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.

Freeda Findings: Counting down to Grange Month

Freeda the Mouse. The official mascot of the National Grange Youth Department.

Freeda the Mouse. The official mascot of the National Grange Youth Department.

If you have not noticed, we are two weeks from the kickoff of Grange month. Charlene and I have been brainstorming about what makes people want to join Grange. Looking at our own experiences with the organization, we think it’s the people that draw people to join a Grange.

To celebrate, we are looking to feature stories from Grange youth, young adults and program alumni about why they love being a Granger or their best Grange youth memory or favorite activities. Pen your thoughts, share some photos and send it to [email protected].

We look forward to hearing from the Grange herd or Grangers about what they love so much about our organization as we gear up for our April celebration.

Until next time,

Freeda

Freeda Findings: Promoting Grange Youth

Charlene and I have spent plenty of time talking about how do we raise awareness to Grange youth and young adult opportunities in the community or subordinate Grange. Because, it’s the local Grange, that has the greatest impact on encouraging Grange Youth and Young adults.

In about six weeks, Grange Month will be here. We both think what a great opportunity Grange month provides for Grange Youth and Young Adults to have a lot of fun, encourage others to join their Grange and the chance to show others the impact of a Grange on its local community.

What better way to promote the Granges ideals of American Values, Hometown Roots.?

Need some help getting started? Here are some ideas. Also feel free to share your other successful ideas.

1.         Have a food drive-in.

2.         Organize job shadow days with Grangers, for youth and others to learn about different careers in their communities.

3.         Work with local and school newspapers, radio and TV stations to run public service announcements highlighting local Grange activities.

4.         Host a “fun night” at the Grange Hall with games like “Minute-to-Win It” or other game show activities, invite friends to attend.

5.         Partner with other local agriculture organizations to host a farm/city exchange between a local farm family and government official/local media personality. Host a Farm/City dinner/reception at the Grange to hear from both groups about their experiences.

6.         Work with elementary school students or your Junior Grangers to plant a tree—or two – in honor of Grange month.

7.         Hold a Grange Open House for the community and conduct interactive activities for participants.

8.         Connect with our agricultural heritage, host an ag career day to learn about different job opportunities. Invite local speakers, farmers, Extension agents, agribusiness owners and managers. Statistics show this will be an employment growth industry for young people.

9.         Conduct a “Flat Stanley” contest for members to photograph their Stanley at different Grange events.

10.       Organize a community clean-up campaign.

11.       Invite your state Grange youth royalty to speak at a community Grange meeting or participate in a local Grange event.

12.       Work with a local FFA chapter on a joint community service or agricultural awareness activity.

13.       Partner with other youth or young adult organizations on a community service project.

14.       Determine your “Top Ten Reasons” to join Grange and utilize them during an event to generate awareness to your Grange.

15.       Host a Grange movie night, invite the community to the Grange hall.

16.       Host food and clothing drives or other community-wide outreach.

17.       Tweet it. Post it. Like it up! Post your activities and encourage them to go viral through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

18.       Organize a school supply or toy drive.

19.       Create a fun video of Grange youth/young adult activities, post the video online and use to promote your local Grange’s impact.

20.       Put on a petting zoo, pedal tractor pull or coloring contest for elementary students.

Invite non-members to a meeting.

21.       Host a dance in your Grange Hall or organize a barn dance.

22.       Look into hosting events like a lock-in, pizza party, movie night, bowling, karaoke, and more.

23.       Have a local mayor and/or other community officials sign a Grange Month Proclamation.

24.       Present a community service award/ honorary membership awards to a Grange youth supporter.

25.       . Volunteer for a day with Habitat for Humanity.

26.       Host a bowl-a-thon, raise funds for the National Grange Youth Foundation.

27.       Organize a celebrity “cook off” – could be chili, ice cream, or other local food specialty – invite the community in to sample the entries, and select a winner.

28.       Organize a “youth/young adult officer” night. Let youth and young adult Grange members run a Grange meeting.

29.       Invite your state youth director or youth committee member to speak at a Grange meeting about state youth/young adult events/opportunities.

30.       Invite your state master and Grange herd partner to speak with your Grange youth. Get a photo with their Grange herd mascot and share on my Facebook page.

Freeda the Mouse. The official mascot of the National Grange Youth Department.

Freeda the Mouse. The official mascot of the National Grange Youth Department.