PALERMO — When Gary Dyer talked, people listened.

With no other option immediately at hand, members of the Branch Mills Grange opted to close the only public access to Branch Pond at the beginning of November. Although the pond is ringed with houses, the only public access to it is via the road that Grange members built alongside their hall. While the road has been available for boaters, fisherman and snowmobilers, it’s also the only access point for police, fire and rescue services.

Two rough winters had damaged the foundation of the Grange hall next to the access road. With no money to fix the foundation and little likelihood of raising any in short order, closure was the best option, because Grange members feared the foundation holding up the four-story building would give way.

But at an October Grange meeting scheduled to decide on the closure, Dyer, a longtime supporter but not a member of the Grange, issued a challenge to those present — town residents outnumbered the Grange members — to keep afloat the organization that had helped Palermo for so many years.

When people left the meeting they were, if not fired up, certainly inspired. The seed had been planted.

In this season of giving, Palermo is giving back to its Grange.

Following Dyer’s lead, the Grange sent out letters to every resident and business in Palermo, asking for help.

“We outlined what the Grange had done, and we hoped people would help out,” said Pamela Swift, Grange secretary.

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, generally referred to as simply the Grange, is a fraternal organization that was founded to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture. The Branch Mills Grange building has, at one time or other, housed the Town Office, hosted Town Meetings, given space to the Fire Department and opened its doors for community events such as school graduations.

Help is coming, nearly every day and in many shapes.

Lifelong town resident Dusty Haskell brought his excavator out and dug a ditch along the side of the foundation to funnel water away from the building and stop more water damage from happening this winter. Then, working with Dyer, he stabilized the foundation by connecting it to deadmen — huge concrete weights buried in the ground off the side of the buildings — with cables and turnbuckles and locking it in place.

“It’s only temporary,” he said. “They’re raising money to fix it permanently.”

A permanent fix could cost around $7,500, and Grange members are well on their way to reaching that.

“We’ve been getting donations like crazy,” Pamela Swift said. Every time she goes to the mailbox, she said, she finds cards and donations.

“It’s really heartwarming. Some are big, some are small, but all are welcome,” she said. “The people who have been long-term supporters still care and are still interested.”

By the middle of last week, Swift estimated, the Grange had raised $5,600.

With a challenge backed by the Modern Woodmen of America, it’s possible the Grange members will meet their goal.

Modern Woodmen of America is a non-for-profit member-owned fraternal financial services organization.

“We do not pay taxes,” Bob Potter said. “So we take the same amount we would pay and dump directly into the community.”

Potter, a Palermo resident and financial advisor for Modern Woodmen for 38 years, has set up a matching challenge. He’s got up to $2,500 to donate, if it’s matched by other contributions. The deadline is the end of January. The method of raising the matching funds is a bottle drive; returnables can be taken to Rapid Redemption on Route 17, or to Grange Master David Parkman, who has cleared space in his barn to store the bottles and cans.

“If they make cash donations, we’ll match it dollar for dollar,” he said.

Potter has been a member of the Grange, but he’s not sure whether his membership is still active.

“The Grange has had a hard time getting members,” he said. “I’d love to see that Grange get real active. Anything you can do to get people to take part in an organization that was founded with such strong principles, I support.”

When spring comes, Parkman said, the foundation will be fixed and public access to the pond will open up again.

“People don’t join the Grange like they used to,” Parkman said, “but they don’t want it to go away, either.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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