Warning: This post is written mostly for my future research and may therefore be rather boring. But if planning a reunion is something you are thinking about you may want to read on.
I started planning my first reunion last October. I had been to several in the past but with my passion for family history I wanted to see if I could spin my hobby into a possible future career.
I bought several books and scoured the web for tips and advice. My biggest obstacles I felt were; 1) the fact that I lived 6 hours away, 2) money constraints, and 3)I have a toddler. Our family has a facebook group and through that we settled on the last weekend of June for our reunion. BTW, FB has been a great way to find relatives and then to keep up with them. I then sent out save-the-dates via the facebook page, email, and what addresses I had.
The next step was settling on a venue. The best venue I remembered was at the York County Fairgrounds 4H building but when I called it was already reserved for that weekend. The second place that interested me was Wessel’s Living History Farm nearby. The atmosphere would have been perfect but I knew that the temperatures at that time of year would likely be triple digit and there was no A/C in the barn where we would be meeting. There was also no kitchen facilities so it just wasn’t practical. The third idea was Bradshaw’s Community Center. It was actually closer to where the family had “grown up” and the town where many had gone to high school. Also, because one of the relatives still lived here we could get a discount which made it only $250 for 3 days ($100 of which was a returnable deposit) Other options were explored but the Community center met many of the criteria I had established. The venue was perfect other than not having a grassy area to play games. And Sunday after lunch everyone there really pitched in to clean up and we did a great job and did it quickly. I did add a tour of Wessel’s Living History Farm on Friday afternoon. The kids and adults alike had a great time and learned alot about what Grandma Mabel’s life may have been like.
Next I started working on a program of events. and started trying to drum up interest and hopefully find some volunteers. I desperately needed a “Voice” because mine is quiet and I am just very nervous speaking in front of people. In the beginning I thought I had this covered but my volunteer changed jobs, moved and wasn’t able to attend and I didn’t really have a back up plan. I asked around when we got up there and the choice whittle down to karaoke or bingo. To me, karaoke is only fun if you’re drunk otherwise it turns into a kid only thing or just very awkward. And as most of us are not drinkers I leaned more towards bingo. And that worked out just fine. Everybody from the children all the way to Aunt Iona and Aunt Opal who are 90 had fun playing bingo and it was a good ice breaker. The rest of the door prizes were given away this way.
I also needed “food” people. This is an area I feel more comfortable with but again I was 6 hours away and already had so much other stuff to do I was really looking to delegate. When no one volunteered to take over, my next choice would have been to hire a caterer but I didn’t think the budge would stand that. I decided that I would just wait until I there (a day early) and work on it then as I would by then hopefully have a better idea of quantity needed). For Friday, I bought deli trays and chips and dip and made tea and lemonade which worked out great. And thankfully, Diana Schulze stepped in and took over in the kitchen. She planned Saturdays meal and even Sunday’s potluck. And helped supervise the cleaning of the kitchen which took a huge load off my shoulders.
The third area was games. I had lots of ideas for games but once again I was stymied by distance and not being familiar with the venue. I envisioned horseshoes, croquet (my grandma’s favorite game), tug of war, etc… But when I got there I discovered not only was it 100+ degrees but also, while the center had a great playground there was no grassy area for games. I did bring games for indoors and others did as well and they were enjoyed by all. The kids had a blast playing outside and in the gym, and Cindy Johnson brought games and more fun stuff for them to do. I had brought color pages and crayons.
