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More About Where to Have Your Reunion

by Edith Wagner

Let's continue discussing the all-important answer to the question of where to have your reunion. Last time we talked about people who don't have location decisions to make and the benefits of contacting convention and visitors bureaus for help. This time, we'll concentrate on selecting a reunion site.

Site Selection

Deciding where to have your reunion and reserving space early often catches first-time reunion organizers by surprise. Many reunion places are so popular that they are booked years in advance. To capture space in one of the popular places, reservations must be made a year or more ahead. If you have a special place or date in mind, 18 months to two years may not be too early

When deciding where to have your reunion, you should consider both the location and the site. The location is the city, town or area. The site is the facility. Some sites offer just a place to stay, you provide food or make other arrangements for eating. If you want your work to end once the reunion is planned, there are lots of possibilities for you too. Resorts, ranches and cruise ships are typically all-inclusive, providing all meals and many activities for all ages, particularly special programs for kids.

The myriad of choices that you have should add to the fun of making your family reunion decisions. For example, you can consider a hotel or motel, resort, ranch, bed and breakfast, inn, condominium, vacation home or villa, campground, dormitory, or for people who want to be not just close to but ON water, there are houseboats, riverboats and cruise ships. Size, of course, will definitely make a difference for some reunions, which are either too large for a bed and breakfast or ranch or way too small to consider some kinds of hotels. There are also many historic places with period accommodations, including some old army forts and historic inns and hotels.

One way to get ideas is to ask others for suggestions. Talk with friends and acquaintances. You probably know people who have attended or planned family reunions. The benefit of a word-of-mouth referral is that you learn much more about a location from someone else's experience.

Some Ideas from Reunion Planners

Jacalyn Eis, whose family forms a site-finding committee, says if you're searching for a place for your first reunion, you should make your site decision by meeting with key family members. Eis's experience has been that the best sites have long waiting lists for popular family reunion dates. Others can accommodate a reunion with a year's notice. Some popular sites work on a first-come, first-serve basis, but have a long backlog. Eis suggests you not leave your reunion to luck.

The Eis Family Reunion site-finding committee discusses where they want to go and asks willing members to investigate promising locations. Family members all help investigate possible reunion sites. Everyone keeps their eyes and ears open for possibilities. They take pictures, collect maps and brochures, find out about nearby recreation and entertainment, and make extensive notes of their impressions. They feel there is no substitute for visiting a site before making a decision. Some locations will be too luxurious, some too rustic, some too expensive and some just not right.

The Ayers family have held reunions at ranches, national parks, resorts and private homes in Idaho, California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Oklahoma. Relatives come from all over the U.S. and abroad. The Slaubaugh Family Reunion is large, widespread and scheduled every three years. Everyone votes for general location, time and committee chairperson for the next reunion. Locations rotate among North Dakota, Indiana, Michigan and Florida.

Madge Bodtke, her five children, their spouses and offspring chose Christmas week at the Club Cozumel Caribe for their first family reunion in eight years. Many family members are scuba divers. Others wanted a destination where they could swim, sun, sail and relax. Matriarch Madge describes the resort as "a lovely place with friendly staff, delicious food and drinkable water." It offered supervised games, snorkeling and sailing for children, which came in handy when family members wanted to pursue separate activities, yet know that the children were in a secure environment.

Descendants of Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez reunited at Fort Bridger State Historic Site in southwestern Wyoming to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Fort's trading post along the Oregon Trail. The reunion included the Six-State Missouri-to-Oregon Wagon Train. That sort of location can make for an interesting and educational reunion that family members aren't likely to soon forget!

Making Your Reunion Fun (and Convenient) for Everyone

Choose a site with something for everyone, or at least as close to that ideal as possible. It should be interesting and fun for the younger generation. Older members enjoy sitting, reminiscing and talking about old times, but kids (and spouses) get bored and restless. A survey of family reunions reported that 20% of all reunions include a game of golf. If your family members consider golf important, you should too.

Avoid inconvenient locations. If family members all live on the east and west coasts, meeting in the middle costs everyone equally. An alternative may be meeting on the west coast one time and the east coast next.

Many young families struggle to get time off from work and save money to attend the reunion. Choose a site within their budget and with their interests in mind. Keep in mind that you're counting on younger members to perpetuate your reunion tradition so you really want to eliminate all excuses for them to question whether or not they should come. Don't assume parents will or should pay their adult children's way. Such assumptions cause family problems. Scheduling a reunion at a site only a few family members can afford is a sure way to guarantee low attendance and it might cause hard feelings.

Once You've Found a Location…

When you find a place that fits your requirements — reserve it immediately! Take no chance that it may be available later. You may often need to reserve at least a year in advance for popular locations or dates.

When selecting a park site, consider its facilities; restrooms, water, barbecue pits, playground equipment, ball fields, swimming/boating facilities and shelters. If your family reunion includes a picnic, as most do, it is wise to reserve a shelter to compensate in case the weather is less than perfect. Be sure the shelter is large enough to hold your family comfortably. Is it air-conditioned? heated? ventilated? have smoke-free areas? Are there tables and chairs? refrigerators? ice or soda machines? bathrooms? Is there a stage? Is there a sound system furnished with the rental? Can the space accommodate the physically-challenged?

If you are looking for a place for just one day, Beth Gay advises that most areas have buildings available for reasonable fee. Check with civic clubs, woman's clubs, school cafeterias, churches or the park department. Compare prices and features to find what's best for your reunion.

About the Author
Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now. She collects material for this column and Reunions magazine from family reunions and invites you to share your reunion ideas, concerns or questions. You can e-mail Wagner at reunions@execpc.com or visit the Reunions magazine Web site.

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