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Family reunions

Much of the copy throughout this web site is for or from family reunions. These are some stories that did not fit other places on this web site. Each has its own bit of inspiration but many more of these stories are contained within the context of some other topic title.

White family triumph
  Seventy-three members of the White Family Reunion met in Louisiana, where their theme song was We don’t care how you got here, we’re so glad you came.
  The excitement started when family members arrived at the hospitality room to sign in and receive t-shirts, tote bags and nametags. Surprises included members from Texas who received no newsletters but found out about the reunion a couple of days before and came anyway. A connection was made with a “stranger” on the plane who, after conversation, was found to be “kinfolk”; she changed her plans, checked out of her hotel and registered for the reunion.
  Friday there was a Youth Luau around the swimming pool outside the hospitality room. Young people received leis and had games and refreshments. Mostly they wanted to swim.
  Everyone signed a colored flag assigned to his/her ancestor’s name. Flags were placed on a large Family Chart. “Autograph bingo” was a great way for members to get to know each other: a game sheet was divided into squares, with each square containing a description of a family member; the point of the game was to ask individuals to autograph the square that described them.
  A Saturday morning tour was planned. Many members hadn’t pre-registered, and the chartered bus wasn’t large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to go, so several cars formed a caravan behind the bus. The itinerary was to see historic sites in and around Shreveport, but plans gave way to a prolonged cemetery visit at Good Hope. In spite of very hot weather, it was difficult to move the group away from the old school and ancestors’ gravesites. The same was true at the former home of the late State Grant White.
  A banquet was the family’s dress-up affair and showcase for its gifts and talents. Family members received souvenir booklets and other keepsakes. Each child age 12 and under received his/her own personal copy of A Souvenir Booklet for Kids.
  Arrangements had been made with church officials to incorporate the White Family Reunion into a Sunday morning worship service. A brief candlelight service was included to honor the family’s ancestors.
Reported by Gertie V. White, Compton CA

Figuring out family
Melody emailed these poignant questions:
  Is there anything in print that gives SOME guidelines for proper family reunion etiquette with regard to who can attend a family reunion and who cannot? In this day and age, how does one deal with “significant others?” There are folks living together without being married. Some folks want in-laws who are not blood to attend. We understand that step-kids and adopted kids are included that’s not the problem.
Exactly what is the purpose of a FAMILY reunion? The kids just don’t understand what a family reunion is about. They think it’s for entertainment: golfing, horseshoes, pool tournaments, children’s games, with groups off doing their own thing all over the place. By the time everyone leaves, we don’t know much more about each other than when we arrived!
  I am asking because our family doesn’t seem to know these things - especially those in their 30s. They have varying ideas about what is acceptable and what is not. The older and middle generations maintain Christian values, while the younger generation appear not to be so principled.
What is traditional reunion etiquette regarding my questions? Is there an established resource to which we can refer?
  “Who is family?” is one of the most important questions family reunions must answer. Ironically, the real answer is that there are no real answers. Every family is different. There are many, many ways to answer your questions.
  There is no one guideline unless a family chooses to set rules to exclude rather than include members. We are at a time in history when family is where you find it or where it finds you. It can be everyone descended from one ancestor or everyone who knows and cares about a descendant. It can be a group of siblings (which could be the current generation or earlier) and all their descendants. Renowned family therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who lost her entire family in the Holocaust, talks about her family that was made up of friends until she married and began to establish a new family. Children of divorce, for example, are still cousins, nieces/nephews and grandchildren of both families. Some families stay close to ex-in-laws_some even like their ex’s family better than their own blood relatives! Some families include persons too distant to really have a fix on the relationship, or even have so much fun at reunions that they want to include friends.
  One of my cardinal rules about family is that you exclude no one who is related. Some families have relatives who are not favorites, not good role models or tend to embarrass others. Let those people make their own decisions about attending; they will likely not come anyway, or perhaps they’ve changed. As a young person I adored an uncle, a bon vivant who embarrassed his own generation. While they did not welcome him, I loved to see him.
  Most families “deal with” how they relate to one another from the nuclear to the extended family. If the nuclear family accepts significant others or people living together without benefit of marriage, why shouldn’t the extended family accept it? On the other hand, if some members are offended, a very specific decision may have to be made to exclude. But don’t expect the relative in that relationship to be eager to join the reunion. My personal preference is to be as all-inclusive as you possibly can for several reasons. The principals will be happier and the family may well be enriched by these new members.
  As for the activities “golfing, horseshoes, pool tournaments, children’s games, with groups off doing their own thing…” you might give your members a bit of slack. These are precisely the activities that draw younger members. If young people come to your reunion which other organizers would give heaven and earth to even have happen and have a good time, consider yourself a success. They’ll come back if they have a good time and that means your reunion is a success, too. EW