The fourth area is where I spent most of my time planning and it is an area I feel most comfortable: Displays and prizes. My task for displays was to take my years of research and put it into an interesting format. I printed out family tree charts: the descendant chart starting with our pioneer ancestor was over 30 feet horizontal but only 2 feet vertical. I played around with it, trying to make it more vertical but had no luck. I also mad some ancestor charts going back to our immigrant ancestors. Another display was a laminated U.S. map where I used different colored markers to show the route each branch of ancestors took to get to Nebraska. Then I had a display about all of the twins in the family, a display with pictures and records of Grandma Mabel as a teacher, A display about the old cottonwood tree we all loved (my dad even gave me a piece of bark from it he had saved), A display about my Grandpa Leo and his airplanes, a display about the Bradshaw tornado that started on the Tracy farm, several scrapbooks I had made, My big book of family charts and sources, a notebook of all of the land records, a notebook about our immigrant ancetor, Teague Tracey and the first famous Tracey in England – one of the knights who killed Thomas Becket, the story with obits about the accidental death of baby Ray, some of my blog posts, The will and probate records for Frederick Erxleben a German immigrant, books and magazines I like to use, and some other pictures I had enlarged. Many of the door prizes were taken from the display, like the model plane, a scrapbook I made, some of the framed pictures, etc… Other people brought displays as well – Bryce’s granddaughter brought John Wesley Tracy’s first mailbox, Edith Chapman brought some deer antlers she had inherited from a deer that was hit by a car driven by Hal White and Ivan Tracy (?), others brought scrapbooks and picture displays. This part of the reunion really went well! I had also ordered a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of the reunion which was displayed and given as a prize. Then there were a couple of nice displays that we raffled off. Aunt Mary Richard made a beautiful red, white and blue quilt which we all signed and Wanda Marget made a rug off a loom that had belonged to someone in her family. The flag probably would have made a good raffle item as well. Beside the registration table I also had a table set up of things for sale, blank trees, frames, bound descendant reports, CDs with pictures, and notecards made from some of the old pictures (my favorite item).
That brings me to registration. This part had me worried, very few people pre-registered. I think maybe 14. So I drove up there really not having any idea how many people were coming. I estimated at most, 100 so that is the number I prepared for. It ended up being 68 and that included children and all of the people that dropped for an hour or two. I did really good in the beginning about recording names and money but then people started coming in and just handing me money for different things and I know I didn’t get it all written down. I do know I ended making more than it cost. The raffle was the biggest money maker at $245 and I did sell quite a bit of stuff off the table.
For me, the best part was Sunday. I had envisioned in the beginning being able to meet at the church where so many of our ancestors had worshipped and then touring the cemetery where they were laid to rest. I was able to secure the building for the day and I planned to meet there at 10:30, sing some hymns and have a short sermon then tour the cemetery and have a picnic before going home. Well, I never secured a preacher and the building didn’t have air conditioning and it was just too hot for a picnic. But I just believed that things would work out and they did, wonderfully. We met at the church and Wanda and Pam led in a few hymns, Aunt Opal played the old piano. Then they called all the children up to sing a few old songs. And we all realized that they were the 6th generation to worship God in this church. There was just an awesome spirit there that morning. I had asked on FB for anybody that wanted to to say something about legacy or about their memories that morning since we didn’t have a preacher. Aunt Opal spoke about playing the piano there as a teen, about her grandma and grandpa on the front row and about getting saved. Then Aunt Edith spoke about getting married there by her Uncle Everett and Aunt Opal said he had told her she was the second girl he ever married – so Edith was the 3rd. After that my mom got up and spoke for about ten minutes on “Legacy” and about what we had received and how we should pass it on to the next generation. It was a great word for the day. Cousin Trudi prayed the benediction and we went outside to take pictures on the steps. Many of us then made our way to the cemetery to view the many ancestors buried there. The kids thought it was great! After that some of us went back to the community center for a potluck, (Jill brought some awesome pulled pork sandwiches) and then we cleaned up, locked up and said our goodbyes.
So, my take away from this, as a planner, was plan like people are going to show up and the money will come because more than likely it will all fall together. Next time I will have a back up entertainment and food plan in case nobody steps up but invariably somebody will. In fact, I was constantly remembering my Aunt Terri (other side of the family and also a genealogist) telling me that when she had a reunion she didn’t worry about money or planning things out too much because most of the time people were so happy to be there they handed her more money than she needed and entertained themselves. And that is so true. I also need to work on finding my “Voice”. If I ever plan to do this professionally I may need a loud partner.
And BTW, if you are wondering what I am going to do with the extra money well I am hoping it is enough for Marshall Tracy to take the DNA test for the Tracy Surname Project. Right now I am researching the best company to do that with and the cost associated with it. And if you are a Tracy or a Rusler relative and would like any of the things I was selling please let me know. I can make you some great family history Christmas gifts.