Each year, particularly during reunion season (between Memorial Day and Labor Day), I receive many questions from desperate folks who have discovered a last-minute task. Requests for toasts, invocations and welcome words are among the most regular questions. If you are looking for such words, take a look at the summer issue of Reunions magazine .
Meanwhile, in this column I'm going to share the answers to some additional frequent questions, and hope these help save you the time of having to wonder.
Q. Larry E. Montague, President of The Montague Millennium Reunion, Memphis, Tennessee, was planning a large family reunion. Under normal circumstances he would have been able to handle a project of this magnitude, but unfortunately health problems made it difficult to follow through with everything that needed to be done, so he asked this question: How can I find someone who manages family reunions?
A. I urge you to survey your own family for capable assistants and perhaps even some leaders to be groomed so that you can be an honored and revered guest at your own reunion! You were wise to be working over a year in advance which certainly helped recruit family members because they realized that they still had time to get things done.
Montague had not said if the reunion was at home or away. In either case, direction is also probably available from the convention and visitors bureau in the city where it's going to be. In addition, most cities and many vacation areas have companies called "destination managers" who will see to the details of your reunion. Many cities have party planners, and even wedding planners can probably be enticed into a reunion during a slow period. Finally, many hotels/resorts have a person in their sales department designated as a reunion specialist who can take care of many of your needs.
Q. Theresa McSpedon wrote this question: What are some new ways to help ease the financial burden of travel for family members living far away?
A. There are lots of possibilities:
- One family that meets on the east coast has east coast members paying for hotel rooms of the west coast members who have to fly out.
- Do auctions or raffles at the reunion to offset some reunion expenses to lower the cost for everyone.
- If your reunion is every year, perhaps planning a reunion every other year would allow some members extra time to save for the trip and expenses. Also, don't always expect distant members to be able to afford every year.
Q. Jamila Z. Sloan, Jones Family Reunion, San Leandro, California, asked: How do we get more family to show up each year and more members interested in planning reunions? She wrote, "Our family has an annual reunion around Kings County, California. Fresno, Visalia and Lemoore have hosted our reunions. We choose locations where family members live and were raised. Reunions last one or three days when we go camping.
"We plan with a Family Reunion Committee. We auction a family quilt every year and recently started a newsletter. I have added an information page to my homepage, with pictures of past reunions. We organize children's games and have started a Youth Committee. Reunion responsibility used to be the draw of a name out of the hat to choose the reunion head but we hope to have elections soon."
A. This may be a good news, bad news response. The good news is that Sloan seems to be doing everything right! She started out asking how to get more attendance then wrote her own answer by listing what she does which is very thorough and obviously has many fans. She should be proud of what she's accomplished and satisfied that she obviously has members who are as enthusiastic as she.
Congratulations on your obvious success: enjoy it!
For members who do not attend, her newsletter and new committees may help. "Peer pressure" might also help. Ask brothers, sisters and cousins to contact their peers who aren't coming, ask why and encourage them. If they don't come, have a super time with those who continue to come. Use your enthusiasm to recruit cousins and encourage them to start taking responsibility for the reunion.
Ask brothers, sisters and cousins to contact their peers who aren't coming, ask why and encourage them.
Q. Jacquelyn Robinson, Oak Park, Illinois, wrote, "I organize the Barren Family Reunion each year in Morvin, Alabama. Our connection to the land is so important that we won't consider moving the reunion. Efforts to change the date (fourth weekend in July) meet with significant resistance. The problem is it's hot as heck in Alabama in July. Morvin is a tiny town of less than 1,000 people and there is no public facility to accommodate us. Any suggestions for dealing with the heat at our family picnic? "
A. Reunions magazine has never before been asked about how to combat heat. But something tells me someone somewhere has solved the problem. Have you tried tents or generators for fans? By the way, it's hot as heck in Wisconsin in July too! There are probably not many places to escape except to Australia where it's winter.
Q. Eula Forsythe, Waring-Gelsthorpe Family Reunion, e-mailed, "I had never met my first cousins, scattered around the world years ago. In 1994 I decided to have a reunion. We did and it worked. They came from everywhere. The first year I made a booklet of family history highlights. In 1996 I produced a great family cookbook with help from everyone, everywhere! The next year I scanned baby pictures of ones attending. For our reunion next year I hope to create a remembrance. I think they expect it now! I am so fortunate to have an abundance of pot holders and hankies of my grandmothers all new ó hand made with love. Thought that might be neat for me to add for the kids down the line. I'd like to send something home with everyone. Do you have any suggestions? Please help!!! "
A. Hand fashioned pot holders and hankies from grandmother is a SPECTACULAR idea! Perhaps some handwritten/copied stories to go with these treasures would be a nice addition.
Forsythe continues that members of her Waring-Gelsthorpe Family Reunion "appreciate what I do so much ó that makes it fun! I seem to be the spoke on the wheel! I love it and several of our kids came to our last reunion uniting the next generation!"
You are very lucky to recognize that. Often many families don't recognize even a small fraction of the work it takes to pull off a truly successful reunion.
Q. Joyce Wicks, of the McElroy/Peltier/Yarberry/Maples/McMahan/Orr/Ore/Fleming/Large/Byrd/Atchley and More Family Reunion wrote, "We've had two family reunions. The first was a big success. Over 100 people came. The second, two years later, was nice but only half the number of people came. It is like pulling teeth to get people to participate or even to come. Most of the older members of our family have passed away. We cousins are getting older too. Please, give me some tips on how to make our next reunion interesting and appealing to all. I need some kind of structure too and tips on how to pass this on to others. I'm getting burned out because of lack of interest. I really don't want to see our reunions die already."
A. Yours is not an uncommon problem nor is it one that can't be overcome. You don't say what was different from the first to the second reunion. Were there differences? If not, perhaps that's one thing to consider. Activities that intrigue might be part of what you should consider.
Were kids a focus? Usually families with kids are very interested if there are clearly activities to make kids happy.
But perhaps most importantly...like I am trying to convince my best friend...is that the number of people who attend is not nearly as important as that those who do have a terrific time. Those who don't attend will surely get the message that they missed something wonderful.
The number of people who attend is not nearly as important as that those who do have a terrific time.
Also, if you're burning out, are you doing it alone? Get others involved with tasks that they can do, love to do, are particularly good at or have a talent or skill. Delegate. Flatter your family by recognizing and utilizing their talents. Then, be sure to honor and acknowledge them in newsletters, on fliers and invitations and at the reunion. After that, when you ask again, they'll say yes. You may even get volunteers who say they can do it better than anyone else: let them!
If there are more people involved in details, there will be more ownership of the reunion. For each person helping you, there is a family so your numbers already go up and everyone who "owns" the reunion will be talking to others.
Q. I'm planning my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary reunion for family and close friends. I'd like to put together a memory book, requesting thoughts, wishes, stories, and pictures from guests. Any tips?
A. Start early. Talk to people right away to get them thinking. Send a letter that makes all your wishes, desires and limitations clear. Emphasize a deadline. Include a stamped self- addressed envelope to persons who would have a problem assembling them. Be specific with some folks who either have special pictures or special experiences ó ask them to include those stories or copies of those pictures. People that might have such information are members of their wedding party and early neighbors. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. Don't paste anything down until you have everything,g but do lay it out as much as possible. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. Good luck.
Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
And on Another Reunion Topic!