Reunions Have A Variety Of Values

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Photo courtesy of Tim Ehrhardt

The mandatory group portrait taken at family reunions is a great way to remember distant relatives, and, in time, may serve as one of the few connections those attending have to their heritage.

Recently I had my 10-year high school reunion. It was probably the first time that the magnitude of the whole “reunion” thing hit me. Sure, back in 2002 we had a family reunion back in Wisconsin for my grandfather’s 90th birthday, but high school reunions have a way of hitting particularly close to home. So I thought that this might be a good time to write about reunions in general as they relate to history.

I Googled “historic reunion” and I got a page of pretty much music-related results, featuring at least three mentions of Bill Gaither. To which I thought, “who?”

Reunions tend to come in various forms. There’s the long-lost reuniting within a family, say a long-lost brother or such. There’s obviously the musical reunion — one thought I have is of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel getting back together. There are the school reunions, which have created a business segment in and of themselves with a number of organizers out there. Lastly there are the more regular reunions — old-timers’ games, stuff like that.

One question I thought of was: Do reunions themselves have historic value? This is subjective, but I’d say yes, but not as a rule.

I’m a big baseball fan, so I think of baseball reunions. The first hall of fame induction ceremony created a picture that’s now pretty historic. At the close of Yankee Stadium recently they brought back many old Yankees on the field. Even though I am not a Yankee fan, I thought that was pretty neat. I guess that means there is a certain production value that can add or diminish the historical importance of a reunion, at least from a broader view.

Historians often love reunions. You get a bunch of old-timers in one place, especially if it’s over a few days, and you can get a lot of material, or at least some good contacts with people who’ve “come out of the woodwork.” We have those around here: the rodeo reunions, the recent CCC gathering and other old-timers’ events. Again, production value counts on how “memorable” one of these things become, particularly in the present time.

The people involved also matters.

Some of you may have heard of Mark Goudeau. If you don’t recognize that name, you may know him by another term: the alleged Baseline Killer.

Goudeau’s a graduate of my high school, Corona del Sol. Thankfully he was some 15 years before me. Now that would be an interesting high school reunion for someone to cover.

Unfortunately, my class has a jailbird too. A track star from my year is in the midst of a stint in a California jail. This one’s really a shame too, because he was good enough to have been invited to the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. We had a letter from him at my reunion. It was interesting.

Notable folks also can make high school reunions noteworthy, especially if numerous “famous” folks came from the same class. Keep in mind that “famous” is a relative thing.

If I’d been able to find a story about Sampson Elam Boles’ 10-year high school reunion, I would have been thrilled. I guess it goes to show that you never know who’s going to consider you or your friends “important” 50 years from now.

Should a local historical society get a copy of a “bio book” from a high school reunion, even at only the 10-year mark? Oh yeah.

Let’s look at it this way. We have another bio book for the 20th reunion, another at 30, another at 40, and still another at that magical 50-year mark. That’s going to open up some wonderful comparisons, a great way to look back in time. People can study the different influences and things like that. If you had those for every class for a 10-year period, some interesting comparisons would come up.

Plus there’s the genealogical aspect. Some folks will keep their bio books, some won’t. But that doesn’t mean that someday their children or grandchildren won’t want to take a look.

As a historian, I know just how easy it is to overlook the present. We’re looking for stories from the past, stuff that we can write about. But we have to remember the future historians and try to make their work easier.

Lastly, the family reunion is important to talk about. There are a variety of resources online that can help you plan your reunion. The Northern Gila County Genealogical Society at 302 E. Bonita St. in Payson has information available, as well as folks who can give you some advice.

My thoughts from experience are this: I think it’s important to have a good written piece that anchors the reunion. When we celebrated my grandfather’s 90th birthday with a family reunion, everyone had his autobiography available for him to sign. We’d also previously had our genealogy on that side of the family covered quite well.

In retrospect, we should have also put together some sort of update for the previous publications, as well as made new copies of those older works so that those in the family who didn’t have them, could get a copy.

I think we could have also coordinated picture distribution better after the reunion. I would suggest having one person in the family who everyone submits a copy of their pictures to, and letting them distribute from there.

Also, don’t forget about the local historical and genealogical societies. Make sure you give a copy of items to them as well. Who knows, a historian may be writing about your family in 50 years.

For more information on the Web, you can visit the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society at http://users.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~azngcgs/; Planning a Perfect Family Reunion at http://genealogy.about.com/od/family_reunions/Planning_the_Perfect_Family_Reunion.htm; and Family Reunion Guide at http://www.familyreuniontips.com/

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