The reservations and confirmations are complete, the cousins from far-flung corners are on their way, the family matriarchs and patriarchs are primed for storytelling and the weather’s predicted to be picture-perfect. The family reunion’s ready for take-off — right? Not quite. Have you decided how you’ll remember the family gathering long after the punch bowl’s empty?
Don’t forget the mementos — the souvenirs that will continue to bond your family together during the months when you’re out of touch.
“A family reunion is like a big party, but even more meaningful, so having a party favor is a great way to remember how much fun you had,” says Patty Sachs, a Denver-based professional party planner.
The business of making family reunion mementos is booming, and the options go far beyond the tried-and-true T-shirt (“I survived the Smith family reunion”). Modern technology makes almost anything customizable, putting even the most fanciful and sophisticated souvenirs within reach of you and Cousin Flo. Here are 17 ideas, both traditional and un-, to help make your next reunion memorable.
T — SHIRTS OK, let’s start with the obvious. T-shirts are inexpensive, practical and — with the right design — fun. They also quickly identify who’s in your group: “My aunt insists on having a family reunion every year on Labor Day weekend at a crowded Kentucky state park,” says Laurel (Hoskins) Harper of Louisville, Ky. “We were continually having the problem of non-family members crashing our reunion and eating our food. Because the Hoskins family is so huge, I don’t know half the people. We started doing family T-shirts and asking everyone to wear them so that nobody can pretend to be a distant cousin and eat without paying.”
Bruce Buzbee, webmaster of Family-Reunion.com <www.family-reunion.com> and creator of Family Origins genealogy software, says, “T-shirts seem to be the most popular items that people use for family reunions. And while some people use slogans like ‘I Survived My Family Reunion’, lots of people don’t know what they want to say.”
Buzbee recommends a T-shirt vendor and custom imprinter, Get In Print (14032 Vista Dr. #75 C, Laurel, MD 20707, 301-725-6479, <www.getinprint.com>). You can have your family’s name, multiple family names and other text inserted into T-shirt designs. Custom-designed shirts for family reunions are available at no extra charge.
But he also suggests having a family contest to design the reunion T-shirt: “You can ask for entries and display all designs on a Web site or in a family newsletter and ask family members to vote for the best one. The benefit is that it’s personalized and it’s not like everybody else’s. It doesn’t have to be a professional design. What kids come up with is often better than a pro’s idea.”
QUILTS A quilt conjures memories of newborn babies, front-porch sewing parties, keeping out the cold on a snowy evening and traditions from days gone by — in a word, family. So a family quilt is the quintessential reunion memento. The intrinsic value of the quilts is in family history and memorials, not dollar value, says Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine <www.reunionsmag.com> and author of The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House).
“There are several ways that the quilt can come together,” says Bruce Buzbee. “Usually, each family unit makes up their own square and brings it to the reunion — it usually has something to do with their particular family. Then, if quilting grandmas are available, squares are sewn together during the course of the reunion.”
Another option, he says, is to create the squares as a planned family reunion activity. Fabric and fabric paint or other suitable decorations are set out and each family creates its own square. The squares are then pieced together after the event by a crafty volunteer.
“The disadvantage of a family quilt is that only one person can keep it,” Buzbee adds.
“There are three things that you can do with the quilts. Either it just comes to every reunion and is displayed there, or it may be offered as a gift to an important person in the family — like great-grandma. Then it’s passed down through the family as time goes on.”
The third option, he says, is to auction off the quilt to raise money toward the next family reunion: “Something like a quilt can generate an enormous amount of money.”
You might even make multiple quilts, Wagner suggests. While quilts are typically embroidered or appliqued, modern materials and technology have broadened the scope of quilt making, making it possible even for non-stitchers to make a quilt. Color copies can be printed onto heat-transfer material (commonly used for making T-shirts) and ironed onto fabric. Many copy shops that handle photocopy transfers can also apply the images to fabric. Or you can use textile paints (which are machine washable); Wagner recommends painting on natural fibers. Check art, craft and fabric stores for new products and ideas.
