Grandma Wilson Parry had just one rule at family reunions: no talking politics or religion.

That rule remains the key component for many successful family reunions, said granddaughter Karen Morey, Omaha author of "Celebrating Our Connections."

Almost any family -- regardless of how big or small, easygoing or opinionated -- can have a successful family reunion, Morey said.

The four key ingredients of a great family reunion:

  • A plan
  • Advance notice
  • A budget
  • Plenty of food

That said, plenty of Journal Star readers shared their secrets and tips for planning and putting on the perfect family reunion.

Their suggestions:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Make arrangements and let family members know.
  • Keep it affordable. Meals can be potluck; lodging can be shared cabins.
  • Don't do everything yourself. Ask for help.

"Reunions are best done when ruled by consensus," said Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine. "Once people start helping out they feel greater ownership in the reunion."

Trust that people will come through, Morey said. Avoid stepping in and taking over.

  • Give everyone a job. Assign committees to handle field trips, games, contests, entertainment, shopping, etc. Share the daily chores of cooking and cleanup.
  • Plan something for everyone. Ask people what they want to do when they come, Wagner said.
  • Schedule activities, but keep it flexible. Give people the freedom to opt out. Lincoln's Elizabeth "Betsy" Howe suggests having several activities going on at the same time.
  • But don't plan every second. Let people do what they want, too, Wagner said.
  • Be open to trying something new.

"Things can become a tradition very quickly," Morey said. "One person comes up with an idea and runs with it and everyone loves it."

  • Communicate frequently. This includes the months before the reunion and during the reunion. Morey's family puts out a newsletter. Howe's family posts a calendar of events.
  • Set aside time for family pictures.
  • Plan activities to break the ice. Journal Star readers offered many suggestions for not only helping people to get to know each other, but also to develop lifelong bonds and an appreciation of their family history:

- Create a family DVD photo album.

- Make family reunion T-shirts. Families of each of the 16 original Franssen siblings wear different colored shirts.

"That way you can tell who belongs to who by the color of their shirt," said Timothy Franssen of Lincoln.

- Make a big poster of the family tree.

- Have each family make a family crest.

- Design family souvenirs. Franssen's family creates an 18-month calendar of all the birth dates, death dates and family milestones. The Hernandez family of Gering hands out a family book, telling how Lorenzo and Josephine immigrated to the U.S. Subsequent pages show the family tree for each of their children.

- Host an auction featuring the products of family talents - quilts, paintings, photos or foods. Use proceeds to help fund the next reunion.

- Hold a "white elephant" gift exchange.

- Have a family talent show.

- Hold contests, such as cake decorating, family trivia and family crest making.

- Take historical tours of old family homesteads and cemeteries.

- Set up a family museum.

- Have activities that salute family heritage, such as old-time dance, crafts and games.

- Play games, from poker, cribbage, golf to Cranium or even family take-offs of TV game shows like the Newlywed Game or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

  • Accept the fact that attendance may never be 100 percent.

"And that's OK," Morey said. "Don't waste energy feeling bad or angry that they didn't come. If the people who come have an amazing time and everybody talks about it, people who didn't come will make sure to get to the next reunion."

Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

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