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ajrsmom 06-05-2004 08:26 AM

Fantastic Family Reunions
by Kelly Huckaby

The summer months are fast approaching, and with them comes the desire to reconnect with family members. There's a good chance that you, like millions of other people, will do your reconnecting at a family reunion. "The summer months are the busiest time for reunions because school is out," notes Deanna Jagemann, a former reunion planner. If you've been put in charge of organizing this year's big event, try out a few of the ideas mentioned here.


Reunions take a little planning. Deanna recommends that people plan reunions at least one year in advance, if possible. This allows for families to receive the best group rates for resorts, cruises and hotels. While you are planning your reunion, consider some of these ideas to help your event be truly memorable:

Create a newsletter to be mailed twice a year: one month before the reunion and five months after. For the "Before the Reunion" mailing include the date and location of the upcoming event, information for those needing overnight accommodations, items that family members may need to bring, and a list of activities planned for the reunion. For the "After the Reunion" mailing include highlights from the reunion, updated information on family members (like new addresses, births & deaths, marriages, etc.) and any plans already made for the next event.

Have each family group wear matching, solid-color T-shirts. Personalize them with family group names printed on the back of each. Ajay's family made their T-shirts extra special. "The design was appropriate to our immigration history," says this pastor's wife, and mother of two from Minnesota, who writes and teaches. "Our parents all came from Norway to a small town in North Dakota. The design included the family name, national flags, and a background map with a bright arrow going from the town in Norway to the town in North Dakota."

Family Photos
Family members can bring pictures from the past year for a Reunion Photo Album. Designate someone to bring it to each event for updating, or create a new one each time to present to the oldest family member in attendance.

Covered Dish
Unless you are having the meal catered, each family will probably need to bring a covered dish to pass. A nice addition to any family meal is the exchange of recipes. Request that attendees bring a dish that is a family recipe. One person can then compile those recipes and pass out "cookbooks" at the next reunion!


Fundraisers can take on various forms and the money raised has many uses. A family fund has been created by the extended family of Teresa, a small country store owner and mother of three from North Carolina. The money they raise at their reunions is used to help a family member in need (one year a cousin's home burned down) or it is donated to a charity in memory of a family member who has passed away during the year. But, for most families, the funds raised are used to offset the costs of the reunion itself. Here are some creative ways to raise those funds:

Each family member brings an item to donate and tickets are sold for a dollar each. Numbers are then drawn, and when your ticket number is called you get to pick an item from the table. Some families have two categories: one for adults and one for children. "Each child is guaranteed a prize," states Kelly, a home daycare provider and mother of two from Michigan. "The money from the raffle goes towards the rental of the pavilion and the meat."

Similar to a raffle, this activity also includes donated items brought by family members. Instead of picking numbers, family members bid on each item and out-bid each other. "We generally end up with enough money to pay for postage, the rental of the picnic area, and sodas for everyone to have a couple," notes Bonnie, a homemaker and mother of three from Pennsylvania. Some of the money raised also goes towards purchasing prizes for the kids' games.

Have each family bring a card table and set up "booths" for various carnival-type activities. Face painting, Ring Toss, Sink-the-Putt, and Fishpond are just a few ideas - be creative! Party supply stores and mail order companies offer inexpensive games and prizes for you to choose from.


What to do with all those children? They'll only sit still for so long before they get fidgety, so you better be prepared with some activities for them. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for others:

Kids' Table
A table set up with activities for children can be staffed by teens. "We're still trying to find ways to make it more enjoyable for all age groups," says Dianne, a commercial banker and mother of one from New Jersey. One thing they tried was having the children write essays. Each child then reads their essay aloud and receives a prize for writing it. Other popular activities for the Kids' Table include: creating a personal family tree; crafting a dream catcher; word puzzles using family names; guess-the-number games using candy pieces or marbles in glass jars; and scavenger hunt lists with plastic bags.

Sawdust Game
"[The sawdust game] is the most famous part of the reunion" according to Jeannie, an Executive Assistant and mother of two from California. One person is in charge of bringing a truckload of sawdust that is dumped out on a big tarp on the ground. Small treats like wrapped candy, coins and small party-favor-type items are then mixed into the pile. Everyone then gathers around and they take turns (youngest to oldest) digging through the sawdust for treasure. "Sometimes there would still be people digging through the sawdust hours after the main dig," she said.

Moving Games
A game that keeps the kids moving is a sure winner at any reunion, especially if it helps them to sit still later for the meal. Bonnie was in charge of buying prizes for the kids' games for more then ten years. Favorite games that her extended family enjoys playing are Duck, Duck, Goose; Pop the Balloon; Peanut Scramble; and Simon Says. "Anything so that all the kids get a prize," she said.


Kids aren't the only ones who enjoy a good game and a good laugh. Many families use these activities to keep the adults entertained:

Talent Show
Jeannie's family really enjoys participating in these shows. Kids sing songs they've learned over the past year, cousins perform dances, and uncles sing silly songs in opera-style voices. Everybody who wants to can get their fifteen minutes of fame.

Another tradition for Jeannie's family is the Saturday night sing-along. "After dinner we gather around the campfire and sing all kinds of campfire songs," both silly and sentimental. "It was such a wonderful tradition," she added.

Sports Competitions
Softball tops the list for games, but there's also horseshoes, volleyball, badminton, Frisbee, tennis and golf. Even horseback riding, boating and skiing are popular according to Deanna.


All the activities mentioned so far are a wonderful way to fill up the day, but be sure to work in some unstructured time as well. "Having down-time with family members is also an activity that is requested," states Deanna. "Time to sit around with photo albums and home movies is desirable. It can be the most rewarding time of the reunion because people recall their memories with their family members." If you need a few ice-breakers to get the conversations and memories started, try these:

Award Ceremonies
Purchase inexpensive, small trophies or create certificates for this fun ice-breaker. Find out who in attendance traveled the farthest? Who has the most children? Who is the oldest? Who is the newest member of the family?

