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Huntersville native named State Grange President

By Staff | Apr 14, 2015

HUNTERSVILLE – From the hills of Huntersville to Harrisburg and the halls of government, Elizabeth “Beth” Downey is settling in her new office as President of the Pennsylvania State Grange. She assumed the post in January following election in October and locals are not surprised at the accomplishments of the Hughesville High School Alumnus.

Downey’s life has literally been rooted in agriculture and her family’s long history with Grange. “My great grandparents donated land off their family farm upon which Allegheny Grange stands on Route 864 in Mill Creek Township near Huntersville. The building was originally built as “Farmers Alliance,” however, it eventually became Grange, a more powerful and upcoming rural based organization dedicated to better legislative rights for agriculture and rural areas,” Downey said.

The first female President at Allegheny was Downey’s grandmother, Mary Jane Reiter Anstadt, a school teacher. “I later became the second woman to preside as president there,” Downey said. The grandparents were very involved and several years ago the entire family was honored as Grange family of the year for Pennsylvania, as well as at the National Grange Session in Michigan that same year.

Downey said that, “As a child I attended meetings with my parents. The Grange created 4-H and I grew up in all three Huntersville 4-H clubs that met at Allegheny. I learned patriotism, community service and leadership skills not only at home but through 4-H and Grange. Allegheny did not have a Junior Grange or Youth Grange.

After college and work at the Pentagon (JAG-Army), Downey eventually returned to the area and joined Grange, immediately becoming involved as an officer. Eventually, she was elected several times as President becoming involved at the Stage Grange level first as a member of the Junior State Grange committee, then a Deputy for the State President.

In 1975, during Lycoming County’s bicentennial year, the Anstadt family was awarded Century Farm status. This farm is the current residence for Beth, husband Bernie and Jordan, the couple’s adopted 81/2 year-old grandson. “We kept a beef herd until two years ago when we couldn’t keep up with it anymore.”

In addition to state duties, Downey, her husband and mother became Affiliate Members of the Eagle Grange near Montgomery where she is secretary. “Joining the Eagle, the first Grange established in the state, was to help grow and sustain their organization and its history. I am grant writer for both Granges,” Downey said. For the past 20 years and currently, Downey serves as chair of the Mill Creek Township Planning Commission plus teaches a Sunday School Class at Huntersville Bible Baptist Church.

“My biggest interest in Grange has always been legislation and that grassroots ability to create a resolution at the local community Grange level and take it to the state level and often on the the national level bringing a bill to fruition,” Downey said.

Crediting her grandfather as the source for an inherited belief, Downey said, “He constantly admonished his children, that we could not complain if we didn’t participate in the process. I have never missed an election. My grandma Anstadt was township tax collector for many years and long before that she also made sure women got the right to vote.”

Currently, Downey is working on securing a regional forensic center in Williamsport, a resolution she wrote and passed at state level and now her Government Relations Officer, Betsy Huber (a former state president herself), is working on it. “This interest developed after meeting with County Coroner Chuck Kiessling at various venues where we talked about the desperate need,” Downey said.

Citing her most important goal as President, Downey said, “I hope to revitalize all Granges across the state. I have also begun reaching out to other rural and agricultural related organizations (such as Farm Bureau and Young Farmers) to work together on common legislative and community service issues.”