Mary Delight
by Ann More
Family reunions were pretty boring when I was a kid. There was a potluck or picnic, depending on the weather. There was nothing special planned for children. After the meal, the "old folks" sometimes gave little speeches about some ancestor I'd never heard of and couldn't have cared less about. It was a relief to go home!

The one bright spot for me was Mary Delight. She was a spry, angular old woman from Indiana, and her food contribution every year was an enormous bowl – the largest I'd ever seen – of fat, perfect blueberries from her farm.

Her name intrigued me, as did her warm smile and charming manner. I was too shy to approach her on my own, but I hung around the blueberry bowl a lot.

One year she invited my family to come pick blueberries. It was great fun to dart among the endless rows with my brother and search the shrubs for the luscious, frosty-looking berries, stuffing ourselves in the process.

Mary Delight died that year. So did the family reunions. She was the organizer for many years and no one took her place. But I remember Mary Delight. I regret my shyness and wish I had gotten to know more about her.

Now that I am middle-aged I often think of planning reunions. Perhaps there is a "Mary Delight" in your family. Isn't there some way to get children actively involved in getting to know her? Plan a story hour for children at your next reunion. Every family has interesting characters and stories hidden here and there. Heroes and rogues, drama and danger, humor, triumph and faith. I'll bet you'll find a storyteller too - someone with a ready smile and twinkling eyes who loves children and stories.

Maybe he (or she) will pass around an enormous bowl of blueberries – or popcorn – and tell what life was like on the farm where he grew up, and how his big brother caught him smoking behind the barn and "cured" him by dumping him head-first in the manure pile!

If your storyteller is good, get him on video, along with faces of listening children. A family treasure for years – long after the story-teller is gone!

The Best Reunions
by Agnes Konitzer Bridger
Our family is large; our youngest daughter is the 96th grandchild with over 225 great grandchildren. After our mother passed away, the fourteen surviving brothers and sisters decided to get together once a year. In special remembrance of our parents, we gathered for Sunday Mass and sat in the front pews. After mass and dinner at a restaurant, we spent the afternoon at someone's home to reminisce. Everyone hated to see the day end.

After a few years, the nieces and nephews decided to continue the tradition by taking turns planning the annual event and invited the aunts and uncles as guests.

The best reunion was at our grandparents' farm bought in 1889, now owned by a nephew. Three wagons with bundles of hay for seats were pulled by tractors instead of horses. We went through the neighbor's field to the river where we swam so long ago.

That day brought back many cherished memories for those of us who lived on this farm and swam in the river or went down the hill on homemade toboggans.

The tradition is still going strong. What better way to keep our family intact and close?

Renewed interest
Nancy Newman tells this story about her husband's family reunion. Years ago, they had reunions until 1969 when Hurricane Camille destroyed the aunt's house where reunions were held. Reunions stopped. In 1996, when they learned a cousin was deathly ill and would live just a matter of days, her husband said, "we must have a family reunion." They got to work and in about three weeks everything was set. The cousin died the day of the reunion. However, it was agreed that the reunions should continue every year. Everyone brings food and drinks. The ladies visit; the men play cards. The real purpose is to get to know each other again. Newman printed a family tree that spread about 20 feet. Everyone enjoyed looking at it. The only complaints were from some divorced folks who didn't want the spouse shown in the family tree. "Our oldest member is 92 years old. Don't be discouraged, families mean everything."

