Planning, Positive Attitude Limits Stress Level Of Family Gatherings

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Family reunions aren't just an afternoon picnic anymore.

Now they are organized events, carefully planned a good year in advance that typically last over a long weekend according to Reunions magazine.

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Hoyt Kenmore

Family can be defined for the purposes of a reunion as a group of people who desire to spend time together.

The individual sending out the invitations must have more specific parameters.

Hoyt Kenmore of Payson wanted to organize a family reunion with people who had the surname Kenmore.

"To my knowledge, every Kenmore descendant in the U.S. comes from either Robert or James Kenmore," he said.

Hoyt Kenmore is a descendant of James. An objective of the event was to meet descendants of Robert and create some familial links that were not there before.

He began by surfing the Internet and pulling the address of every Kenmore in the U.S. He added to the list all the married female Kenmores he could find, then sent out a letter to 103 addresses.

The letter, sent out a year in advance, contained:

  • What -- family reunion;
  • When and where -- Payson, Ariz. over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in June of 2002 and some area attractions and events.

Recipients were encouraged to share the letter with whomever they felt appropriate. In the letter, Kenmore noted that if he didn't get a response, the addressee would not be included in future mailings.

"I had 68 initial positive responses," Kenmore said. He also updated his list with 12 undeliverable and added another 30 Kenmore descendants with different last names.

Kenmore next went to the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and put together packets showing area attractions like the Tonto Natural Bridge and children fishing at Green Valley Park to entice family members to Payson. He sent them to everyone who responded to the first letter. He also had the Arizona visitors center send out their tourist packets.

All told, 70 Kenmore descendants attended the family reunion despite the Rodeo Chedeski fire that was in full blaze.

People traveling from New Mexico had to drive around.

But Hoyt got his wish to meet new relatives as a married couple all the way from Michigan attended with a cousin from Georgia who were descendants of Robert. A couple from Tucson attended who were descendants of James' daughter.

Friday evening was a potluck with lots of desserts. The Galveston cousin brought in shrimp cocktail for everyone while Hoyt took care of salad and soft drinks.

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Country dances around the Rim, such as this one at Bob Kiser's See Canyon Ranch, about 1929, served as reunions of sorts for far flung families and friends.

On Saturday morning, there was breakfast at the hotel. Lunch was food left over from the potluck, and dinner was catered by Cucina Paradiso.

As part of Saturday's educational entertainment, one Kenmore gave a presentation on genealogy that sparked Hoyt and another cousin to have their DNA charts done to study their common genealogy.

"Our first 12 markers are identical, which says that we do have a common ancestor within 12 to 15 generations," Hoyt said.

Sunday's activities included breakfast at the hotel and a church service before the families departed for their homes.

As Hoyt footed the initial $300 cost of the mailings and wanted to create a fund for future Kenmore reunions, everyone who attended was asked to bring something for an auction, and a pocketbook to buy items. There were crafts and family memorabilia. Once family member sold jars of homemade preserves for $8 a jar. The auction raised $900.

"Typically in a family reunion you'll get senior citizens -- because they have more time -- but we tried to organize activities and promote things that would encourage the younger generation to participate," Kenmore said. For his part, Hoyt taught several of the children and teenagers how to auction off items.

"We had a ball," Hoyt said. "It's an event we all look forward to."

There was a Kenmore reunion in Galveston, Texas in 2004 and another is planned for 2006 in Lubbock.

Hoyt said Colorado is under consideration for 2008.

"It depends on who we can draft," he laughed.

Folks interviewed by Larry Basiriscoa for Reunions magazine who had the most successful relationships and least tense moments at their reunions indicated that planning and organization were key.

Local resident Susan La Bonte chose a weekend cruise from Los Angeles to Mexico as the site for her family's reunion.

"The nice part of a three-day cruise is you only have to take one day off of work," La Bonte said.

"The reunion started out as my son's 21st birthday part," La Bonte said. "It ended up being a Mother's Day event with moms and kids and grandkids. It was chaotic but we had a great time."

La Bonte is the usual planner of family reunions over gentle protestations of her husband that reunion planning is too much work. She did have assistance of travel agent Ed Jim with the planning and scheduling of May's cruise which grew to include about 28 family members and their spouses, children and significant others.

The ship was not that big; the three generations kept running into each other, La Bonte said, especially at poolside. At the 8:30 seating for dinner, the clan gathered together. The ship staff brought cake each night as they knew the family was celebrating a birthday, an anniversary and Mother's Day.

Family reunions are held for a variety of reasons. Some people want to get together to celebrate traditions and family roots, others want to celebrate a unique family event such as a graduation, anniversary or memorial.

If you have been chosen as the leader of your family reunion, whether by idea or default, there are some excellent resources available on the web. If you are delegated a task by the leader such as gathering hotel information, printing letters or organizing rides from the airport, one of the websites you can go to for help is www.family-reunion.com. There is a wealth of free information. An article at http://www.genealogy.com/genealogy/46_reunion.html discusses how to pay for the reunion. Family Reunion Organizer is a popular software program.

Kenmore has been delighted with the reunions he has planned, helped plan and attended. His advice for reunion planners is, "Go into it with a positive attitude. You'll get what you expect if you design and plan it that way."

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