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What Should We Do at the Reunion?

by Edith Wagner
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Break Down the "Long-Time-No-See" Barriers
Runion activities help people get to know each other and keep people entertained. Learn from experienced reunion planners what works and what doesn't. If you've been doing the same activities for years, update your plan with these expert tips.

It's high season for reunions and everyone's scrambling for activities. Eat, drink and be merry apply, but a reunion requires a bit more to keep everyone happy.

A golden reunion activity rule is to try to plan something for everyone — well, almost everyone. Many reunions leave formal activities to chance and each year Reunions magazine hears from organizers who are disappointed at low turnout. They are hesitant to change "the way we've always done things." A very important consideration for keeping reunions fresh is do something a bit different and unexpected.

If you aren't making very specific activity plans for the children attending, you are either very sure of yourself or you're in for some level of disaster and some pretty unhappy kids. Happy kids make happy relatives and, thus, a happy reunion! It's probably last minute for this year, but here are some quickie examples to help with ice breakers and activities.

Ice Breakers

It is important for the person who facilitates ice breakers at your reunion to be enthusiastic and have an attitude that sells the group on the fun to follow. However, be sensitive to your group and don't overdo it. We learned some of these ice breakers at the wonderful Share the Secrets conference at the YMCA of the Rockies, sponsored in part by Photos by Dill in Estes Park, Colorado. They describe these as "great ways to break down the long-time-no-see barriers."

Learn About Everyone
Circulate a roll of toilet paper and ask everyone to take some squares. When everyone has squares, ask everyone to tell as many things about themselves as they've taken squares. So if Auntie Erika took seven squares, you'll learn seven things about her. The facilitator should be first to demonstrate how the game works.

Learn Peoples' Names and Hobbies
Ask everyone to stand in a circle facing in. Tell members each person is to say his/her name and pantomime a favorite activity or hobby. "My name is James." Everyone says, "Hello James." Then he acts out his hobby: piano playing, fly fishing, tennis, golf. Everyone guesses until they guess James' hobby and his turn is over. When the game is over, you should know everyone's name and hobby.

Time to Scramble!
Get everyone onto their feet and form groups based upon things you call out. For example, everyone with blue or brown eyes. Once the group is formed, call out something else. Everyone who likes baseball or chess or Nintendo. Everyone whose favorite movie is Gone with the Wind. Everyone who loves lasagna. Everyone who loves to camp. Before long lots of people know lots about lots of others!

The Pandemonium Approach
This is an ideal way for generations to mix. Pose questions to your group then, let everyone circulate and ask the questions of others. When did you first fly in an airplane? Have you ever used a computer? Do you remember the first auto or TV? Have you ever ______? Do you remember _______? When did you _____? Instruct members to query folks they don't know well to learn more about them. After the pandemonium, ask everyone to tell something new they learned about someone else.

Variations on a Theme of B-I-N-G-O!

The Winston Family Reunion leaves nothing to chance — or maybe everything! At the banquet of their three-day bi-annual reunion, the Winstons indulge in a night of Bingo Madness. Over the years, the bingo game has become the special extravaganza of Andrew Walker. He constructed the bingo set, purchased a permanent hopper and balls, gathers prizes and calls games. These are some of Walker's best Bingo Madness secrets: He suggests preparing a souvenir grab bag for all participants. He solicits small prizes in advance from all branches of the family and also asks each family to bring one $5 gift. Once play starts, he lets winners choose prizes — they're age- and interest-appropriate.

Walker lets everyone mark a "bonus number" along with the freebie on the center of the card. If the bonus number is called as part of the winning row, he gives a second bonus prize. He also adds a special "Black-out Jackpot." Each participant pays $1 for each card they play (enthusiasts take several) and the money is used for a cash jackpot.

