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Timing Your Reunion

by Edith Wagner
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How Long Should Our Reunion Be?
Did you know that almost half of all family reunions are held on an annual basis? If you're considering how often to hold your family reunion or how long it should be, Edith Wagner has some ideas for you. Find out what to consider and check out a proposed timeline for planning your next big get together.

In this column I'm going to talk a bit more about the timing of reunions following an earlier column about choosing a date that answered the question "When should we have our reunion?". This time we'll discuss how long and how often, and we'll lay out a timetable for planning.

How Long?

The length of your reunion will depend on your family's wishes and desires. Over 70% of respondents to a study (by East Stroudsburg [PA] University/Reunions magazine) about family reunions reported that they devote two or more days to their reunion. Many family vacations are reunions or include reunions as a significant part of their plans. While many reunions are still a single day, more and more last from Friday through Sunday. Some families meet even longer. A whole week is not unusual.

The three-day weekend reunion gives everyone a bit of a respite, a mini-vacation. There's plenty of time for visiting, touring, enjoying sports and games, a banquet, cookout or picnic...or all of the above! If members travel any distance, a longer stay makes the effort worthwhile with plenty of time to visit and relax before the return journey.

How Often?

Frequency and interval is also a matter of personal/family preference. Almost half (46.2%) of all family reunions meet annually, according to the East Stroudsburg University/Reunions magazine study. That is a substantial number of people for whom family holds great importance.

Many families convene for one day annually. Annual reunions of immediate family — grandparents, their children, spouses and grandchildren — are opportunities for parents, siblings and cousins to spend time together. The Seideman Family Reunion draws in excess of 400 members from about two dozen states and up to three foreign countries annually to the family homestead near Newburg, Wisconsin. For a crowd that size an advance contingent spends up to three days before putting everything in place for extensive historical exhibits, registration and food/beer sales. Other choices for reunion frequency, according to the above study, are 28.2% of families meet every two years and 10.4% every five years. Every two or more years gives everyone a chance to save for a great reunion vacation.

Frequency is a serious consideration for the reunion organizer. One year passes quickly while two years may give you some extra breathing room. After organizing a reunion for 500, Carmen Turner of Key West, Florida, knew she needed a respite before taking on another Allen Family Reunion. Another family experienced so many funerals in a short time that at first they thought a reunion would be too expensive for everyone. But instead, they used the experience to count their blessings and meet even more often. Lee Lybarger, Delaware, Ohio, helps with two family reunions. One insists upon meeting at the same place every year on the same July weekend. Attendance, according to Lybarger, is suffering. To increase attendance he suggested having the reunion every other year, but they want no change and are stuck on their traditions. He also helps organize an every-other-year, one-day reunion where he'd like to increase reunion time for folks to get better acquainted.

Frequency also depends upon the willingness of volunteers to ease the burden of organizing. Many families have members who are great at juggling all the details and can handle an annual event. We salute those energetic folks!

Reunion Timetable

These are suggestions for steps and the time it takes from the time you start your very first reunion. For someone organizing a reunion with a history, this list is also good for checking your progress or as agenda considerations for committee meetings. If your family has a newsletter, include some of these steps from time to time. Family members can better appreciate what their part is, if they know what you need to do when. For example, they might return reservations and t-shirt orders if they realize your deadline date is not arrived at arbitrarily.

24-18 months before your reunion...

  • Determine interest
  • Talk to other reunion organizers
  • Attend a reunion organizing class, workshop or conference
  • Start mailing list
  • Form reunion committee(s) and establish responsibilities and schedules
  • Keep records of everything
  • Develop budget and bookkeeping system
  • Contact convention and visitors or tourism bureaus
  • Scout locations, facilities

One year before...

  • Set date(s)
  • Choose location
  • Send first mailer; tentative reunion schedule and plans (tours, souvenirs, memory books), theme, and approximate cost
  • Arrange or hire entertainment, caterer, photographer, videographer, printer

6-9 months before...

  • Send second mailer; include registration and souvenir order forms and cost
  • Send announcement to Reunions magazine
  • Schedule events and activities — program, speakers, awards ceremony, tours
  • Reserve block of rooms
  • Begin souvenir directory/list of attendees, memory book

5 months before...

  • Confirm reservations, entertainment, photographer, caterer
  • Choose menu
  • Announce event to local news media, elected officials

2-4 months before...

  • Meet with hotel staff, visit facility with reunion committee
  • Select decorations, theme, signs banners and order printed items
  • Reserve rental equipment
  • Submit personalized souvenir order (t-shirts, mugs, caps ...)

6 weeks before...

  • Complete directory/memory book; deliver to the printer
  • Write checklist for reunion tasks
  • Designate assignments for reunion volunteers

2 weeks before...

  • Purchase last minute decorations and incidental supplies
  • Reconfirm meeting, sleeping and eating accommodations
  • Review final checklist

The day before...

  • Determine location staff contacts for your reunion
  • Solve last-minute problems
  • Review final details with reunion committee

Reunion day(s)...

  • Set up registration tables, rental equipment, displays
  • Juggle details; volunteers, food, photographer, games, entertainment
  • Decorate

Enjoy afterward...

  • Reflect and evaluate — note what worked, what didn't
  • Complete bookkeeping; settle accounts
  • Write thank you notes to volunteers, hotel staff, caterers
  • Start planning your next reunion
  • Now, Some Ways to Use This Timetable

Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

You get the idea. Persistent followup now is the only way you'll stay on schedule. Printing projects need ample production time to assure delivery before your reunion. If you don't follow up now, you may need to skimp later on proofreading time and one last opportunity to catch a fatal editorial flaw (though that's still a couple months off)! You also need adequate time to develop a catchy layout. Follow up will get you a more thorough response with enough time to produce a product you can be proud of delivered in plenty of time to be distributed at the reunion. Be aware that if your directory or memory book is delivered too late for your reunion, you'll also incur the cost of time and money for packing and shipping later.

Nail Down the Details

This is also the time to secure those persons, events and activities that need reservations well in advance. If you have special programs or speakers that involve persons outside your family, you'll want to know that they are available for you when you need them.

  • Are you hiring a magician for the children? Reserve early to get just the one you want.
  • Are you arranging a tour that requires some custom features of special importance to your family?
  • A historian or guide to enhance your own family anecdotes?
  • Are there special facilities or opening a building for which extra custodial help might be needed?
  • Are you hiring a special vehicle, bus or a boat?

If these are all things you're thinking about but have done nothing to assure, now is the time to get on it! Many plans and good intentions are stalled because the person, place or conveyance simply was not available. What they say about early birds, applies equally to reunions (without the worms).

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• Have questions about researching your family history? Browse through our expert tips archives for answers.
How-To Article: Family Reunion Fundraising
How-To Article: Thinking About a Reunion?
How-To Article: The Size and Shape of Your Reunion

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