8 tips for a great family reunion

  1. Plan ahead
    Start at least six months and as much as 18 months ahead. The more complicated the reunion, the more planning time it takes. Family members need time to plan vacation time off from work and to save their money to attend.
  2. Delegate
    Don’t try to do it all yourself. It’s a FAMILY reunion so get the family involved! Draw on strengths. Does your aunt love to cook? She can organize the food. A travel whiz can find a destination, reserve rooms and help people get there.
  3. Location and length
    A reunion can be an afternoon or a week. It can be informal or a cruise or destination reunion.  Find out what family members can afford and how much time is ideal.
  4. Don’t overplan
    Some family members will want to just hang out and talk and reminisce or look at old photos. Others want to play games or go for a hike or a movie. Allow for some spontaneity.
  5. Include all generations
    Adults plan reunions, so they plan things they want to do. Remember that kids may not know other family members, so plan fun activities. They will remember how much fun they had and that will motivate them to attend future reunions.
  6. Communicate
    Use technology to keep people posted and get them excited as the reunion draws near. Send teasers and updates. Create a family website to post details, photos and family history updates.
  7. Get professional help
    Hire a caterer if you don’t have time to coordinate food. Charter a bus. Hire professional entertainers. And for more complicated reunions, hire an event planner.
  8. Document family history
    Reunions are a fabulous opportunity to interview family members about their lives and family history. Make your own videos. Take photos. Or hire a personal historian (find one at personalhistorians.org) to create a legacy project that can be shared with future generations.
    From an AARP blog by Amy Goyer.

Family reunions worth the effort

It is always worth it in the end, as we all gather and catch up with each other’s present lives while simultaneously passing down the family folklore to the generations coming after us.

Samuel T. Gladding, professor and chair of the counseling department at Wake Forest University, notes, “If you don’t have some exposure to extended family, you will never truly get to know them. It takes time, effort and expense to be in the same place with them. The dividend is that you get to know them and then you can build a relationship. That’s how people grow.”

It is especially important for seniors to have the opportunity to share their stories with the younger generation. One of the developmental stages of adulthood is engaging in storytelling and reminiscing. As we age, the desire to share our wisdom increases, and what better place and opportunity then when the whole family is gathered around the pool or campfire?

We sadly lost my uncle this year, but my nephews can repeat verbatim his stories of being a tail gunner in World War II and of flying several combat missions, including “D-Day.” Hearing these stories from their great-uncle Jerry will keep him alive in their memories.

More reunion tips:
The family reunion is a perfect time to learn about what runs in your family. Health issues such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and many others have genetic propensities, and to know your family history about some of these chronic diseases may give everyone the motivation to alter behaviors and make healthy choices regarding diet, exercise and smoking cessation. You can begin right at the reunion with family games involving physical activity.

Mom’s Rx is to first understand that finding the time and place to please everybody is impossible, so be happy if the majority attends.

Try and rope in several family members who will share the organizing.

Plan ahead to give members ample time to arrange for time off from work and save money to attend. We have ours every other year on the same weekend.

Peters 2014 Family Reunion Jeopardy board
Peters 2014 Family Reunion Jeopardy board

Plan activities that make people laugh together-cousin Joey creates a “Jeopardy!” game complete with lights and buzzers and questions focusing on family trivia.

Get everyone psyched leading up to the reunion. We have a family Facebook page and lots of group emails are circulating this week.

My husband (an outlaw, no less) wrote the official cousin’s club song, in rhyming verse, that includes every family member’s name. He has updated the song for each reunion over the last 27 years. Having an anthem carried over from year to year adds to the ties that bind.

From a story by Lynda Shrager in the Albany Times Union, Albany, New York.

How to organize a family reunion

While there is no English counterpart for the German concept of “gemutlichkeit,” the word roughly translates to a feeling of warm friendliness, like wearing a favorite sweater or, as Paul Liepe said in his opening address at his family’s 150th reunion, like being surrounded by family.

“People are feeling sort of disconnected right now, and I think that the family really wanted to get together,” said Liepe, who grew up in Hamilton Township but now lives in Virginia. “A lot of the more senior folks in the family were very emphatic, saying we simply have to get together.”

The reunion came about because of Liepe, the family’s self-appointed historian, who wrote a history of his family in North America. In researching the book, many of the older family members expressed interest in getting the family back together for a reunion.

Liepe began the festivities with a brief presentation of their history, giving awards to the oldest and youngest family members and those who traveled the farthest and least in getting to the celebration.

At 98 years old, Helene Young is the oldest. She still goes out for daily bike rides and picks up trash near her home. Young married into the family in 1938.

Among the happiest to be reunited were Carol Schaab-Gressman and Kathy Schaab-Parnell, who were moved to California as toddlers when their mother abruptly left their father. The sisters said they knew nothing of their paternal family until about six months ago, when Schaab-Parnell made an account on ancestry.com, finding she was part of a family tree made by Paul Liepe. She contacted him and was invited to the reunion.

While it was an afternoon of fun and fellowship for all, few at the reunion got to understand that feeling of gemutlichkeit quite so well as the sisters.

“It’s just fabulous,” Schaab-Parnell said. “These people are everything I expected them to be – warm and loving, and like there was no passage of time.”

From a story by Braden Campbell in the Taunton Daily Gazette, Taunton, Massachusetts.