Reunions, like family members, come in all shapes and sizes. The first task of those planning a reunion is to decide what kind to have. It can be a huge, joyous gathering or a small, low-key event. It can last for several hours or several days. It can be held on the same weekend every year or once every five years. It can be in Grandma's back yard, or at a dude ranch, or in a large hotel. Some reunions return to the same spot each time. Others move around.
You can start with a small, simple reunion and work up to a big, expensive one in future years. Or, more realistically, a big, expensive reunion can be a once-in-a-lifetime event that could be announced years in advance so that everyone has time to plan and save.
Of course, no matter what kind of reunion you choose to have, the focus is on bringing the family together to celebrate their roots and to get to know each other better.
Your first consideration is the family members themselves -- their ages, agility, disabilities, where they live, their financial resources, and who is to be included. If everyone is to be included -- young, very old, disabled, rich, poor, out-of-towners, and locals -- then the most popular type of reunion is a picnic or barbecue in a city or state park. That's because such a reunion tends to be the cheapest and easiest to plan. However, other options are possible that don't involve too much more expenditure of time and money -- and offer variety and interest as well.
If you would like something other than the usual picnic or barbecue, consider your family's background and interests when choosing the kind of reunion. Ask yourself, what is unique about my family? Do family members have interests in common? If they do, plan your reunion to include one or more of these interests. For example, if your family likes outdoor activity, plan a reunion at a guest ranch, or plan to camp, backpack, or boat. Or plan a reunion around the most popular family sport; it may be on the water, the ski slopes, or the baseball diamond.
If the family interests are more intellectual, a reunion near a Shakespeare festival, a group of art galleries, or an archaeological dig could be a great experience. Another family might want a catered event in a fancy resort with evening entertainment. If the family is interested in exploring its roots, it could meet near the old family homestead, tour the hometown area, travel to the family homeland, do genealogical research, or restore together the family cemetery or the old family home. Another family might be ecology oriented and want a reunion focused on helping the environment in some way, such as building or restoring a trail, helping students catalog insects, or studying glaciers.
We found many families around the country creating reunions based on shared interests. The Hudson Family patterned their reunion after a country fair. This creative family displayed its crafts, art, and collections, including the work of the children. They held classes during the event to stimulate interest in each individual craft or art. Relatives demonstrated, among other crafts, rattlesnake skin-tanning and wood-root clock making. These classes created an appreciation for the talents of family members and passed on skills that might have been lost. Food booths and games added fun, challenge, and excitement to the festive fair atmosphere.
Another family visited the community where the great-grandparents were buried, took pictures in the cemetery, and looked up family obituaries on microfilm in the local library to add to the family genealogical information.
Since the widely-scattered Eymann Family grew up with camping in their blood, it seemed only natural to gather for a camp out reunion. The first one was held on a cattle ranch in the Sierra foothills of California. The family arranged their tents and RV's around a central campfire, covered-wagon style. Ranging in age from three to 80, the Eymann's hiked, panned for gold, and exchanged news as they cooked family favorites on their camp stoves. The most treasured times were spent around evening campfires where everyone sang favorite songs and listened to both true and "tall" tales of the family's past.
As mentioned before, many families have a picnic reunion in a nearby park. This type of reunion, too, can be made interesting and fun by planning special events. The Kuhlmann Family met one year in Faust County Park, Missouri. Their picnic was catered by friends, leaving family members free to enjoy each other's company. The young people played ball, some older folks played cards, but most enjoyed just visiting and getting acquainted.
- join a tour (historical, sightseeing, religious, environmental)
- stay at a guest ranch
- lose weight at a spa
- go on a cattle drive, pan for gold, join a wagon train
- entertain the kids at Disneyland, Disneyworld, or Sea World
- experience the wilderness by rafting down a river, backpacking, or camping out
- live in a Native American village
- rent a houseboat on a lake
- watch whales
- take a riverboat cruise
- go on a bicycle or motorcycle trip
- enroll in a summer class at an Elderhostel or at the Smithsonian
- visit a national, state, or historical park
- bareboat in the Caribbean or in the San Juan Islands
- take a cruise to Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii, or up the St. Lawrence River
- go windjamming
- gather at a church retreat
- attend a YMCA family camp
- take a train ride coast to coast
- attend the Olympics or World's Fair
- meet at Ellis Island
The possibilities are endless.
This article is an excerpt from the Family Reunion Handbook, by Barbara Brown and Tom Ninkovich. Used with permission.