The first Saturday in August is now history, and so is the Phend Family Reunion for this year. Little did I know what it would lead to when, in 1984 after Heneretta Nelson Phend passed away, I agreed to take on the task of organizing the Phend Family Reunion for the next year. Now, twenty-three years later, I'm still 'in charge' of planning the event!
It was on Saturday, June 26th 1897, that the family of Jacob and Louisa (Fisher) Phend gathered to "celebrate the 69th birthday" of Jacob and Louisa, which was the next day. Records show that Jacob and Louisa were both born on June 27th 1829. It was during this celebration that "A permanent organization was Effected with Henry Phend as President" and it was decided to hold annual meetings "and to invite the Fisher family" to "unite under the name of Phend-Fisher Family Reunion".
However, it was not until October 27, 1909 that the next entry was made in the reunion ledger and "the families met at the home of Christian Phend in Nappanee, Ind. to reorganize". The reunions continued annually until the one scheduled for August 31st 1940 "was cancelled due to the infantile paralysis epidemic present in the northern section of this state". Reunions were held in 1941 and 1942 but the last entry in the ledger is for 1943 and simply states "No Reunion", it was World War II and rationing was in place.
Henry and Susie (Yarian) Phend were married on September 4, 1892 and on Sunday, August 28, 1952 their 60th anniversary was observed with a gathering of family from near and far. It was reported that "75 people attended the dinner at noon which was served on the lawn. In the afternoon 150 guests called between 2 and 5 o'clock". Since that anniversary celebration, a Phend Family Reunion has been held annually for the past 55 years.
In the spring of 1984 I began gathering information on the Phend Family. Like the chicken and the egg, I'm not sure which came first, agreeing to organize the reunion or working on the family history. Anyway, 1985 was the first year in recent times that "extended family" members were invited to the reunion (descendants of Jacob and Louisa, not just Henry and Susie). Everyone that I had made contact with in the prior year was invited and many of them showed up! It was so exciting. That was the year that my grandfather met two of his first cousins for the first time. I'm not sure he ever fully understood the connection though. Grandpa was 92 years old at the time and his cousins, Jake and Elizabeth, were 65 and 63, respectively. But I am sure he did enjoy meeting them.
In 1993, it was unanimously decided that the "Reunion of the Family of Jacob and Louisa Phend" (commonly known as the Extended Phend Family Reunion) would be held in the even-numbered years and the "Henry and Susie Phend Family Reunion" would be held in the odd-numbered years. And so it has been since then.
Attendance at the reunions varies from one year to the next. I never know how many people will show up, it could be as few as 30 people or more than 100. Regardless, I am never disappointed in the outcome. Sometimes there is more time for visiting, other times new "cousins" show up. I keep a binder of the sign-in sheets and family update sheets along with any pictures that I'm sent. I seldom have time for picture taking and am dependent upon other people sending me their pictures. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.
This year there were 47 people attending with 35 adults and 12 children. There were two "cousins" in attendance that I had never met, at least I don't remember having met them though we probably attended reunions together as little kids.
One of those cousins (and her husband) recently moved to Florida. They have spent the last 20+ years in Haiti establishing a home and school for Haitian children called the "House of Blessings" and the results have been astounding. They have personally cared for more than 40 children and their staff now consists of some of the children they raised. The home is now almost 3,000 square feet and sits on nearly 2 acres of land. Lonnie and Phil are spending the next few months visiting churches and friends talking about the future of the House of Blessings. They will no longer be "on site" continuously but will visit occasionally and help support the home. They are going to try to put together teams to work on special projects for the homes, they'd really like to get a Phend Family Team together for one of the projects. Lonnie says they always looked forward to the Reunion Newsletters that helped them keep in touch with the family.
The other cousin whom I'd not met told me how much she appreciated the book that was published on the family history and told of the experience of one of her granddaughters with a school project. The granddaughter created a tableau with various scenes in the life of Jacob Phend using clothespin characters for Jacob, his wife, and their children. It was, apparently, a very nice presentation as she was asked to give it more than once! Another thing that is neat, is that in the year in which her grandchildren turn 13, this cousin and her husband take the grandchild on a trip to wherever in the world they want to go. This granddaughter has chosen to go to Switzerland next year to visit the homeland of Jacob Phend. Is that cool, or what!
It's gratifying to know that the Phend Family History and the Phend Family Reunions mean so much to other people and that they appreciate the time and effort that has gone into them. Since I have no children, the History and the Reunions are my legacy to the entire family, a small contribution for the short time spent on this earth.