Longtime Great Falls resident Julie Maher attended one of the first meetings of the Great Falls Grange Foundation, Inc., held earlier this year in the historic Grange Hall No. 738. It is located at 9818 Georgetown Pike, adjacent to Forestville School.
"I had heard about the foundation, so I went to the meeting," Maher said, Recalling that night's presentations, Maher said she made a mental commitment to volunteer for the organization. Maher had no idea that she would transition from volunteer to foundation employee so quickly.
On Oct. 9, 1920, 102 years before Maher made the promise to herself, 29 residents of the village known as Forestville and renamed Great Falls in 1955, applied to join the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. The charter members committed to establishing Great Falls Grange #738.
They successfully bid and joined the Grange that promoted and protected agricultural and community interests on the local and national political stage. After eight years of meeting "in a small schoolhouse, likely the wood-frame schoolhouse ... Cornwell's sawmill... (and) meeting in the auditorium of the Forestville School," according to Northern Virginia History Notes, the Grange hall was completed in March 1929.
The 1 ½ story Grange No. 738 served as the hub of community gatherings until membership declined. The shareholders lacked confidence in their ability to maintain the building adequately. The Fairfax County Park Authority purchased the Grange and the surrounding 7.8 acres in 1980, then closed the facility for two years for repairs leading up to reopening it for public use in 1982.
Maher said she later approached Jorge Adeler, president and principal officer of the foundation. She knew that the foundation's ultimate goal was to transform the Grange into a community center through a licensing agreement between the foundation and the county. Rental fees from performances, programs, and events could reduce community use fees for the venues while ensuring the Grange and Forestville School's operational sustainability.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and space.
Q: In what capacity did you consider volunteering for the organization?
Maher: I asked Jorge Adeler, "Is there somebody in place to answer the phone and respond to website inquiries?" He came back to me and asked if that was something I was interested in doing.
Q: What do you consider to be your three most important responsibilities as the foundation's director?
Maher: First, I must move this project. Fundraising, also known as development, is required for this. I helped the foundation with its highly successful gala. Second is managing administrative functions, the website, and being available to respond to all inquiries. Moreover, we are trying to expand our social media presence. Third is implementing events as a project manager coordinator.
Q: How many hours does the position require weekly?
Maher: It is only a 15 hour per week position, and we are taking baby steps. But we are getting there. I believe that coordinating our efforts with Fairfax County within their parameters as landlords is a significant aspect of my job. Everything we do has to fall within historically accurate integrity. They have been wonderful.
Q: What do you consider to be some winter projects?
Maher: On Nov. 1, we will launch an additional fundraising campaign with a $100,000 goal for specific projects. The exterior emergency generator for the Grange is one project. This is one of our most significant concerns about rental events, particularly weddings, in Great Falls, where power outages are frequent. The installation of HVAC in the school is another project. In addition to exterior and interior painting, the school requires carpentry and exterior painting. The renovation of the Grange's bathrooms is another project.
We are also planning winter programming, including afternoon teas at the school and a concert coordinated with Amadeus. The Saturday following Thanksgiving, we are planning a Cookies with Santa event.
Q: Why did you decide to accept the director position?
Maher: My interest lies in the buildings; these are the facilities I grew up with in Great Falls before I got married and moved away. Now that I am back, however, I recall the country store. It was our neighborhood center. I remember taking ballet classes there. I recall the Fireman's Fair. The structure is extremely important to me. It reminds me of how much fun it was growing up in Great Falls and being part of a farm community in the 1960s and 70s.
Q: What professional and volunteer skills do you bring to the position?
Maher: I bring a business background and the ability to develop concierge-style services to the position. I also have extensive volunteer experience in development, as evidenced by my work with local nonprofits.
Asked to describe Maher, Jorge Adeler said, "Intelligent, energetic, dedicated, and in love with Great Falls are some of the words that come to mind when I think of Julie. And thanks to her efforts and the board's commitment to the Grange, we have more than doubled the organizations that have joined the foundation board in the last four months."
The historic Grange hall and Forestville school, as well as the picnic pavilion, are accepting reservations. The Foundation is seeking volunteers to support a wide variety of service initiatives. CONTACT | Great Falls Grange Foundation https://www.gfgrange.org/contact to reach Maher.