By ERIN TURNER
Can you recall the feeling of walking into your grandparents’ house through the old screen door on the back porch? The smell of hospitality and familiarity lingered in the air and you knew you’d be greeted with open arms and an offer of yummy food and drink. It felt good to be in a place which seemed like it had been there forever and would continue to be there forever.
Walking into the Orchard Homes Country Life Club on Third Street in Missoula is reminiscent of your grandparent’s house. For most Missoulians, it has been there forever. We’ve all attended a wedding reception, a family reunion, attended a 4-H play or a craft bazaar in that building. It’s not a place that necessarily stands out in our memories but we all know we’ve been there at least once in our lives.
For a group of young neighborhood children in the early 1900’s, the building Missoula now knows as the Orchard Homes Country Life Club was the foundation they needed to gather and form their own community. This group of youth needed a larger place to meet so their fathers set out to find a location. They were generously given the land at 2537 S. 3rd Street West by W.R. Warren.
At the same time these youth were gathering in Missoula, President Teddy Roosevelt was in fear for our country’s rural life. In an effort to revitalize country living, he instituted a nationwide “Country Life Movement”. The cornerstone of this movement was the creation of Country Life Clubs throughout the United States.
These organizations were meant to bring rural neighbors together to share ideas in agriculture and community-building. This was a natural for the Orchard Homes neighborhood. We already had a place to gather, people who were passionate about their farming and ranching and a desire for community. Ninety percent of the Orchard Homes residents became members in 1911 and from then on the organization has remained a mainstay of the community for a hundred years.
In the 1930’s as people moved closer to cities (and cities moved closer to rural life), the need for Country Life Clubs diminished and many clubs began closing. The Country Life Club in Missoula, established on January 11, 1911 didn’t feel the impact of lessening membership until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Regardless of the lower membership, the Club continued living out its legacy. This was a feat in and of itself since the second to last club in the United States had closed its doors in the 1960’s. The O.H. Club attributes close neighbor relations and similar life values as the key to its 100 years of success. Recently, the Club has seen an increase in membership and younger families joining and wanting to continue the tradition of hospitality and neighborliness.
In a world full of technology and gadgets, we often lose sight of what it’s like to sit down across a table and share a meal with neighbors and friends. When you walk through the doors at the Orchard Homes Country Life Club, there is no technology–this is a 100 yr old building and the average age of our neighbors is roughly over 65 yrs old. Nope, no fancy phones or the newest ipod–just a face-to-face conversation and a good laugh over a homemade piece of pie. This place hasn’t needed technology to survive 100 years of existence, it has done just fine with doing things “the old-fashioned” way!
This past Sunday, our neighborhood Club commemorated the fact that we have survived 4 wars, The Great Depression, industrialization, urban sprawl, and most recently—severe flooding. We gathered with friends from near and far to celebrate 100 years of community. We remembered neighbors who were the pioneers in creating this community and all those who embodied the spirit of those pioneers over the last 100 yrs. We honored all the Club Presidents who carried the torch and saw to it that the Club moved from one decade to the next.
It was a day of joyfulness and rekindling old friendships. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched Emma Kuhl, at 103 yrs old and a club member for 100 yrs, cut the “birthday” cake. She was joined by Otto Benson, at 94 yrs old, whose father was one of the club’s founders.
For many of the older members, this place tells the stories of their childhoods and now they are surrounded by the new generation who will undoubtedly have their own childhood stories of playing on the club’s stage, earning money doing the dishes, leading the Pledge of Allegiance at each gathering, of potato sack races in the backyard of the clubhouse, and of sharing potluck dinners with people who are legends in our neighborhood.
The arms of time seemed to transcend all boundaries that day as the young and old celebrated this meaningful milestone. The 100 year celebration was filled with many shared memories, stories and much gratitude for the club’s impact on personal lives and the entire community.
The Orchard Homes Country Life Club has impacted Missoula community in numerous ways throughout the decades: donating land for baseball fields on Spurgin Road, sponsoring a horse for the Missoula Carousel (Orchard Belle), helping build the Bonner Park Band Shelter, and starting the first Rural Fire Department in West Missoula. These are just a few of the numerous ways this club has benefited the Missoula community.
Recently, the Club began holding the first Farmer’s Market outside of the city limits. This market continues the agricultural history of the club and offers a great option for fresh produce to many Westside residents. And yup, the club also continues to host wedding receptions, family reunions and other events!
As the club turns another page in the history book it’s looking forward to another 100 years. There is optimism that future generations will continue to honor and respect the meaning of “neighbor” and protect the unique and historical character of the neighborhood. There is also anticipation the building will carry on creating an air of familiarity and hospitality as strangers, friends and neighbors enter this special place and all will be connected to the past and the future of this historic and unique club.
Please share any memories you have of being in the Orchard Homes Country Life Club! And if you want to learn more about the club, you can check out the website (I guess there is a little technology at the club!) at orchardhomes.org or browse through book The History of Orchard Homes Country Life Club by Evelyn Rimel.
Enjoy this blog? You might also like Erin’s previous posts on Saving Money with Christmas is July, 10 Ways to Save WITHOUT Coupons, Drug Store Couponing 101, and Couponing 101 The Basics. AND, be sure to check out the “Missoula Save it Club” on the home page of MakeItMissoula.com (See the Daily Missoula Fix buttons in the left navigation bar) for savings updates throughout the week!
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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques and trying to maintain a well-run, happy and organized home for her family.