Bill Dodds has championed a volunteer effort to resurrect Multnomah Grange No. 71

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Dave Durfee, left, and Bill Dodds are volunteering to save Multnomah Grange No. 71 on Southeast Bluff Road. It is their hope that once again it will become a gathering center for the local community.

Bill Dodds sits under a tree, overseeing volunteers working on the roof at Multnomah Grange No. 71 in the Orient area of rural Gresham.

He sports a baseball cap emblazoned with the words, “Employee of the month.”

It’s not hard to be the employee of the month; not when you’re the only employee.

Dodds won’t comment on how he earned the title, other than to say the hat came from his wife. But among those associated with Multnomah Grange No. 71, Dodds earned the designation legitimately.

A longtime Gresham resident, Dodds, 63, is a retired Southern Pacific railroad conductor. He admits to a fondness for “projects” and tinkering, as evidenced by an assortment of bicycles, motorcyles and “four to five little boats” in the back of his two-acre property.

He would have more acreage, he said, but his wife won’t let him.

Yet, thanks to the “Employee of the month,” some personal finances and a host of volunteers, the historic grange building on Southeast Bluff Road has a nearly-completed shiny new roof. The work is just one step in Dodds’ mission to bring the almost 140-year-old grange hall back to life.

Multnomah Grange No. 71 was originally chartered in 1875. It served as an epicenter for meetings and community gatherings long before Gresham became an incorporated city. Its solid post, beam and clapboard siding construction is a testament to its longevity, Dodds said, and the reason the building was able to survive a move to its present location in 1930.

The largely-unused structure became home to Gresham Little Theater in 2000. Dodds and his wife, Karen, who live two driveways down the road, were frequent attendees at the children’s theater performances and Bluegrass concerts.

When declining membership and non-payment of dues forced the Oregon State Grange to revoke No. 71’s charter in 2010, not only was Gresham Little Theater suddenly without a home, but the lively old building was silenced.

“(The grange) has always been a fun, happy place,” Dodds said. “It was just tragic for me to see the place go to waste.”

Through his attendance at grange events, Dodds became acquainted with Michele Brouse-Peoples, artistic director and founder of Gresham Little Theater. Dodds learned Brouse-Peoples had invested some of her own funds to upgrade lighting in the building and had been dealing with a laundry list of ailments common to a 100-year-old structure.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The repair on the west side of the grange hall roof has been completed.

“When it rained outside, it rained inside,” Brouse-Peoples said. “After the theater and concerts ceased to function, Bill told me he wanted to save the building. He has crawled under, inside and on top of the building and deemed it solid and worth saving. Bill is truly salt of the earth material.”

Earlier this summer, Dodds assembled a small volunteer crew and spent about $5,000 of his own money to begin work on a new roof. He purchased a circa 1920s schoolhouse wood stove, installed it and plans to fire it up to help dry out the interior walls. Dodds also purchased new theater seats to replace the unusable ones currently lining the walls of the building’s great hall.

Brouse-Peoples, who is no slouch when it comes to generating creative volunteer efforts, is continually amazed by the commitment of the soft-spoken gentleman with a quick wit and easy smile.

“Bill doesn’t run or talk fast,” she said. “But when he decides to do something, it’s done. I spent 10 years trying to get that roof done. I had quotes of $50,000 and promises of donated materials, but it just never happened. And this one man, this “Employee of the month,” did it.”

Dodds will confess he’s like a dog with a bone when obsessed by a project. He pools every resource available and isn’t above using his own finances to move the process along. He is also easily frustrated by naysayers and those who disregard contributing to the community.

“If people keeping popping up with excuses, nothing will get done,” Dodds said. “Yeah, I’ve got some money into this and I’m going to try and get some of the money back, but what are you going to leave when you go — a boat? I’d like to leave more than that.”

Dodds envisions the building’s return as a community gathering place for neighborhood kids, veterans’ groups and Socratic society meetings. But without sanctioning by the state grange association, chances to fully utilize the building were nil.

In July, Dodds cajoled the Oregon State Grange into reactivating the charter for Multnomah No. 71. He then rallied neighbors to become members and agreed to take on the role of Grange Master. The newly re-chartered grange now boasts about 20 members, a full complement of officers and holds regular monthly meetings as required.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A sign posted in front of the grange hall asks for volunteers and new grange members. Because the hall is still owned by the Multnomah Grange, it must have a membership and regular meetings to stay in use. Recent work on the landmark building has attracted attention from passersby, Dodds said, along with the handwritten “help wanted” note he posted on the grange’s street sign. It’s not the demise of the old building that motivates Dodds. It’s more about what the grange’s second chance at life can contribute to the community.

“I just love this old gal,” Dodds said. “She’s got good bones. There is so much we can do with this building — so many possibilities. I want it as good as we can get it and it’s going to happen.”

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