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More Reunion-Planning Ideas
by Edith Wagner

Following a recent column, I received a lengthy e-mail message from Barbara Hammond about her Hammond Family Reunion. She wanted to share some important ideas from her experience and granted me permission to share them with you as well.

Tried and True Ideas for Planning and Activities

Mrs. Hammond:

I have been deeply involved in the annual reunion of my husband's family. One of the first things we do each year is send out announcements confirming the date. The reunion is at Spencer Park Pavilion in Belvidere, Illinois, but as a county park, they don't accept reservations from year to year. The first business day of the new year is when reservations are taken so the date decided upon at the previous reunion might not be available. Announcements are a good reminder for people who want to schedule vacations that include reunion day. I believe communication is the key to getting people involved. So in addition to the confirming note sent in January or February, at the latest, we send another reminder with more details two weeks to a month before the reunion.

September 9, 1998

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Edith Wagner, Reunions Magazine:

We could not agree more that communication is key to a successful reunion. Once you've experienced success, members look forward not only to the reunion but also to your reminder notes, newsletters, or postcards. Having your reunion the same place or weekend each time is no assurance that members will remember. There was never a party without invitations, and reunions are no exception.

Mrs. Hammond:

Funding issues have become a thing of the past since we initiated an auction. Besides giving people a chance to get rid of their white elephants, show off their creative talents (ceramics, sewing projects, homemade stuffed animals, dolls, woodworking, and silk flower arrangements) and culinary prowess (cookies, candy, canned goods, and bread), it is a lot of fun. Struggling young families can feel free to come and have fun without paying. We emphasize that attendance is the prime goal. The "family fund" supplies meat and drinks and everyone brings a side dish to share.

Edith Wagner, Reunions Magazine:

It sounds like the Hammonds have great participation in their reunion. The more people are involved in any way, the greater ownership they feel. This brings more participation and dedication to the event, as well as dedication to the family. Having an opportunity to share talents, skills and homemade products adds to the richness of the reunion and to the personal esteem of each contributor. In this case individuals can "show off" while donating to an important cause: their own family.

The Hammonds are also sensitive to the needs of members with limited resources. The youngest families and oldest members are often least able to afford reunions. Recognizing that and doing something about it assures greater attendance.

Mrs. Hammond:

As for activities, people are encouraged to bring treasures to display on a table reserved for memorabilia. We also play bingo and you'd be amazed at how thrilled anyone is to win any kind of trinket. In addition, a horseshoe tournament with cash prizes is a big hit. Children's games or stories...tug of war...20 questions...these are all things we've enjoyed. We let the Macarena craze slip by so there is talk of having a Macarena contest this year. Several, in fact, by age group.

We have presentations and prizes for different things, sometimes just awarded randomly to someone who came, other times for people who've come the farthest or are youngest or oldest. We may even announce the names of all the women over 70 or draw a name for the sexiest grandmother or some other fun, laugh-provoking idea. It always produces a lot of joy.

We also take many, many pictures. Some are displayed on the memorabilia table in future years. Our first video was made in about 1986 when the brand-new video camera was used by a first-time cameraman. There are many pictures of walking feet and dizzying cement, but it is still interesting to see. In addition, we'll collect genealogical information at the reunion to update the family history.

Edith Wagner, Reunions Magazine:

Planned activities are essential at all reunions. When we hear from people who fear their reunions are dying we often discover two things. 1) They think swimming and softball are enough to entertain (particularly) kids and 2) they haven't asked members what they'd like to do. The same place and weekend are fine from reunion to reunion but not planning age-appropriate activities can result in disastrous outcomes.

Reunion Themes — Go Hog Wild!

For a different twist on your usual reunion, have a theme. It's relatively easy to carry out and is sure to add to the fun.

Jean Wolf Kirschenman says her mom and aunt went hog wild with a pig theme for their Robinson Family Reunion. Everyone got a good snort out of it. Invitations were pig cutouts with a pig sticker for each family to use as a reminder on their calendar. Food related to the theme as well: BBQ pork loin and ham sandwiches, pork and beans and pig cutout cookies. Everyone was encouraged, of course, to pig out.

