Three tips for planning a memorable milestone reunion

Reaching a milestone birthday or anniversary is an occasion often associated with a special celebration. Marking a milestone family reunion is more than just a number — it honors a deeper commitment for those families fortunate enough to get there.

For my family—the ALAFFFA (an acronym for Abbott, Lizanov, Alzo, Figlar, Figlar, Figlar, Augenstein) Reunion has seen its share of milestones through the years. With reunion number 55 on the way in 2022, we have found a solid formula to make the planning as painless as possible.

Abbott, Lizanov, Alzo, Figlar, Figlar, Figlar, Augenstein Reunion

One of the traditions of the ALAFFFA reunion is to hold our annual event at the 100-Acres House in South Park, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While we changed up the location to some venues in Ohio during our near-55-year run, the consistency of a familiar and convenient location has made it easy for family members to attend. Our first real “milestone” reunion — our 25th — was held at the South Park house in 1992.

For this silver anniversary celebration, we arranged for a caterer, designed our first official t-shirts, and marked the occasion with toasts, a poem, and other tributes. For our 45th in 2012, we held a weekend celebration at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia. With a formal dinner we honored our ancestors with a family tree chart, and filled the evening with special tributes to past ALAFFFA reunions. The longer celebration gave us more time to visit. The format worked so well, we went back for our 50th in 2017 and have chosen Ogelbay as our venue again for 2022. Based on our experiences, here are three tips for planning a memorable milestone reunion.

ALAFFFA reunion

Determine the destination in advance.

Our planning for yearly reunions starts at least one year in advance, but for the extended reunions we plan for two years. As venues are starting to bounce back from the pandemic pause, it is more important than ever to plan ahead to make sure you can secure your first choice of date(s). There are many considerations when choosing a destination—size of your reunion, travel for attendees, cost, accessibility, amenities, and more.

We have one person designated as the planner/contact person who interacts with the venue staff to gather information and negotiate terms and contract. We take a survey at least two years before the milestone event to gather ideas, hear concerns, share preferences and take a vote. Because our venue of choice worked so well in the past it makes it a bit easier to plan for future events in the same location (with adjustments, if needed). A week after our 2021 reunion, the organizer sent an email invitation to all family members to mark our calendars and to make the lodging reservations early.

ALAFFFA photoshoot

Build a budget.

Cost out per person how much each person will pay for the reunion itself (food, entertainment, etc.). For our reunion, travel costs (hotel, gas, airfare, individual meals) are not included in that amount. Make sure the attendees know up front how much to estimate for expenses. One of our strategies over the past several years is to pare down costs for annual reunions and have a fund to help defray the per person amount for the special event. We have done special fundraising to add to the fund, such as auctioning a t-shirt quilt made by one of the senior ALAFFFA members, and a 50/50 raffle. Due to 2020 pandemic circumstances, the reunion that year was small, and we saved a considerable amount of money to have enough put away to cover the per-person cost for everyone who attends.

Attendees will only have to pay for their room, travel and extra meals. For our 55th reunion, we are making some changes. On the Saturday, rather than a sit-down dinner, we will have a catered event between two large houses being rented by two families in our group so we can enjoy the entire day together like we typically do each year. A brief survey is being sent to determine what food and drink will be preferred.

Arrange activities.

A milestone reunion provides many opportunities for attendees to participate in group activities. Trivia, karaoke, games, and sharing memories in a toast can involve all ages. Photo albums and family trees make great conversation starters. For example, at the ALAFFFA 45TH reunion, I presented a slideshow from my trip to Slovakia and visit to the ancestral villages of my grandparents (John and Veronica Figlar) who immigrated to the United States and served as the inspiration for the start of our reunions. I also arranged for a special keepsake called Voice Quilt — a collection of stitched together audio memories recorded by individuals and delivered in a music box. (Note: Voice Quilt shut down in 2013).

The keepsake is held by my cousin who keeps a time capsule of our ALAFFFA memorabilia at her home. For our 50th reunion we viewed a tribute with photos and video clips from past reunions and short video messages from anyone in the family who wished to participate. Such activities can be organized in advance, designed to involve all generations and created with little to no cost. Use Photo editing software such as Vivid-Pix Restore to add new life to your family photographs. Voice and video recording is easy with a smartphone. For video editing there are many free apps or programs available. See “Edit Videos Like a Pro: The 12 Best Free Video Editing Software Programs for 2022” for suggestions.

When it comes to family reunions there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, especially for organizing those extra special gatherings. However, with a solid plan, good communication, and building anticipation for fun activities, it is possible to find the right formula to make some milestone reunion magic.

About the author

Lisa Alzo has been surrounded by family at their 50+ year running reunion and walks in her ancestor’s footsteps, literally and figuratively, as a genealogist, lecturer and writer. Author of 11 books and endless articles for newspapers and magazines, Lisa earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the highly acclaimed Creative Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She works as a writing coach and online educator through her website Research Write Connect