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First veteran honored by Jefferson Grange; more good things coming

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN – At their first official meeting after reorganizing in May, Jefferson Grange #1384 made good on the promise to make a difference and honoring local individuals.

Brach Gibbons, of Orwigsburg, who spent more than 18 years in the Army, was the first recipient of a Quilt of Valor from the local Grange.

Quilts of Valor are made by individuals and awarded to veterans or active-duty members of the military who have been “touched by war.”

Gibbons certainly meets that criteria, having done three tours in the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.

Assistant Steward Val Bildheiser conducted the presentation, and Gibbons was wrapped in the quilt by Steward Mykal McCulloch and Grange partner Josh Shamonsky during the meeting of the Grange at Bubeck Park.

The Grange will award several other Quilts of Valor on July 10 during the Schuylkill Haven fireworks event on The Island.

Granges across the country take part in the Quilts of Valor Foundation program as an Under Our Wings partner, enabled to select and present quilts made to local individuals.

After the presentation, members discussed the recent controversy about Blue Mountain where the district initially decided to bar graduates from wearing military stoles as part of their graduation attire.

President Rachel Brobst said she was confused and dismayed by the original decision of the school board, which was overturned after significant outrage by students and their parents.

Patriotism and respect for the military are all instilled in the students, she said, but to then decide not to honor those who have already been through basic training or are already contracted to enter a service branch after graduation “seems backwards and disrespectful,” she said.

The Grange, at the suggestion of Civic Engagement and Advocacy Director Torie Konkus, voted unanimously to commend the students who led the effort to see the rule changed.

Opportunities to Learn

Junior Assistant Steward Michelle Zimmerman reported that she is working with Secretary Amanda Brozana Rios are working to secure materials to build, decorate and use cornhole boards for a tournament and fundraiser. The activity would allow Youth and Junior members of the Grange to learn about various tools and simple building and construction methods.

This comes as part of an effort to engage young people and allow them to learn basic skills that would have typically been found in “shop” or “home economics” classes that have substantially changed in form over the past two decades.

Brozana Rios said it also provides an opportunity for intergenerational interaction that “helps kids develop skills to talk to and learn to appreciate people outside their peer group.”

“This is one of the cornerstones of what Granges do across the country – offer opportunities to learn and grow and have different generations come together to share experiences,” Brozana Rios said.

The evening’s tour of the Schuylkill Haven Community Garden by its founder and Jefferson Grange Food and Agriculture Director Hannah Burke, and the Lecturer’s Program by Liz Kattner introducing the carnivorous tropical pitcher plant as a natural remedy for household pests also offered members and guests opportunities to explore the world near and far.

“It shows what’s available in the community and hard work of individuals that put in effort,” Vice President Victor Barreto Rios said of the variety offered to members and guests who Grange attend meetings. “It’s nice to always learn something new. It helps you to always keep an open mind to learning what’s out there that you may not otherwise encounter.”

Other Events Planned

Personal Development and Family Activities Director Will Bildheiser suggested the Grange could use this year’s Olympics as a push to draw attention to and raise funds for Special Olympics and the great impact the organization has for individuals who compete in those events.

The Grange voted to host a softball tournament on October 2 at The Island to benefit Special Olympics and will begin to reach out to businesses, fire companies, churches and other groups to get teams signed up soon.

Members also volunteered to assist with the project to revive the greenhouses at Blue Mountain High School, a project Burke is spearheading.

The next meeting will be held at Pavilion #2 at Bubeck Park in Schuylkill Haven on July 9 with a potluck at 6:30 p.m. and meeting at 7 p.m.

For more information about Jefferson Grange, visit their website at where you can apply for membership.

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