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Help planning your reunion is essential for success. And family reunions should involve as many family members as you can enlist to help get the job done. So how do you do it? You step up, delegate and follow up: though that may not be as simple as it sounds. You decide what must be done, what you need help with and what you think others can do to help you. Then, ask. Well, cajole, urge, softsoap, flatter … anything short of begging!

Dorrie Simon, Owatonna, Minnesota, organized a very complicated reunion of family members who 1) had never met to 2) renovate a family cemetery. After the reunion, organizer Dorrie Simon who, months later was still amazed at what she pulled off, sent this email of thanks.

We share Dorrie’s letter as an example of just how many people it takes for a successful event.

“I hope everyone had a safe trip home and you are all filled with the same sense of accomplishment, pride and close family ties that I have.

As well as everything we accomplished in the cemetery, our fundraising was successful! Thanks to your generosity, we covered the expenses of the cemetery cleanup and have some left over to clear coat the stones to help preserve and safeguard them a few more years. Once we have the final expenses paid, the remaining funds will be donated to the Ridge Cemetery Association for perpetual care.

John Camp, who is on the Ridge Cemetery Association board, volunteered to put cement bases on a few of the stones we cleaned and didn’t have time to do bases for.

I can’t possibly thank everyone enough. I am so happy, and have a warm, satisfied feeling of having achieved something great with a wonderful group of very special people. People with such outstanding character that I’m proud to call them family. They say you can pick your friends, but not your relatives. But in this case, I value each of your friendships and couldn’t have picked a nicer group of relatives!

As Bruce Marple said to me in the cemetery, “You are all doing something very good here.” I think that about sums it up.

Besides thanking all of you, my wonderful extended family, I have a couple more words of gratitude.

I want to make sure I thank my immediate family for everything they did to make this past weekend a success. I’m not sure I thanked them enough at the reunion. My brother, Carl, donated all the wood for frames, which helped keep our expenses down for the cleanup. He and Dad also provided the much needed water tank, generator, concrete mixer, tractor, saw horses and planks for our “make-shift” cleaning tables and trailer that brought the concrete, tools and equipment to the cemetery. Besides making the great Wild Plum Jelly, Mom, with my niece Denise and sisters, provided all the cookies, breads, bars, snacks and drinks at the cemetery and DuPree Center. Sisters Pat and Bonnie provided the awnings for our refreshment area and much needed shade at the cemetery. Bonnie also made the cookbooks and buttons and helped me with my accounting. Sister Sherry had all the embroidered and imprinted prizes made with Searl’s Ridge Reunion on them and helped behind the scenes with keeping things running smoothly. And my niece Denise, I couldn’t have done it without her. She spent hours through the summer preparing all the little details that made everything special, from the SEARL bingo to the candy labeled Searl’s Ridge Reunion. She used her vacation days the week before the reunion to get everything organized, secured or made all the game prizes and helped Dad and Carl measure stones and prepare for forms and concrete. And my niece Emily must have spent hours on the beautiful framed hardanger I have to remember this weekend. Nephew Paul took those wonderful aerial photos of the Searl’s Ridge from Carl’s powered parachute that I used on calendars, notecards and books and to map the cemetery. Chris, Kim and Shawn, thank you for coming from school and work to help and support your crazy Aunt Dorrie who always talks about family history. And my husband Steve who has been right there with me these months of planning and preparation. He assured me things would all come together and I wasn’t crazy for attempting such a big event from 375 miles away, even when I thought I’d lost my mind! THANK YOU all!  I love and appreciate you all very much.

I also want to make sure to mention again Nancy & Dewey Wheeler from Aurora, Nebraska who donated over 200 silk flower arrangements for family to place on the stones during the tour on Saturday. What a nice touch to be able to show our respect and reverence to our ancestors by placing flowers at their freshly cleaned graves. Nancy also was in charge of documenting the cemetery, which was MUCH needed, so when she completes compiling everyone’s notes (which is no small job) I’ll send the lists and map to anyone who wants a copy.

I’m not sure everyone realizes that the Roesner/Whites cleaned all the Mavity plot at the cemetery and the Clark family cleaned their family plot as well ˆ adding to the much needed TLC at Searl’s Ridge. These families are part of Searl’s Ridge legacy, so thank you.

We can’t forget the staff and management at Pilgrim Park for hosting our event. A great big thank you to Bonnie for the wonderful meals, Mitch for making sure things ran smoothly, Tara who booked all the rooms and campsites, and managers Jim and Debby Jarvis for opening their arms and welcoming our group to the park. A special thank you to Debby for starting out our workday Friday with a special prayer.

And I think we all join in thanking reporter/detective Jessica Gray from the local newspaper, Bureau County Republican in Princeton, Illinois, for covering this amazing journey and pitching in along side of us. Jessica has been adopted into the extended Searl family.

You’ll all be hearing from me on my book The Searl Five. I just realized last night that I now need NEW photos of all the stones at Searl’s Ridge!  Mom and Denise are going to help me with that. Thom Searl and son Andy volunteered to help me index the book which will be very helpful for looking up specific people. I received 35 orders for the book at the reunion, so hopefully that will keep our costs down a bit as I’ll probably print 50. Make sure you get your family photos and information into me if you want it in the book!

A simple thank you seems so insignificant ˆ but I think you all know it’s from the bottom of my heart.“ Dorrie

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