My wife and I attended a funeral in Reynoldsville last Thursday. The deceased person was our good friend Jim Beck. He was a native of the Hormtown area where Evelyn grew up, and they both attended St. Paul Lutheran Church: he as an adult and she as a child. Evelyn got her church beginnings there courtesy of her neighbors Dorothy and Annabelle Kroh who lived just over the next hill.
Jim had joined the United States Army Air Corp in 1942 at the age of 20 years. I’d heard that he was trained as a “Tech Sergeant” and, his daughter explained that he was an airplane mechanic. It was much different in the time of World War II. Everything was mechanical with very limited electronics. The mechanic was responsible for maintenance of the plane on the ground and the same mechanic flew on bombing missions with his toolbox to make repairs as needed in flight. He had earned a Presidential Unit Citation for this actions performed during missions over Normandy.
Since he was quite good at his work, it was suggested to him that he might consider a career as a mechanic. But he responded that he just wanted to go home and farm. And that’s what he did in the summer and filled in a local saw mills during the off season. Eventually, he joined a couple of neighbors to carpool to the Brockway Glass Plant at Crenshaw from which he retired back to the farm. He enjoyed his family consisting of a daughter Donna (Thomson) and her two sons, George and Jason.
After settling back home at the family farm near Hormtown after the war, Jim became active in the church where he served on the council and as the church treasurer. Meanwhile the “rural fraternity” formerly known as the Patrons of Husbandry or more commonly as the Grange came to life in the community. A local Grange “revival period” headed by Charlotte Mowrey (my mother-in-law) showed a renewed membership of 48 members.
The Reynoldsville Grangers purchased the former Hormtown School Building that was then being used for storage of grain. They converted the building over into a “Hormtown Community Center” as it remains to this day. Jim Beck and the other members of his large family were right there to help. Due to its extensive use over later years, an addition was added to the community center that more than doubled its original size.
There was no other social hall in the whole area. That’s the way life was in rural Pennsylvania. We put together a map a few years ago and placed a pin at each location around Jefferson County where there was once a Grange Hall. I counted 38 pins; although not all of the Granges were in session during the same year as some closed and others opened according to the shifts in population.
Through the middle part of the 20th Century, there were very few social centers, few fellowship halls of a larger size in the churches, and it wasn’t easy to travel very far from home. The stage in any Grange Hall was a featured entertainment center; and a good-sized Grange Hall was the typical dance floor. Until television became more common, there was little reason to rush home early – other than getting up early the next morning to go to work. Then everything began to change.
Another fraternal organization known as the “Patriotic Order Sons of America” (POS of A) had built a meeting hall in the village of Rathmel, a few miles east of Reynoldsville. That organization was founded primarily to support public education. Since the group headquarters was located at Valley Forge, Pa., the membership took on the job of preserving General George Washington’s quarters, office and meeting room at Valley Forge Park.
POS of A was decommissioned in 1956 and challenged to provide care and maintenance of the Valley Forge Park and permitted to “receive, administer and disburse funds received from gifts and donations that will aid the entire Fraternal Structure in its Organization, Education, Patriotic and Civic Purposes.” Local POS of A members lost interest in getting together, so they offered their hall for sale.
After renting the building for 14 years from the POS of A, Reynoldsville Grange purchased the building in 1980. Many improvements were made to make it a nice community building for family and social gatherings. Jim Beck, his family and other Grangers, all worked hard to make things successful. But that was then and this is now!
Over the years, some of the Grangers have found other endeavors that fit their preferences; some have found it necessary to move into personal care homes and are no longer readily available to come out for meetings; some have moved far away to live near younger family members; and many – like Jim Beck – have gone on to the heavenly rewards. It is doubtful that many Grangers will ever be able to contribute to the heavenly choirs, but they will certainly be into dusting and sweeping; and maybe even bookkeeping. At Jim Beck’s funeral, Rev. Benjamin Austin read a portion of a song of the Grange that said, “Work for the night is coming, work thro’ the morning hours. Work while the dew is sparkling, work ‘mid springing flow’rs. Work when the day grows brighter, under the glowing sun. Work for the night is coming, when man’s work is done.
“Work for the night is coming, work thro’ the sunny noon; fill brightest hours with labor – rest comes sure and soon. Give every flying minute something to keep in store; Work for the night is coming, when man works no more.
“Work for the night is coming, under the sunset skies; while their bright tints are glowing, work, for daylight flies. Work till the last beam fadeth, fadeth to shine no more; work, while the night is dark’ning, when man’s work is o’er.” Amen!