In her book Family Reunions & Clan Gatherings, Shari Fiock suggests a family name Bingo game asking each player to write his/her name on a piece of paper, fold it and drop it into a container. Then, give each person a sheet of paper divided into squares (12 minimum, 100 maximum). Players circulate the room collecting a different signature in each square. This is good to do as people arrive or during a reception. Then, the game can be played and completed right away or can be continued at a later time. To play, provide enough dry beans to each player. Draw and announce names from the container filled earlier; continue drawing names until someone has a row covered. As each name is called, ask the person to stand.

Skits and Entertainment

Alexandra Walker Clark shared details about the "Walker Follies" — skits, music, and especially story-telling by older folks. Before the reunion, Clark and her children wrote a skit depicting her great grandfather's 1872 arrival by covered wagon at the old farm, now Audubon Acres near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her son, Liam, starred as his great, great grandfather while daughters Sarah and Amanda dressed in calico and portrayed his covered wagon with two hula hoops and a bed sheet (Sarah's brainstorm). The kids became hooked on family history. The Follies also included humorous contributions from the younger generation and wonderful stories from family matriarchs and patriarchs. Other entertainment included lively fiddle music, a sing-along, and a genuine virtuoso on the saw.

A Potpourri of Reunion Activities

When we met Elizabeth Bishop Palmer Gay, editor of The Family Tree in Moultre, Georgia, she was organizer of the Gay Clan Reunion. She loves door prizes and suggests accepting anything from fresh squash to afghans to assorted mouth-watering baked goods or t-shirts. Put paper and a supply of sharpened pencils next to a sign that says, "Free door prizes, register here" Then, make the drawing the last thing you do at the reunion because folks will stay for the door prize drawing. It's fun to see how excited everyone gets over winning a prize of any kind.

At dinner, Gay suggests, ask those over 70 to stand and be recognized. Serve them first. Award ribbons or prizes for sack, three-legged and spoon races. Rent a big screen TV and VCR. Encourage family members to bring tapes of weddings, last year's family reunion, birthday parties, etc. It's something everyone gets to enjoy and a God-send in case of inclement weather. Ask attendees to wear "old time" outfits to add to the fun. Highlight your ethnic customs and traditions. This makes everybody proud of their heritage - and makes the reunion more interesting. Whatever your heritage is, study it, learn it and celebrate it!

Doris Curless, Lowell, Indiana, reports that there's no "down-time" at Lindsey Family Reunions! Activities keep everyone involved, including team games, contests, bubble-blowing, volleyball, swimming, water-balloon tossing and — of course — eating and visiting. At one reunion, the Richardson Clan branch of the family provided materials for T-shirt painting. Old and young designed their own shirts and then hung them to dry for all to see. A pinata bash highlighted a Sunday picnic.

And What If, God Forbid, It Rains?

The Brolras are the masters of making rain into rainbows. Many had never met when they had their first reunion of six cousins who had grown to a family of 29 members. For that first reunion they were trapped by a three-day storm. Their plans for fair weather had included boating and golf but instead group activities were moved to a large suite.

Karen Robertson, Wildomar, California, took charge and improvised the first Indoor Brolra Olympics. Everyone old enough to walk was included. There were individual points and team points and to keep score large butcher paper sheets were hung on the wall.

Robertson's contests included humming, apple peeling, peanut pushing, weight guessing, egg carrying, bubble gum blowing, musical chairs and measuring team members in a contest of "how long are we?" They also made toilet paper mummies of some members, played board games, had a sing-along, talent show and, of course, an elaborate awards ceremony. Robertson also divided the room into activity areas so in one corner card games were going on, in another a TV, in a third chairs were arranged in conversation grouping and the fourth corner was for snacks.

Very philosophically, Robertson suggests that you not let the weather spoil your reunion. "Being trapped inside allows people to get better acquainted and can be great fun." And finally, she suggests getting a "meeting room situated over a carport (like ours was) or we probably would have been evicted!"

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How-To Article: Icebreakers — Warming Up the Family
How-To Article: Encouraging Family to Volunteer at the Reunion
How-To Article: Learning From Your Reunion

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