment” which they won this last October. We were all shocked as Judge Nadel had failed to read or include any of the defense documents or objections in her ruling,” said Broderick.
Skinner said Judge Nadel carefully read through the rules and bylaws that Grange members signed and found that the rules were clear, then filed her summary judgment demanding return of the hall by the Guild group to the Grange. He said the legal concept she ruled on was “very well settled law”.
After the ruling, victorious Fort Bragg Grangers posted a message on Facebook: “December 6, 2020 marks the first time since March 2017 members of the Fort Bragg Grange could enter their Grange hall without threat of being arrested or sued by the Fort Bragg Guild/Fort Bragg Inglenook Community Center. Now that the truth has been told, and the laws and rules of the Grange have prevailed, we hope that the community can find peace. From the members of Fort Bragg Community Grange #672, est. 1938.” President Peeler, whose great aunt and great uncle were Grangers, said it will take a month or more to get the nonprofit status changed back, Secretary of State registration, and other legal paperwork in place to begin operating fully again.
Because of the separate court victories by the National/California Grange group, the title of the buildings in Redwood Valley and Fort Bragg were transferred into ownership of the Grange with Garcia on the way. The guilds had just transferred the building titles to themselves not long ago.
Broderick said in Fort Bragg the guild installed a new commercial dishwasher, new gates and fence, new water tank, new roof gutter on the back of the building, a stage extension and more during their time with the hall.
“Other improvements made by those who lost are the front windows, the coffee room, the renovation of the downstairs including the bathrooms, new lighting throughout the building, etc., etc.,” Broderick said.
Many of the aging Grange buildings statewide, including Fort Bragg’s, which was built as a school in the 1920s, require a lot of maintenance. The Fort Bragg Grange would now like to build membership, create a community garden, give more scholarships, do seed exchanges and serve breakfasts again, Peeler said.
“We lost membership to either the guild or fear of joining during a lawsuit. Currently there are about 20 members. People now want to get back into the Grange,” said Peeler.
“Fort Bragg Inglenook Community Center had 76 members at the time of the ruling against us. Not many of that membership is going to be willing to participate in the Grange based on what they have seen in the recent past from the Grange and the fact that the community doesn’t own the property,” said Broderick.
Fort Bragg locks changed and changed again
The Fort Bragg Grange #672 group first tried to retake the hall in 2017. The Fort Bragg Grange group came and changed the locks on the old hall which surprised a volunteer who had come with materials for a Sunday breakfast, according to published reports.
Representatives of the Fort Bragg Guild/Inglenook Community Center changed the locks once again and then maintained a 24/7 watch on the building for a time. Both sides said the other side broke in to change the locks. The court ultimately decided the building belonged to the Grange and the Inglenook Community Center would have to sign it over, which it did. This time, Broderick drove the keys to the office of a Ukiah lawyer, as he was unwilling to give them to Peeler, who heads up Grange #672.
“At the Fort Bragg Grange, certain individuals associated with the Guild broke into the Hall with crowbars and locked the membership out, leading to a lawsuit,” wrote California State Grange secretary Lillian Booth. “Fort Bragg Grange continued to meet in members’ homes and area restaurants while the lawsuit played out. The Mendocino County Superior Court ruled for the Grange and entered judgment in the Fort Bragg Grange case this year. The Hall has now been returned to Fort Bragg Grange’s membership.”
The victory in Fort Bragg was a big deal nationwide among Grangers. The announcement on Dec. 6 by the Fort Bragg Grange that they had won control of the historic Grange and were back inside, brought congratulations from about 10 people in other granges, including Betsy Huber, president of the National Grange and Joan Conrow Smith, chair of the National Grange Foundation. It also made the Garcia Guild realize they probably would not win their case.
You can’t take it with you
Fort Bragg Grange President Peeler explained that according to the law, nobody has the right to switch the Grange properties to control of a new group. “You can be a member of the Masonic Lodge. When you decide you don’t want to be Mason anymore, you don’t get to take the lodge with you,” Peeler said. “It is the communities they are in that make each Grange unique.” Peeler’s opinion appears to match the courts’ legal reasoning.
