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Five years ago, my mom and I started the process of getting all her siblings and their children and grandchildren together. She is one of eight (seven now living), and such a large family coupled with long-standing family disputes, meant that we had never all been together in the same place at the same time. Out of my twenty-seven first cousins, there were at least seven that I had never met. I started by writing letters to each of my aunts and uncles asking for updates for the family tree and letting them know that a reunion was in the works. All were surprisingly receptive and helpful. We went all out for that first reunion - I put our family history together into book form and had it printed and bound, then took orders for the books. We had t-shirts printed up that we sold at a very small profit to build a treasury fund. I read all the reunion books and magazines that I could find, and came up with several "ice-breaker" games, and a cousin who is a teacher organized activities for the kids. We had a white elephant auction, and a family picture after we ate lunch. It went pretty well, people mingled, I met some of the cousins that I had never seen before. Some didn't attend, but that was expected. We had about 90% of the family together that day, and I like to think that my Grandma and Grandpa Gentner were looking down and smiling, if not looking on in awe. My Grandpa died before I was born, and I've always been fascinated with him in a way. Almost everyone even played my games, and maybe even met someone new or learned something in the process. And all but one willingly sat for the group picture. (The single straggler took only a little cajoling to get in the picture.) I got lots of positive, "way to go" feedback. By the time the second reunion came around, I had a three-month-old baby and a little less time to devote to the reunion, but I still worked hard on it. Instead of four games we played two, and I made up a family facts crossword puzzle with prizes. (Which, by the way, took a long time to make.) We still had the white elephant auction and a family photo. Fewer people attended, and shirt sales were very disappointing. The feedback was still positive, but less enthusiastic.
The third year we tried a change of venue. We had built up enough of a treasury to rent a building at a local park, which was nice because of the kitchen and restroom facilities that were right there. We had about the same number of attendees as the second year, a few less actually because we overlapped the first day of a county fair that a number of cousins had to take part in with 4-H. We played two games again, but each had only two contestants. I was so disappointed in that. We did have a cutest baby photo contest that people voted for through the course of the day - about 2/3 of the people voted. When it came time for the white elephant auction, some people who had brought gifts to participate could not be bothered to come back into the building for it, despite several announcements being made, which threw things off. I was most bothered by the results of the family picture though. Every year I make the announcement, standing on a table or chair and using my loudest "outside" voice - but that day it was like some of my family didn't even hear me. Except that I know they did, because they looked at me. They refused to turn around for even one minute so that they could be part of this one little tiny moment in our family history. Three times I asked them, and still they refused. To this day, I cannot figure out why. Is it because they don't really like the rest of the family? They only came to eat and talk with their immediate family? They are actually vampires, and won't show up in a picture, and don't want anyone to find out? I was just so disappointed by that fact.
Our next reunion is in just over a week. We're back to our original location, as the treasury is very sparse, the donations just aren't coming in like they once were. So far, we have thirty-five confirmed attendees, three maybes, and nine nos. I went with evites this year for everyone who uses email. Those who didn't respond at all to that got an invitation in the mail a couple weeks later. Half of those who got evites still have not responded. RSVP's are not required, but are requested so that we know how many plates and how much silverware we need to provide. I'm disappointed by that already, I hope more people decide to come out even if they don't RSVP. We're not playing any games this year, not even our annual "Guess That Gentner" photo guessing contest. We will be having the white elephant auction but I am going to let someone else be the auctioneer this year, so that I can sit back and enjoy the action. My aunts seem to enjoy "stealing" gifts from each other and it can be comical.
Earlier this year, I was able to locate the grave of my great-great-grandfather and found that he has no headstone. I wanted to raise the money to buy one and have it placed there. This idea was met with zero enthusiasm. Well, that's an exaggeration - one person said "That's a good idea" but that was the end of it. I guess I'm passionate about things that most others aren't.
Why are my relatives so seemingly apathetic as time goes on? Is it because the novelty has worn off? Or because they have determined that they really can't stand each other after all? There have been no fistfights, so I consider it a success in that regard. I do my best to include everyone, continuing to send invitations to those who I know won't attend, and trying to make those who do attend feel welcome and a part of the group. I make it a point to talk to everyone at least once.
As for that group picture this year, I hope that everyone turns around.

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Comment by Tara Pfarner on July 18, 2009 at 2:44pm
The day before our reunion, I am encouraged......through our facebook group, I have heard from three cousins that I don't think I would have heard from otherwise, to let me know that they are coming, ask what they should bring, an to spread the word to bring baseball equipment for a game!
Comment by Patti Wilcox on July 9, 2009 at 9:36pm
Wow! Your enthusiasm is wonderful. Don't give up. Perhaps consider these changes: have the reunion every 2 or 3 years. This works well for my husband's family. Keeps it from getting stale. Find the hidden talents in each branch of the family. Size up who has the most "power" in each branch. Then find out their talents: cooking? - help that person collect family recipes over the next 2 years & be the one to organize the family recipes into a book-many possibilities here. Loves kids - games for kids at the reunion that help pull them together not compete - handprint collage that can be copied and made into Xmas or all occaisions cards, etc. That each set of grandparents can hand out and treasure. Tapping into the talents of persons in each branch of the family will give them a sense of ownership and satisfaction and keep or get them committed to your project. Have fun. Let it evolve. Remember "it's a tough job herding cats" and one has to let them come looking for affection at their own pace. . . . but a little stinky tuna never hurts.
Regards,
Patti

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