Beverly McManus of San Francisco believes that a quilt definitely helped strengthen family bonds at her recent reunion. “My mom bought materials for a quilt that had a mountain/big tree theme, and all my aunts and cousins quilted it in one morning,” she says. “Then we sold raffle tickets to everyone, the proceeds of which helped cover some of the reunion expenses. The best mementos we took home, though, were inside of us — the happy smiles that linger each time we remember this summer’s opportunities to renew friendships up in the mountains.”
FELT ART Some families simply take a big piece of felt and personalize it with handprints. “Each family takes paint and makes handprints on the felt and writes their name under it and the date,” says Buzbee. “The idea is to bring it back to every family reunion and include additions to the family — if a baby’s been born or if there’s been a marriage in the family. The nice thing is that it comes back each year, and the ones who are little, 10 years down the road, can see how they’ve grown.”
To create a souvenir for every family, use many felt pieces and have everyone handprint each piece. “Sticking your hand in paint doesn’t take very long, so each family can have everyone’s hand prints,” he says. You can find what you need at any fabric store.
HAND-MADE FRAMES Most re unions include a group family portrait. To make the photo even more special, why not create a custom frame? Not only is the frame practical, family members can have fun making or decorating it. Framing kits are available from Mixed Nuts (221 Rayon Dr., Old Hickory, TN 37138, 615-847-8399, <www.kraftables.com>).
Buzbee also suggests recruiting woodworkers in the family to custom-make frames for the whole group. “Frames are one of those things that when you get everything set up, they’re fairly easy to make in volume.”
VIDEOS If you’ve got someone in your family with a good videocamera, they can put together a memorable video of the big event. “Videos are fairly easy and inexpensive to duplicate, and every city has places that can do that,” Buzbee says. “Or you can ask people to pay a set price, with some of the money going to help fund the next reunion.”
What to include in the video? Make sure to tape reunion activities, especially anything competitive like a family tug of war or foot-hall game. Interview family members and let them tell stories. “But if they start to get uncomfortable, change the subject,” Buzbee says. “It should be fun, not uncomfortable for everyone. You should remember to ask questions that trigger memories, and let the family member do most of the talking.”
For a complete guide to buying video-cameras and related gear, plus experts’ tips on videotaping your family reunion, see <www.familytreemagazine.com/articles/video.html>.
COOKBOOKS Family cookbooks not only make useful, long-lasting souvenirs — they can also help raise money to pay for your get-together. Reunion cookbooks, often spiral-bound to stay open on the kitchen counter, typically cost $3-$6 apiece to produce depending on the quantity ordered, according to Wagner.
A publisher that specializes in family cookbooks can offer advice and samples to get you started. These publishers include:
• Walter’s Publishing, 215 Fifth Ave. SE, Waseca, MN 56093, (507) 835-3691, <www.custom-cookbooks.com>.
• G&R Publishing, 507 Industrial St., Waverly, IA 50677, (800) 383-1679, <www.cookbookprinting.com>.
• Cookbook Publishers, 10800 Lakeview Ave., Lenexa, KS 66219, (800) 227-7282, <www.cookbookpublishers.com>.
But you don’t have to use a professional cookbook publisher. Check out the tips in Food from the Heart by Mary Barile (Heritage Publications), a guide to cooking up your own collection from scratch. The book also explains old ingredients and tells how to translate antique recipes.
FAMILY DIRECTORIES If your event draws a crowd, it may be the perfect opportunity to let family members know about your business — subtly, of course. “A directory of each invited member’s contact information, including their place of employment and type of business, can be a great networking tool,” says party planner Patty Sachs. “It’s especially helpful for small or home-based businesses.”
A family directory can also be useful for personal purposes. “Before our biannual family reunion, my sister Barbara sent a questionnaire to everyone, asking them to update their address, phone, birthdays and email info,” says Beverly McManus. “She then asked people to tell what they were up to, about their hobbies or jobs, or, if students, what they’re focusing on. She compiled it all into a little book, with a cover that tied in with other reunion materials. It’s a very nice and useful keepsake that I recently used to address my Christmas cards.”