Broderick said COVID-19 had pretty much already killed the Inglenook Community Center even before he turned over the keys last month.
“We felt we could win the appeal. We had grounds. But it would take 2 to 3 years to win and we wouldn’t survive anyway. There are too few active volunteers. The community of Inglenook wasn’t that interested in it. We have accepted what happened and are moving on,” Broderick said.
Will the building remain in community hands?
“No matter who opens it, who runs it, the new California State Grange can remove the officers, close it down and sell it,” said Broderick.
Peeler said the property will stay local as long as Grange members want it to do so.“That was the big hoax; that the grange was coming in and closing granges all over. The grange was not going to do anything unless they stopped being a grange.”
The hall is the thing on the south coast
In Manchester, the longtime Garcia Grange & Guild building is especially crucial to the unincorporated community, which does not have a city hall or other community building. Manchester was the last of the three local guilds to be sued by the California State Grange, with that suit filed April 9, 2020. Unlike in Redwood Valley and Fort Bragg, where there were longtime members on both sides of the Guild-Grange split, 100 percent of the membership went along with becoming the Garcia Guild in Manchester, said Guild president Susan Levenson-Palmer in an interview in early December. There were more than 90 Guild members in Manchester, although COVID-19 has shut nearly everything down there as well.
The settlement announced on Dec. 30 returned the hall to the National and State Grange, but made concessions important to the Garcia Guild.
“The settlement agreement that [attorney] Terry Gross negotiated on behalf of the Garcia Guild preserves the two things that were most important to the Garcia Guild board. First, the remaining $4,124 in the Garcia Guild scholarship account is kept local. The funds are transferred to the Gualala Lions Club to be awarded to local graduating students. And second, the California State Grange will maintain the Evergreen Cemetery in perpetuity. In return, the California State Grange will take control of the organization [what had become the Garcia Guild], the property [what had become the Manchester Community Center] and the funds remaining in the credit union account. One other important detail is the volunteer Garcia Guild board members will not be held personally liable and are free from further litigation, “ Levenson-Palmer wrote in a letter to Guild members.
What’s next in Manchester?
“The California State Grange will hold the property and funds ‘in trust’ for the next several years to see if they can recruit a new Grange group in the area. While we hate to see the building (which we put so much effort into) languish, it is important for any new local Grange group to know that the group would have to pay dues to the California and National Grange for at least 14 memberships; would not own the building; and, would be required to follow the Grange rules and regulations. Even with these caveats, the Garcia Guild board members would wish any new group well and provide information as needed,” Levenson-Palmer wrote.
Fort Bragg’s loss was a prime reason for the surrender in Manchester. Levenson-Palmer provided background.“When the Garcia Grange was established in 1938 the individuals involved made an irrevocable commitment to the State and National Grange. This same commitment was made by the Fort Bragg Grange. Between 2012 and 2017 the Fort Bragg Grange went through a similar organizational transformation as the Garcia Grange. They became the Fort Bragg/Inglenook Community Center. We became the Garcia Guild managing the Manchester Community Center.”
Then came the judgment against the community center in Fort Bragg, which made the defendants in Manchester believe they were likely to get the same outcome from the same judge.
‘‘With respect to the future, the California State Grange will attempt to reorganize Garcia Grange,” state secretary Booth said. “This will be the same Garcia Grange that has existed since 1938, not a `new’ Grange. Once Garcia Grange is reorganized, then the Grange Hall and funds will be transferred back to Garcia Grange to hold and continue using for its community service. Anybody who is interested may participate in the reorganization of Garcia Grange, including former officers and members of Garcia Guild.”“
“ The California State Grange is pleased with this amicable resolution,” continued Booth. “We all hope that the difficulties of the last few years can finally be put to rest and that Garcia Grange will soon be back to serving the Manchester community just as it had done for over 80 years.”
Will the hall continue to be available to the community when the COVID-19 situation makes that possible?
“The State Grange will make every effort to make that happen for the community. And most especially when the Garcia Grange is reorganized, “ Booth said
What happened in Willits, Anderson Valley and Laytonville
In Mendocino County, the Fort Bragg, Redwood Valley and Garcia granges stuck with the guild throughout the process and all ended up forfeiting their halls and operating funds in court settlements or in Fort Bragg’s case, a judgment.