Their program included readings and poems about pigs, plus songs like Old MacDonald Had a Farm and a hilarious pig round to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. There was even a Hog Calling Contest with a representative from every family. Prizes consisted of pig-themed towels, pictures, figurines, salt and pepper shakers. Decorations included pig paper towels in the bathroom, strings of pig lights in the kitchen and a talking ceramic pig who greeted members as we arrived.

The Potter Family "milked" their reunion theme in newsletters, invitations, on t-shirts and in goody bags that were filled to overflowing with items with cow designs on them. Cow jokes and references, posters of cows, cow erasers and koosh cows, were all part of the fun. The reunion and its clever theme will not soon be forgotten.

Themes Galore

If your family celebrates its ethnicity at reunions, there are many possibilities. An Irish family might concentrate on the color green or the Irish flag colors of red, white and green. Or, they could celebrate St. Patrick's Day — even in July or August. Goody bags can include buttons that reinforce pride and even include in-laws (Honorary Irishman, Irish for a Day); mugs or glasses; green derbies; stickers for the kids: leprechauns, pots of gold, shamrocks; chocolate coins from the pots of gold, shamrock-shaped things like erasers, cookie cutters; maybe even little shamrock plants that will be a reunion reminder for a long time.

Every four years you can celebrate the Olympics when you'll find Olympic logos everywhere — from partygoods and decorations to lots of souvenirs, toys, trinkets and knickknacks. You can also expand upon this patriotic theme with flags and items with flags on them.

More fun themes:

  • Crazy costumes; outrageous ties, crazy sweaters, silly socks, denim and diamonds, vintage clothing from other eras
  • Flamenco fantasy; gypsy music, mantillas, castanets, Flamenco dance lessons
  • Pirate party; costumes, eye-patches and sabers, a treasure hunt, Caribbean foods
  • Old West/Wild West; cowboy garb, ropes and horseshoe decorations, barbecue on a trail and horses, if you can!
  • Gatsby party; everything and everyone in vintage white, with a gazebo close by, croquet, champagne and a 1920s car, if you can get one.

If your theme includes costumes or some special accommodations, announce it well in advance so everyone can be prepared.

Plan Holiday Themes a Year in Advance

Planning themes takes lots of creativity ...and time — at least a year ahead to make it a thorough, authentic event. Announce your theme a year in advance and you give everyone the benefit of "the day after" the holiday sales. For example, if Halloween is your theme for a June reunion, give members time to plan their costumes. Use the day after the actual holiday the year before your reunion to shop. Buy decorations, costumes, paper goods (plates, cups, napkins), banners, posters, garlands, prizes, presents...stock up for your theme.

Christmas in July is a popular theme particularly for far-flung families who know they can't spend the holiday together. By the same token reunions that celebrate Christmas at Christmas can benefit from the same advance planning. Everyone dreads the rush the day after, but you'll find nothing for Christmas in stores in July which, of course, is why advance thought to holiday themes is important. Auction items can be bought during the season. White elephants can be chosen and set aside when other holiday paraphernalia is packed for the next year. At a Christmas-in-July-themed reunion, you can include decorations, stockings, a gift exchange, cut and decorate a tree, and even make ornaments.

The Lambert Family Reunion is regularly on Thanksgiving day in Louisiana, with the holiday providing the theme. They have a handmade family tree with leaves colored and designed differently for each branch of the family. Name tags in the same color and design link each member to the family tree. The family also does memory baskets for special family elders. Every holiday has reunion theme possibilities, think about yours this season.

Another Fun Web Site

You don't often cook for a crowd the size of your family reunion? Give yourself a break and get food catered. Check out www.kfc.com for portion sizes when you're feeding your reunion. There's also a contest for reunion hints with food prizes. Take a look!


About the Author

Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now. She collects material for this column and Reunions magazine from family reunions and invites you to share your reunion ideas, concerns or questions. You can e-mail Wagner at reunions@execpc.com or visit the Reunions magazine Web site.
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