GIFT BASKETS Do you want to provide a little bit of this and a tad of that for your reunion? Do it with a basket. You can include goodies such as homemade candles, personalized pocket planners, pens and wine glasses. Personalize the items with your family name, the date of the reunion and the city and state of the hosting family.
Kristina Rathkegel, owner of Creative Keepsakes in Dover, Del. (302-674-4180), adds, “Baskets are especially great for people traveling from out of state. Good ideas for baskets include local tourist information and maps, an itinerary of events, and coupons for local merchants and businesses.” If there’s a gift-worthy product handled by a family member, check on a volume discount. Cherry jam from Cousin Suzie in Michigan, mini-bottles of bourbon from Uncle Jack in Kentucky, chocolate bars from Aunt Martha in Hershey, Pa. — you get the idea.
Make the basket a reusable part of the gift. They don’t have to be from Longaberger, but look for discounts on durable baskets (especially after Easter) at discount retailers.
TRINKETS If you’d like every family member to have a small trinket to take home following the festivities, and you’d prefer something more creative than a Hanes Beefy-T, here are some inexpensive ideas:
• A themed, single-use camera, decorated for your family reunion. You may have seen these nifty, personalized cameras at weddings. Available from Party411 <www.party411.com/gifts-200.html>, (877) 514-8411.
• An imprinted photo album. Keeping on the photographic theme, a photo album imprinted with the event name makes a handy way for your reunion to live on in pictures. You can find these at Hallmark and other gift and card outlets.
• A Christmas ornament related to the family reunion theme. Creative Keepsakes’ Rathkegel recently put together Christmas ornaments with a Virginia horse theme for a reunion on Chincoteague Island, Va., which is famous for its wild horses. For another reunion on the East Coast, she coordinated the making of plastic snow globes featuring a miniature lighthouse inside. Another source of ornaments is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, located in Frankenmuth, Mch., (517) 652-9931, <www.bronners.com>, which claims to be the world’s largest Christmas store.
• Clocks, watches and other timepieces. A practical way to remember what a wonderful “time” you had at the reunion. Chaney Instrument Co. (Box 70, 965 Wells St., Lake Geneva, WI 53147, 262-248-4449) offers customized clocks, crystal and glass items, including wall clocks, desk clocks and alarm clocks, stained glass, paperweights, glass pitchers and wine glasses.
• Keychains. Something that everyone will use. Available in all shapes and sizes. Rugby Manufacturing & Graphics (Box 8476, New Haven, CT 06530, 203-488-5570, <www.tagsandchains.com>) customizes key-chains as well as “dog” tags, tote bags and laundry bags. Minimum quantity is 75.
• Mugs and more. From coffee to beer, there’s a mug for every occasion. Imprint your family’s name, or come up with a slogan or piece of art or family colors. Hunter Manufacturing Group (201 W. Loudon Ave., Lexington, KY 40508, 800-237-1869 or 606-254-7573) will customize mugs, crystal and shot glasses as well as mouse pads, magnets, keyrings and other items. Minimum quantity varies by item.
Other trinket ideas: flags, stuffed bears with customized logo T-shirts, license plate holders, coasters, yo-yos, note pads, pens and pencils, backpacks, letter openers, door mats.
But what if you want a truly inspired souvenir that’s absolutely unique to your family? Here are some ideas to get you started:
• Commission a special family song. Musicians are available to compose and personalize a song that has special meaning to your family. You record a performance and then duplicate and distribute tapes at the reunion. Mini-Song (209 Tabby Creek Circle, Summerville, SC 29483, 843-821-1390, <www.cchat.com/blue/sayit.htm>), for example, will provide original music and lyrics for any occasion. Your song is recorded on cassette and the company also offers a multi-tape discount.
If CD is your musical medium of choice, Dom Kelly Music (2608 W. Supulveda, West Los Angeles, CA 90064, 310-305-7955, <www.personalizedsong.com>) can create your personalized song. The price includes unlimited lyric sheets in case your family wants to sing along.