Most reunion organizers will envy this
We received a lovely note from Al and Essie Morris, Donna, Texas, saluting the great effort of Frank Willis, organizer of the Willis Family Reunion. It is so nice to hear from members of a family who clearly understand that the reunion is an important event that takes much planning and organization to get it right. Mr. Willis is enthusiastic, committed to his reunion and obviously a treasure to his family. Relatives so rarely publicly recognize the specialness of reunion organizers. Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Morris!

West coast branch
The three generation Smith-Sloan West Coast Family Reunion at Point Richmond, California, was formed members who were not always able to travel to the 70 year annual reunion of the entire family in Dallas County, Arkansas.

Another sisters reunion blossoms
Over a decade ago, six sisters from Cresco, Iowa, started annual reunions; sometimes in Minnesota and sometimes at a family cabin on the Oregon coast. One of the sisters, Jacinta (Jazz) Gates thinks there's a need for sisters to draw closer, dispel myths about each other and "discover who we really are." Heal old misunderstandings and rivalries. Fix family fractures. Set an example of family closeness for other relatives. These are times to laugh, cry, reminisce, eat, give each other back rubs, compare aging bodies, ruminate about kids and share dreams.

Jazz Gates along with a group of sister-loving women in Portland, Oregon, has created a non-profit organization which provides services for women that support and enrich family and community relationship. Contact Sisters International, Inc, PO Box 2188, Portland OR 97208-2188; 503-645-8326;

summarized from an article by Jann Mitchell in the Portland Oregonian

More sisters convene
Amy Cordell, Oak Park, Illinois, and her five far-flung siblings have reunited one weekend every year for a decade. There is a 12-year age range so this is their opportunity to know one another as adults.

Their main purpose was to talk. The plan was just sisters, but only brother, John, wouldn't hear of it and pouted until he was included. They skipped the year a sister died of ovarian cancer. Now talking about and remembering her is important.

Sans spouses or children, they meet at a hotel, a mother-in-law's beach house or a sibling's house. If it's at someone's house, the family (spouse and kids and all) retreat to a nearby hotel. Expenses are shared to equalize the costs to those who travel cross-country versus the costs to those who travel cross-town.

Food is not fancy. The first year they bought lots of food, then found they were too lazy to cook. "Now," Amy says, "we chip and dip our way through the weekends."

The Cordell kids have made t-shirts and maintain an unspoken ritual to pass out copies of a favorite book or product; samples of a new hair mousse, a book of ecology tips, things the others will enjoy. One year, brother John found an old manuscript by their mother called "Dear Peabody;" letters from the family dog to the two older sisters who'd grown and left home. John retyped, copied and bound a hardcover book for each of his sisters.

from an upcoming book about family rituals by Meg Cox

And the winners are ...
One of the special features of Wisconsin's Sesquicentennial™ celebrations was a reunion contest. Hundreds of reunions received commemorative certificates. Six winners, chosen for number of attendees, length of time the group has been meeting and activities they planned, received engraved Sesquicentennial medallions. Director, Dean Amhaus says he learned wonderful stories of important celebrations that share great memories and contributions to Wisconsin's heritage.

Family reunion winners were the Pronschinske Heritage Reunion of 1,200 members at their ancestral farm in Montana, Wisconsin; the 65th annual Friedrich Seidemann Descendants of America Reunion of 600 at Ray Seideman's farm in Newburg, Wisconsin; the Voie, Voje, Wole Family Reunion in Scandinavia, Wisconsin, where members toured seven ancestral homesteads; and the 74th reunion of the Treleven Clan in Grafton, Wisconsin, which included two members who attended the first reunion in 1928. Two class reunions were also winners; The Milwaukee County Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1948 and an all-school reunion in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

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