The $50 Scholarship That Changed My Life

Matt Espenshade

Matt Espenshade

Matt Espenshade

Elizabethtown Area Grange Master

Fifty dollars. Most of us don’t think twice about spending that much money for a new pair of blue jeans or a nice dinner date. However, I can honestly say that a mere $50 changed my life completely.

My name is Matt Espenshade, and I am proud to be a member of Elizabethtown Grange #2076, in Lancaster County (Pa.). It has been a blessing to be surrounded by such a supportive group and to have some of the finest mentors I could ever hope for. The members of my subordinate Grange have allowed me to serve as their Master for the past 14 years, and together, we have accomplished so much. However, I know that the brightest days, for both Elizabethtown and the Grange as a whole, are yet to come.

For many years, one of my favorite duties as Master of Elizabethtown Grange was to present the Outstanding Senior in Agricultural Education scholarship at the local high school awards program. Each year, our Grange gives a $500 scholarship to a college-bound senior in recognition of that student’s dedication to studies in agriculturally related fields.

In 1991, I was at the awards program. Not as a presenter, however, but as a senior in high school. The local Grange presented me with a $50 savings bond for being the top ag student of the graduating class. Being recognized by an agricultural organization was very meaningful to me. I sent them a thank you note, but didn’t give it much thought after that. I was off to college!

The four years went by fast. I had become heavily involved with activities in college, such as Dairy Science Club and Alpha Zeta Fraternity.

After I returned home from college, I felt a “social emptiness” inside. I spent the summer months trying to get involved in different things. I became a local 4-H leader, although I had no previous 4-H experience. But it didn’t take long before I realized that what I missed was the family atmosphere of my college fraternity. Being together with people that shared common interests and background was what I was missing. The friendships I made there I knew I’d hold on to for the rest of my life. Where could I ever meet friends like that again?

In late August 1995, during the Elizabethtown Fair, I passed by a milkshake stand staffed by the local Grange, and I remembered the scholarship they had given me. I spoke for a while with a lady working there that evening and she encouraged me to come to an upcoming meeting. I attended my first meeting in October of 1995 and I’ve been hooked ever since. I was welcomed in with open arms, and one lady in particular, Anna Snook, “took me under her wing” and explained different aspects of the organization to me. I know it was because of her kindness that I stayed interested in learning more about this “Grange stuff”.

In time, I realized this was more than just a club or social group. It was truly a fraternal organization. Everyone called each other “Brother” or “Sister”, and it really felt like an extended family. It was what I needed, and I jumped in, head first. In less than three months, I went from literally a guy off the street to a member in the 7th degree!

When the time came to elect officers, I was nominated and was given my first office, Overseer. Talk about learning on the fly!  But again, the support I was given made it seem easy. In 2000, I was elected to serve as just the third Master in the history of Elizabethtown Grange.

Over the years, our Grange has changed a lot. When I first joined, meetings were held around scattered tables. Now, when we don’t set up for the full ritualistic opening, it just doesn’t “feel right”. Our group has focused on teaching area children about the importance of agriculture and our rural communities through poster and coloring contests. Also, that senior scholarship that was a $50 savings bond is now a check for $500.

If you are looking for a way to promote the study of agriculture in your local schools and increase visibility of the Grange in your community, you may want to consider presenting a scholarship to a deserving senior about to go on to college. I’m sure your local school’s guidance councilor or FFA adviser would be pleased to work with you on setting up an award. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of money either. Having gone off to college, I know first hand that every little bit helps.

It has been almost 20 years since I joined Grange. I still have the copy of my first Grange Knowledge Test from Pennsylvania State Grange Youth Camp, on which I scored a 24 out of 100, and that was with a lot of “help” from the people at my table. But I’ve learned a lot over the years, whereas by the time I aged-out of the youth program, I would consistently score 90-plus points on a knowledge test about our organization that would make many Grangers cry.

This organization has given me so much, and I am deeply grateful for that. Of course, I’d be amiss if I did not mention the fact that I got to know my future wife, Charlene Shupp Espenshade, through Grange. Charlene had moved to Elizabethtown from Tunkhannock, Wyoming County, for her job. Being a member of South Auburn Grange #1188, she was interested in attending the local Grange meetings while away from home. Without the Grange, the odds of us ever meeting are slim at best, let alone anything beyond that. We have been married ten years now, and Grange continues to be something we can both enjoy together.

Our youngest son turned five last September, and is a member of Elizabethtown Area Junior Grange #551.  Our oldest son is 8, and has attended State Junior Camp and other activities. They are both very excited about Junior Grange! I can only imagine the opportunities that our two sons will have as they grow up surrounded by Grange friends.

It’s been many years since I was given that Grange scholarship. Though I enjoyed making the annual presentation, this duty has been passed on to the next generation of Grange youth.  This May, Deidra Bollinger, an Elizabethtown Grange youth member, will again handle this responsibility. She too was looking for a way to be involved in the community after high school, and has found our Grange to be a great fit. Today, Deidra serves as our Lecturer. A previous winner of our scholarship, Cassidy Cheddar, is the Pennsylvania State Grange Youth Ambassador, and an active member of Penn State Collegiate Grange #2105. In recent years, four of our scholarship winners have either joined or were members of the Grange at the time.  Each of these youth has a bright future ahead of them in our organization.

When you think about it, what brought me to the Grange wasn’t a fancy presentation or a tri-color pamphlet; it was that simple $50 scholarship. That scholarship perked my interest in this organization and eventually opened the doors to a new family of friends. Joining Grange has been one of the best decisions in my life.

Of course, I still kid the Elizabethtown Grange members that maybe someday they’ll get their money’s worth out of me!

Editor’s Note: Matt Espenshade is the husband of Charlene Shupp Espenshade, National Grange Youth Director. Matt is a dairy farmer and served with Charlene as the Pennsylvania State Grange Young Couple for two terms.

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