Another option, SongWorks (Box 5472, Santa Barbara, CA 93150, 805-969-4550, <www.innerharmony.com>), creates songs to honor a family legacy. Included in the basic cost is a consultation, cassette recording and lyric sheet.
Of course, if there’s an aspiring composer in your family, have him or her write the tune.
• Personalized soda or water bottles. All the fun is sure to make your family thirsty. Provide them with their own, personalized soda or water bottles. You can design your own label with lettering, pictures and graphics. Smith Family Root Beer for everybody! Available from Party411 <www.party411.com/gifts.html>, (877)514-8411.
• Hardy seedlings or plantings in containers marked “Family Tree.” Suggested by party planner Patty Sachs, this memento could outlive the assembled group. Ask each family to plant their seedling in a prominent location around their home; you can even create customized plaques to place in the ground near the tree. Then, for generations to come, you will truly have your family tree nearby.
Use these tips to avoid disappointment on reunion day:
• If you’re including the cost of T-shirts in registration, you’ll need to know everyone’s sizes. Send order forms at least six months before your reunion. Ask for payment in advance, and order a few extra shirts for people who didn’t order early.
• Allow plenty of time for delivery of imprinted items. Some companies demand payment up front; others accept orders payable by invoice. Save money by omitting the year or other nonessential information on personalized items: You may have supplies left for the future.
• Phyllis Hackleman in Reunion Planner (Clearfield Company) suggests some questions to ask when ordering souvenirs:
Are there charges to screen artwork?
Are there extra charges for more than one color?
Will the manufacturer guarantee colors? Does it cost extra?
Who pays shipping charges? How much are they?
Who pays UPS repacking charges, if incurred?
Will the manufacturer share a proof before production to verify that it’s the product you want?
Recipe for a family cookbook
Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine, offers these tips for creating your own family cookbook:
• Recruit volunteers to collect and input recipes, stories, traditions and hints.
• Include and stick to a deadline. Follow up regularly.
• When recipes start to arrive: Sort recipes and stories into folders for each food category. Eliminate duplicates. Clarify confusing recipes. Standardize measurements and abbreviations. Proofread every word and have more than one person proofread.
• You must check proofs before the cookbook is printed.
• Printing, assembly and binding books takes two to three months after the publisher receives your recipes.
• Payment is typically due 30-90 days from shipping.
If you must self-publish your cookbook, answer these questions:
• What are the book’s specifications? Standard (8 ½ × 11) size, softcover or hardcover, font, binding (plastic comb, wire, perfect bound, soft back)?
• How much do you want to spend?
• How many will you print?
• How many can you (realistically) sell?
• Where will books be delivered and stored?
These additional sources for reunion mementos are courtesy of Jeannie Rogers’ Web site <www.jcrogers.com>, a great site that’s full of family reunion ideas.
• 1-800Partyshop: From party favors to balloon drop kits to costumes. 1-800-Par-tyshop is a national company with consultants across the country. Orders require a consultant ID number, so call to find the consultant nearest you. 13300 U.S. 98, Sebring, FL 33870, (800) 727-8974, <www.1800partyshop.com>
• C & J Party Express: Choose from more than 100 themes. 1842 Clear Springs Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30043, (770) 338-1928, <www.cjpartyexpress.com>
• Magic Moments: Party favors, accessories and personalized chocolates. Box 211564, West Palm Beach, FL 33421, (561) 790-7719, <www.adreamwedding.com>
• Party Direct: Theme and customized party favors and decorations. 2101 N. Webster St., Kokomo, IN 46901, (800) 548-7868, <www.partydirect.com>
• SHINDICZ.com: Online catalog of party supplies, more than 3,000 products. PO Box 86, Larwill, IN 46764, <www.shindigz.com>
• Sound Sensation: Party favors from leis to glow necklaces. 6821 13th Ave., Brooklyn NY, 11219, (718) 259-3004, <www.prodj.com/soundsensation>