Little Lake, Anderson Valley, and Laytonville granges also were part of the charter-revoked California State Grange, which then changed to the California Guild. They flipped back to the National Grange’s fold in time and were never sued..
“Because of the confusion caused by the California Guild’s misrepresentations, these [three] Granges thought that the Guild organization was the same as the California State Grange. When it became clear that the California Guild’s narrative was false, these subordinate granges returned to good standing,” Booth said.
Liam UiCearbhaill, president of the Little Lake Grange, was at the state convention when the split happened. He remembers how California’s Green Grange movement and support for GMO labeling had been an important issue, with the National Grange repudiating California’s position for a ballot initiative supporting GMO labeling.
He and his Willits Grange stuck with the breakaway faction until the courts decided in favor of the National Grange. “Bob MacFarland [president of the California State Grange when its charter was revoked and leader of the California Guild throughout its existence] said let the courts decide, and we went along with that. So when the courts did decide, we went back to the National Grange.”
The Little Lake Grange has about 125 members and did not lose significant numbers in the split. It is one of the more active granges in Northern California.
Whitesboro stood alone with National
Only the Whitesboro Grange in the Albion area stayed with the National Grange throughout the process. Bob Canclini, master of the Whitesboro Grange, said he and his wife attended a State Grange convention at the time of the split in 2013 and told the members what they had seen. He said the members voted to stay with the National Grange.
“It was up to them. The members decided to pay our dues directly to the National Grange,” said Canclini, a member of the Albion area Grange since 1996.
The Whitesboro Grange has 28 members and is waiting for the end of COVID-19 to get back to Sunday breakfasts and monthly spaghetti feeds, which fund the hall and a variety of community donations.“The money we raise stays right here in the community,” said Canclini.
Meanwhile, Kent Westwood, former head of the Laytonville Grange and once part of the breakaway faction, is now the president of the California State Grange.
The Redwood Valley Guild settles, gives title back
The Guild in Redwood Valley surrendered title claims to the Grange hall before a trial. Unlike in Fort Bragg and Manchester (Garcia Grange) the charter was not revoked in Redwood Valley, Booth said. Fort Bragg attorney Ron Britt helped overturn a default judgment against guild officers. The case later settled with no penalties against any of the officers, Britt said.
Said an announcement the Redwood Valley guild posted on Facebook earlier this year: “In April 2020, the lawsuit between Redwood Valley Community Guild and the Redwood Valley Grange was settled out of court. We gave them the title to the big yellow hall, and we don’t have to pay their lawyer fees. In turn, we dropped our fraud suit and no longer have to drain our personal resources to pay for lawyers. The Guild attempted to revolutionize the Grange by promoting organic farming and minority farmers instead of industrial, GMO, Roundup and chemical farming. The California Guild movement succeeded in popularizing organic agriculture and helped Mendocino become a non-GMO agricultural county, but the National Grange destroyed the Guild movement with their deep pockets and endless lawsuits. The Grange wins and the nation loses.”Attorney Skinner, representing the state Grange, said there is very little difference in the stances of the California State Grange and that of the Guild over progressive farming issues.“You will find very little daylight between their positions,” said Skinner.
Wendy DeWitt is current president of Redwood Valley Grange, which now has 40 members and a long list of community projects including an adopt-a-road cleanup program. The Grangers seem to have made the most of universally difficult year 2020 since taking it back from the Guild. DeWitt is focused on bringing the community together for good.
“Several current members were at one time part of the Guild, but since the legal decision we have had no new ex-Guilders join,” DeWitt said “We extend an open heart to all those who wish to be part of the Grange family. Our focus is on being of great value to our community.”
The Future of the Grange
Many people now think of the granges mostly as a place to have a grand Sunday breakfast.The newly recaptured local grange leaderships plan to continue that tradition when the pandemic makes it possible. Will granges now get back to scholarships, seed exchanges, gardens and breakfasts? How did a benevolent organization with such a rich history run by beloved community volunteers spend so much time tearing itself apart with lawsuits?
