Organizing a Reunion in Iowa
Everyone loves a family, church, school, college, or organizational reunion, right? Wrong! Every reunion has the potential to be a meaningful experience or a total flop in today’s world. Success or failure rests heavily upon the planning. Sadly reunions are simply not meant to some people, but if properly planned a reunion will be a significant experience for most. Why? Most people bask in their memories and love to relive them with friends and family. Good memories are like fragrant lilies that never wane with the passing of time.
People often migrate from the location of their childhood or the original base of their family, and this creates a different dynamic from forty years ago when the population tended to spend their entire life in one city, county, or state. People had fewer commitments, were socially expected to attend reunions, and could be to the designated location of the get-together in less than a few hours.
I recently organized a reunion for a class of thirteen from Yarmouth, Iowa. This group attended school from kindergarten through our sophomore year when our school dissolved because of consolidation in 1961. Yarmouth students transferred to Morning Sun, Mediapolis, and Danville Community High Schools.
I had not seen 8 of these classmates since 1960–a gap of 57 years. I wanted to see every one of these folks but I wondered whether other people felt the same. History and memories tweak the interest of some and bore others.
Floating the Idea–The Initial Communication
Memories teased with ten black and white photos from our childhood were my catalyst to arouse the interest of all classmates on Facebook or for whom I had email addresses. I wrote, “Would you be interested in getting together some Saturday this summer?” Four positive replies flew almost immediately to my laptop via cyberspace.
“That’s a great idea.” “Let’s do it.” “Let me know when.” “I’m in.”
That was great since I didn’t have a phone number of any classmate and the advent of cell phones has made getting a phone number almost impossible. I began to list the steps to make the reunion a booming success.
Planning Ahead–An Event Coordinator
Events demand a coordinator and/or committee to whom everyone accounts for their assigned responsibilities. A committee could meet for planning a large reunion that involves more than fifty people, but for smaller groups, one, two, or three people can plan more easily. In this case, I had no idea who could or would do this, and I love the challenge of organizing an event so I decided to give it a whirl. Who, when, where, and how immediately called for answers.
- A Date that Accommodates the Majority
Most reunions occur on Saturdays or Sundays because of the reality of availability and I picked summer for my personal convenience. I was only one of two that lived outside the state of Iowa and I planned to travel to Iowa for most of the summer. So I surveyed the people who I had already contacted and July 8 for a noon lunch was chosen since everyone was available.
Since everyone can rarely attend on one specific day, it is logical to accommodate the majority. Fortunately, our small reunion of retirees made it easy for everyone to attend with a little adjustment of normal schedules.
- Goal Setting/Purpose/Program
I began to brainstorm what we should try to accomplish with the reunion. We would probably have a maximum of two hours to try to recognize one another. (As it turned out the entire group hung around for over four hours simply gabbing about memories of school together and eventually about our families and retirement.) I was pleased that no one tried to impress the group with their accomplishments.
Putting a name with a face became the first goal upon arrival. The fact that we had been “Facebooking” about the participants, name tags seemed superfluous for a maximum of fifteen people. We could have done something creative like pin the name on the classmate. But I opted to arrive early and introduce the people most unlikely to be unknown by some in the group. There was only one fellow that I recognized by simple deduction. In most cases, name tags are not only helpful but save embarrassment.
Our primary purpose was providing an event when people could get acquainted after so many years. I thought some entertainment might be nice, but any music for a group of people over 55 will likely handicap people with hearing difficulties. Every group of people will have people gifted enough to sing, play an instrument, or tell stories, but that usually draws away from the purpose of informal communication. If the reunion extends over a period of days, then a diverse program including music and dancing, a golf outing, or another event might fit well.
Many reunions may be an annual or repetitive event. If so, some sort of database with contacts numbers and addresses might exist. In our case, I asked individuals already committed to attend to contact people with whom they were good friends in school. People generally respond positively to a personal invitation from a friend. However, it is easy for one assignment to be overlooked so the coordinator should make a call approximately ten days prior to the even to the person making a specific contact to assure it has been made.
Yarmouth, Iowa has declined in population in the last fifty years. It is now a small village of fewer than 100 people. The grocery store, tavern, and gas station have closed. One small restaurant, an elevator, and a fire station remain, so we booked a table at the remaining restaurant that would seat twenty people. Everyone ordered from the menu. We tried to get permission to tour the school that is now privately owned, thinking this would bring back some memories long since forgotten. Unfortunately, it was impossible.
The date arrived and seven of the ten living alumni attended. Memories bubbled out of everyone over the course of the next four hours. It took fifty years to make this happen, but the group appeared healthy and willing enough to do it again in the not too distant future.
Are reunions worth the trouble to plan? The smiles confirm the answer.