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Family reunions are a special affair and for some families, a massive undertaking
Pete Peterson cooks ribs at Longwood Park. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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To plan one of these massive family reunion, Ronnie Harper and Rosalyn Turner said there are ways to make the process go smoothly.

Plan and delegate: "Make plans early and always get you a committee to help you," Harper said. "That's what I did, once I decided to go ahead and try to have it; my sister, cousins, my nephew, I had about five or six people that helped me. It's always easier to have help and always easier to plan early in advance and contact family members on more than one occasion before the reunion."

Don't forget the details: "First, I say you would have to sit down and plan like the things you want to have, maybe how many days you want to host it and depends on where," Turner said. "We always would have a banquet and picnic, so we would have to us a caterer, get everything set up for the banquet."

Keep it professional: Whether you hire professionals to cater or photograph your family reunion or you don't — maybe you just have a few members of your family in charge of that — it really doesn't matter. The purpose of the family reunion is to make memories that last a lifetime and create a lasting tradition. "I hope it will go on for years to come because it has been going for 87 years and I have been to a lot of places and a lot of towns in those times," Turner said.

Family reunions come in all shapes and sizes, just like families.

Some take place each year with low-key gatherings that include a pot luck supper.

Then there's the family reunion on steroids - with trips to cities all over the country, tours of local attractions and even DNA testing to see where you land on the family tree.

But there's one thing that links all the families together, no matter the size of the reunion: they value family as one of the most important things in life.

"It means everything because we don't get a chance to visit a lot of our family members," said Ronnie Harper, who planned the 30th Jimmie and Missy Harper Family Reunion on July 9 to 12 in Gainesville.

The reunion featured nightly gatherings at the hospitality room at the Holiday Inn, a tour of Brenau University where Jimmie Harper worked as a maintenance man for 50 years, a trip to Alta Vista Cemetery to locate family plots, a picnic at Longwood Park and a memorial service and banquet on Saturday.

"At the park we had an egg toss contest, horseshoes, played bingo and gave out prizes for that," said Harper, who added that about 60 family members attended this year. "Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves ... it was perfect."

Each year the Harper family heads to different parts of the country to visit with family and see the local sights. Over the years, Harper has had the chance to visit Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio; Dallas; Atlanta; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Hartford, Conn., among others. One time the family even had the picnic portion of the reunion at Southfork Ranch, the ranch from the hit TV show "Dallas."

"Normally what happens is, if we ever get to a year and nobody volunteers, we would say we would always go back to our hometown which is actually Hartwell," said Harper, an Atlanta resident. "So actually last year nobody volunteered so instead of going to Hartwell, I suggested that we go to Gainesville because that was one of the first places of my family, too."

Rosalyn Turner, a member of the Gainesville-based Tanner-Young-Yarbrough family, recently attended the 87th family reunion in Cleveland. The family also has a tradition of traveling to different cities every other year and Turner has attended nearly 20 of the annual reunions.

"It's very important to us because we get a chance to fellowship with family members that we don't usually see every day, and then we get a chance to travel from different states to visit with family members."

Turner said this year's four-day reunion was filled with family activities.

"The first day we had a get-acquainted picnic, a pool party, meet and greet on Saturday for the people that came in from out of town that we haven't seen in a long time," she said. "It's been hosted by different family members ... usually someone will ask to come to their town. We travel every other year and next year it will be in New Orleans."

Turner said there are a few cities they visited that really stood out.

"Kansas City, Mo. and Virginia Beach, Va. — well, we had a time in Kansas City in the casinos. There's a lot of good things up there. Then in Virginia Beach we went to the beach and we got to see the Navy place in there, the big ships and things."

Locally, the Satterfield family, who is preparing for the 61st family reunion on Aug. 1, will have a more modern activity at their family reunion - DNA testing.

"We have a DNA (testing) going on too, where people can do DNA and find out exactly where they fit in," said Barbara McDonald, a member of the National Satterfield Association and Gainesville resident. "They can pick up the kits at the reunion if they are interested."

McDonald has been planning the reunion for a year now and in that time has been in charge of creating a family newsletter encouraging people to come to the reunion and letting them know how they are of Satterfield lineage.

"In my Georgia side, it's not complete, I have 12,600 names in my database," said McDonald, of her genealogy files. "We are hoping for several hundred to show up; we're having a banquet on Saturday night."

McDonald added that the annual reunion is a wonderful way to connect extended families.

"Families have moved because of work and other reasons," she said. "They've moved away from their home places and just gradually moved away and this will bring the people back to get together and know who there cousins are."

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