The modern nonprofit in its many forms has eclipsed the old fraternal lodge model as the key vehicle for dispensing charity. Broderick feels fraternal organizations, with their top-down structure and control, are outdated and on the way out.“They are heirarcharial and designed to feed those at the top, often at the expense of the community,” Broderick said.
Peeler feels the old traditions have much to offer to members. Like similar orders, the Grange featured secret ceremonies and meetings infused with protocol. Those are now optional. Peeler feels it might be a good idea to bring some of the traditional ceremonies back.
“Some granges are still doing ritual traditional meetings. It really makes people pay attention and serves to keep the fundamentals in place,” said Peeler.
It was widely reported that the Grange was one of the few organizations that “slow food” organic farmers started joining around the time of the big breakup. That enthusiasm continued with the Guild movement, and remains in granges such as Little Lake in Willits and Anderson Valley.
What happened to the Guild?
Whatever legal existence the California Guild once had, it now appears that it is either gone or totally unreachable. There is no California Guild listed online, emails bounce back, and the name “California Guild” was put up for sale, according to published reports.
From the National Grange’s point of view, all rights to the halls and property disappeared when California’s charter was revoked and the revocation was not appealed.They say the Guild group left, not that they were kicked out. About 65 state granges, like Whitesboro Grange, did manage to stay with the National Grange throughout. Booth said there are approximately 300 members in Mendocino County. Ukiah’s Grange consolidated with Redwood Valley back in 2002, but otherwise no local granges have been closed, she said.
Origins of local granges
In the last days of the Great Depression in 1938, excitement over the growing national Grange movement was at a peak in Mendocino County. That year, the Garcia in Manchester, Little Lake in Willits, Fort Bragg and Anderson Valley granges were all founded. There was a progressive can-do spirit in America at the time, where people had been forced back to rural life and the farm by the unemployment of the Depression and wanted to band together in unions, civic lodges and Main Street backed booster groups. Small towns developed community power by spending their money locally and through dozens of fraternal organizations like the Moose, Elk, Lions, Rotary, Redmen, Grange and more. The Grange was unique in that women had an equal role; they were banned from many other similar organizations. The four Grange chapters, new in 1938, joined the Redwood Valley Grange, which had been founded in 1917. In 1950 came the Whitesboro Grange in Albion and the Laytonville Grange. These were days when towns did things together that would be unimaginable today. For example, Fort Bragg civic, business and logging industry leaders once got together regularly for massive car caravans to San Francisco and the Bay Area to tempt city dwellers to attend Paul Bunyan Days and other such events..
Back in 1938, 30 local farmers gathered in the old Pudding Creek Hall to form the Fort Bragg Grange, which is now located 6 miles north of the original meeting site. The building was Ocean View School prior to being purchased by the Grange (in 1949), according to local blogger and historian Tony Phillips. The Fort Bragg Grange began serving breakfast in 1957, Phillps reported in his blog. The record-breaking breakfast was July 4, 1994 when 711 people were served, he wrote.
For decades the granges were key advocates for local farmers and a person once had to be from a family farm to join. The National Grange is credited with successfully lobbying to establish the Cooperative Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery and the Farm Credit System, among other programs to benefit small farmers and rural residents. The National Grange formed in 1867, right after the Civil War, to help the family farmer fight railroad monopolies and the power of big graineries. These were the roots guild members said they wanted to reinvigorate. For example, historical records obtained from the Kelley House Museum’s historical archive in Mendocino shows farmers got together during World War II to demand that a hemp rope be used for the Albion Bridge “ribbon-cutting” opening ceremony to recognize the contribution of local hemp farmers. Grange halls hosted ceremonies, dances, weddings, government meetings and voting. From Pennsylvania to California, granges were de facto community centers for the residents of rural areas. In Mendocino County, each hall became most famous for their flapjacks, eggs, bacon and orange juice, mostly served on Sunday, to crowds that numbered in the hundreds from the 1950s onward. Grange membership peaked at just over 1 million members in the 1950s. Current membership is around 150,000, according to Betsy Huber, president of the National Grange, in published reports. Other fraternal organizations, such as the Freemasons, the order on which the Grange was based, also have experienced precipitous drops in numbers.
