Allen and his wife, Pat, ….
Allen and his wife, Pat, lost their Bennett Valley home in the 2017 fire, along with a century of Grange records, photographs and memorabilia. Pat is a third generation member, growing up in Bennett Valley.
“I remember the Juvenile Grange,” she recalled. “They had their own room, and had meetings, dances, teen club. The 4H met there and we raised animals and did all the things 4H members do. I made lifetime friends who still get together, for things like the Fireman’s Ball.”
The Grange was the hub for the creation of the Bennett Valley Fire Volunteers, Strawberry School that burnt down in the 1940s, and local homeowner associations. The Kenwood Yacht Club holds meetings to this day, with occasional rentals still happening at the Grange Hall, situated on Grange Road near Bennett Valley Road. The 148th Annual Picnic was cancelled, though hopes linger on the Guild website for a later, smaller event.
“We hope for an amicable transition,” State Grange Secretary Lillian Booth of Butte County said. “We are always open to conversation. The more we can converse, the more we learn from each other. Nobody likes litigation or tying stuff up in courts for years.”
Booth also said that the California Grange “never supported Monsanto,” and that it has a policy on record against using GMOs.
Booth said there are 20-30 members who have formed a new Bennett Valley Grange, who are ready to take possession of the Grange Hall and associated financial accounts.
Local Guild members are wary of olive branches at this point, citing how the Grange moved against them in the beginning with lawsuits, which they have struggled to cope with financially.
While Bennett Valley’s Guild still has Directors and Officers Insurance paying for their current legal costs, it will go away when the current lawsuits are settled. “They sent us a letter saying they wouldn’t renew,” Allen said.
“We gave up because we couldn’t get D& O insurance,” said Beth Lewis, former president of the Hessel Guild. The Hessel Grange hall is now owned and run by cannabis growers, a group initially formed by the Sebastopol Grange that now, according to Lewis, refuses to accept former Hessel Guild members.
Janet Alfieri is 82 and lives in the Woodside area of Bennett Valley, between the firehouse and Matanzas Creek Winery, just over a mile away from the Grange Hall. She has lived in Bennett Valley for 48 years and has been a member of the Grange and later Guild for over 30 years.
“When we moved here, our daughter was in 4H, and we went to the spaghetti dinners,” she recalled. “We became acquainted with people that way.” Her allegiance today is with the Guild, “absolutely.”
“It’s a place that means a great deal to our community. Our water company meets there and other volunteer groups have been able to use it. We put a lot into it, fundraising and trying to keep the building up. It would be a shame for it not to be run by the people who have been doing it all these years.
“I don’t feel I would want to be a member any more,” Alfieri said. “I don’t know what will happen to it. It would be nice if another group would take over, but I don’t think it would have the same community feel to it.”