Make a New Friend
Let your family members know that there will be a test at the close of the reunion. Each member will be required to introduce one new friend that they have made that day, and tell how that friend is related to them. A variation of this would be to have someone make up a list of interesting facts on 10 people. As family members mingle, they can be finding out who matches each fact. Be sure to award prizes to the people who get all their facts straight.

"What's in Your Purse?"
This is a fun way to see what/if things have changed over the years. Compare what different female attendees have in their purses. What types of things does great-aunt Nancy carry in her purse that the younger mothers don't? Do the younger members carry any modern technology in their purses that their grandmothers didn't?

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to relax, have fun and take lots of pictures. Keep it as simple and stress-free as possible, and be sure to delegate responsibilities. Remember, it's a family reunion!

ajrsmom 06-05-2004 08:27 AM

When, Where and How Long?

When should you plan to have your reunion? Where should you hold it? Should it be one day? A weekend? A whole week? The answers to these questions depend on how far your family members will be traveling, and their financial limits.

“For families spread around the country, I recommend at least a 4-5 day reunion,” states Deanna Jagemann, owner/manager of Memorable Family Reunions ( “If members are within a 4-6 hour driving distance to the reunion then 3-4 days is recommended.” Families that are generally all located in the same area often opt for one-day gatherings.

Popular holidays to plan your reunion around would be Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Some families choose to have their reunions the same time each year, such as the second Saturday in August, and at the same place, such as a local park. You can contact the Park Department to reserve a picnic area in advance.

If you’re having a weekend reunion, consider reserving sites at a campground. Variations on this idea would include renting houseboats on a lake or cabins in a park.

If you’re interested in having a weeklong reunion, look into locations that offer more local activities, such as Dollywood, Disneyworld & Disneyland, ski resorts, and even places like Milwaukee, WI, during Summerfest.

Whatever you decide, keep in mind the financial abilities of all family members. You may want to have your reunion every other year, or even every three years, to give members time to raise money for expenses. If you want to have a set expense limit, consider holding a reunion cruise. “Cruises are, in my opinion, a very good choice because you really can’t go over budget,” notes Deanna. “Everything is included except for tips.” There are also activities scheduled for all age groups, from kids to seniors. Since the ship’s crew plans everything, all you have to do is enjoy yourself!

Food for out-of-town reunions:

If you're attending a reunion this year and need a dish to pass that doesn't require refrigeration (because you are staying in a hotel, motel, etc.) try one of these ideas.

* Bread or rolls
* Cookies, candies, treats
* Caramel Corn
* Fruit Basket (apples, oranges, pears, & bananas)
* Box of crackers and jar of flavored peanut butter
* Volunteer to bring the paper plates, utensils and napkins
* Pick up a vegetable platter at a local grocer on the way to the reunion

If the majority of your attendees are staying in hotels, consider having everyone pitch in to pay for one catered meal. Or, if your group isn’t too large, you could all go out to a restaurant for the main meal.

Reunion Bread

A hidden almond creates a fun tradition with this bread. Whoever finds the almond will organize next year's reunion, clean up this year, or be in charge of the bread next year! It's up to you what the almond means.

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 pkg. active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup margarine or butter
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3 cups whole wheat flour

* * *
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp. margarine or butter
1/4 cup pesto, purchased or homemade
2 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

* * *
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese (2 oz.)
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1 whole almond
1 beaten egg white
Sesame seed
Caraway seed
Poppy seed

In a large mixing bowl mix 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and the yeast.

In a medium saucepan heat and stir milk, sugar, the 1/4 cup margarine or butter, and the salt till warm (120 to 130 F) and margarine almost melts.

Add milk mixture and whole eggs to flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping constantly. Beat on high speed 3 minutes. Using a spoon, stir in whole wheat flour as you can.

On a lightly floured surface, knead in enough remaining all-purpose flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise in a warm place till double (1 to 1 1/2 hours).

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan cook onion in the 1 tablespoon of margarine or butter till tender; set aside. Combine pesto and walnuts; set aside. Combine cheese and mustard; set aside.

On a lightly floured surface roll dough into a 16X12-inch rectangle. Cut into three 16X4-inch strips.

Spread onion mixture down the center of one strip, leaving the edges clear of filling. Spread pesto mixture down the center of another strip. Spread cheese mixture down the center of remaining strip. Place one almond in the center of one strip.

Brush the edges of the strips with egg white. Fold each strip over, enclosing filling and forming a rope. Pinch edges to seal.

Shape one rope into a ring and place, seam side down, in the center of a lightly greased large baking sheet. Form the remaining 2 ropes into rings so they intertwine with the center ring, like the links of a chain, placing them seam side down. Seal ends well. Cover; let rise in a warm place till almost double (45 to 60 minutes).

Brush dough rings with beaten egg white. Sprinkle one ring with sesame seed, one with caraway seed, and one with poppy seed.

Bake in a 375 F oven about 25 minutes or till golden, covering with foil the last 10 minutes to prevent over-browning. Cool on a wire rack. To freeze, wrap the loaf in freezer wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, thaw in package for 1 hour or heat in a 300 F oven about 20 minutes. Makes 1 large loaf (30 servings).

Reunion Snacks

1 stick melted margarine
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1 package graham crackers

Carefully separate crackers and place on a large cookie sheet or biscuit pan. Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil. Use a teaspoon and spoon hot mixture over crackers. Spread evenly. Broil 5 minutes, watching carefullynot to let burn. When cold, store in cookie can. Keeps well.

Printed from the "Comforts of Home" Newsletter. To join this newsletter:

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