Grange policies vary widely
Some of the things the California State Grange has been doing outside of court might surprise its critics. At Sonoma County’s Hessel Grange, a hemp farmer named Vince Scholten has brought together cannabis farmers, including both hemp and other cannabis operations. Now that Sebastopol grange has been revived as a place where cannabis farmers can get together to discuss issues like problems getting through the regulatory process.
Said Lillian Booth, “Any state grange can have policy different from the National Grange policy California has had support for non-GMO since the late 1980s. But the state and local granges cannot have different rules. All must work within the Digest of Laws of the National Grange, which Mr. [Robert] McFarland and the Guild were not willing to do. This is what caused the split.”
A key issue often cited by the Guild was the National Grange’s support for Monsanto in a Supreme Court decision against Vernon Bowman, an Indiana Soybean farmer who saved and replanted his seeds rather than buy new seeds from the agricultural giant. The press release showing the National Grange in favor of the decision to enforce copyright laws against farmers who saved patented seeds is still on the National Grange’s website.
“If the Supreme Court didn’t rule in favor of Monsanto’s argument there would be little incentive to produce and promote inventions if a company or individual lost all profit-making potential after the first sale of a self-replicating product,” explained then-National Grange president Ed Luttrell. He also said the move assures an abundant food supply into the future, the 2013 press release states.
The Wyoming State Grange also had its charter revoked. Attorney Skinner said that was because the Wyoming Grange fell below the required number of active chapters and the move was not opposed by that state’s Grange. Skinner said the situation of revoking a charter over charges of misconduct and because of claims the state leadership didn’t follow the rules is unique in Grange history. That only happened in California, he said.
According to a summary contained in one of the lawsuits, Ed Luttrell, then head of the National Grange, ordered the California State Grange’s executive committee to investigate Bob McFarland, Master of the California Grange for misconduct in 2011, court documents state. Although that committee cleared McFarland in January 2012, three of the seven members sent Luttrell a “minority report” asserting the investigation was incomplete, the summary said. Luttrell suspended McFarland in June 2012 and again in August 2012. Most of the California State Grange’s executive committee elected to ignore the second suspension. In 2013 Lutrell and the National Grange revoked California’s 145-year-old charter, the lawsuit materials stated. In response, members of 120 of California’s 186 granges reelected McFarland and decided to continue functioning as a state grange separate from the national organization, according to published reports. The rest stayed with the National Grange. The national organization reconstituted the California State Grange with the late Ed Komski in the top job, winning the rights to the name Grange. MacFarland led the guilds throughout the process.
“This was a case where the officers of the order were not following the rules of the order,” attorney Skinner said.“They took an oath to follow the rules.”
The California State Grange’s website states: “The charter was revoked because the State Grange was operating contrary to the Digest of Laws of the National Grange. The leadership of the State Grange did not appeal the decision of the President of the National Grange, which was available to them.”
The future will determine whether the “Grange Wars” was all about a rebellious faction that walked away or about the National Grange recapturing lost real estate, or whether the new California State Grange can regrow membership and play an important role again in rural communities suffering from the economic and social aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The California State Grange has a response to the land grab allegation on the portion of its website dedicated to answering questions about the lawsuit:“This is another attempt to spin an untruth. The status of the ownership of your Grange hall’s is unchanged. It is the same as it was prior to the revocation of the State Grange charter, and it has continued to be the same since then. As long as you have a valid charter your Grange property belongs to your Grange,” the response states.
“The Grange is not in the hall-selling business. The Grange wants to have active subordinate Granges out there,” Skinner said. No other state is having a similar Grange controversy.
Statewide, 17 surviving community Guilds were fighting together in court with a hearing on Dec. 18, although the California Guild itself apparently no longer exists. A Sacramento judge ruled on Dec. 17 that the claim, filed by surviving Guilds in places like Chico, Elk Grove and Mount Vernon was not timely and that the claim failed on the merits. They had asked the Sacramento Superior Court to rule that a judgment in a lawsuit between the National Grange and former California State Grange/California Guilds not be used against their property interests in 17 ongoing cases. That case was heard in Sacramento Superior Court (by Zoom) on Dec. 4, with the hearing continued until Dec. 18. A tentative ruling was posted online on Dec. 17.. Once again it was a win for the Grange against the Guild. Skinner said the summary above was incorrect but he didn’t know exactly what a summary of the Guilds arguments would be, beyond a “Hail Mary.”
The Guilds’ argument and their motion were rejected by the judge.
“(The 17 Guilds) knew no later than December 31, 2019 that their interests were not being protected. Proposed Intervenor’s delayed until Oct. 30, 2020 to bring this motion. The Court finds such delay was unreasonable and the motion is now untimely. Even if the motion were timely, the Court would deny the motion on its merits,” the tentative ruling stated.
“There was widespread and continuous confusion for many years. But, it is clear that the rules of the Grange mean that Grange property must remain with the Order and cannot be diverted to the Guild,” said Booth, state secretary of the California State Grange. “Subordinate Granges built over decades or even a century of the hard work of generations of members cannot be removed from the Order by the current generation of leaders without regard for the rules. “
Attorney Ron Britt said the hope was to get individual cases to trial and argue breach of contract but he agreed so far the courts have found at the summary judgment stage, prior to trial in favor of the claim that the property belonged to the National/State Grange.
“The Grange organization has taken the legal strategy that once a subordinate organization [local Grange] has been admitted to the Grange organization, it can never leave. The former members can leave, but the local and its property remain. Case law in California and throughout the United States, whether the case involves the Grange organization, churchs or Masonic organizations, seems to support the ‘Mother’ organization’s position. The subordinates have not been able to get past the summary judgment/summary adjudication stage. If a case could get to a jury, I believe the results would be quite different,” Britt said.
The National Grange and California State Grange are working to bring back many local granges that have gone inactive or become guilds with a minimum of litigation, Booth said.
“The California State Grange continues to make every effort to reorganize every inactive subordinate grange,” Booth said. “We wish to emphasize to all members of subordinate granges that are not in good standing, or that have had their charters revoked, that they are welcome back, and the California State Grange looks forward to the time when all of the problems of the past seven years are behind us and Grangers can once again can focus all of our efforts on serving our communities, just as we have since 1873.”“The door is always open to community granges and grange members who wish to return to good standing. They can contact me at [email protected] or Kent Westwood, kwestwo[email protected]. Our contact information is on the website www.CAStateGrange.org,” said Booth.
Additional information about this story and Mendocino County granges:
Mendocino County’s 7 historic Granges
- Redwood Valley Grange #382 https://www.facebook.com/RVGrange, founded 1917
- Anderson Valley Grange #669 https://www.facebook.com/AVGRANGE , founded 1938
- Little Lake Grange #670, https://www.facebook.com/Little-Lake-Grange-104140479652218/, founded 1938
- Fort Bragg Grange #672 https://www.facebook.com/since1938, founded 1938
- Garcia Grange #676 https://manchestercommctr.wixsite.com/website, founded 1938 (currently has no grange members)
- Laytonville Grange #726 https://www.facebook.com/Laytonville-Grange-261788707354518, founded 1950
- Whitesboro Grange #766 https://www.facebook.com/whitesborogrange, founded 1950
California Guilds involved in litigation designed to retain their halls which were had tentative ruling go against them on Dec. 17:
Banner Community Guild, Bayside Community Hall, Chico Community Guilds, Cool Community Association, Inc.,1 Elk Grove Guild, Fresh Water Guild, Greenhorn Guild, Los Olivos Community Organization, Inc.,2 Morro Valley Association, Mt. Vernon Guild, Palo Cedro Community Guild, Paradise Community Guilds, Pleasant Valley Guild, Redcrest Community Center, San Luis Obispo Guild Hall, Van Duzen Guild, and Yuba Foothills Agricultural Community Association
The Mountain Democrat in Placerville published an in depth series of articles about the Grange Wars. Material quoted here “from published sources” came from that series and other publications: