What's essential for a successful party? Guests, of course. And Baltimore is making sure that its yearlong bicentennial birthday bash will have plenty by inviting families to plan their reunions in the city this year.
The bicentennial celebration, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Baltimore's incorporation, seems a logical opportunity to celebrate family history along with city history.
And planned activities - from planting trees in honor of important residents to the official Birthday Bash June 20-July 6, which includes the International Festival, block parties, historical re-enactments and Fourth of July festivities - will certainly give out-of-town guests things to do besides a backyard barbecue.
To help families plan their party, the nonprofit Bicentennial Celebration Inc. is offering a free reunion how-to kit, sponsored by Green's Ice Cream. For more information on the bicentennial or a reunion kit, call (888) 433-1997.
The city is also sending out its invitation over the Internet, via its bicentennial page on the World Wide Web (http://www.bicentennial.com). There, families can find out what Baltimore is planning as well as advertise their own reunions.
Baltimore resident Jane Denise Jordan and her family will be one of those on the Web page.
It's doubtful, though, that they will need the kit, because they have had a lot of practice pulling these things together. "This will be the 26th year," Jordan says of the Williams family reunions.
The reunions float from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Virginia, she says.
This year just happens to be the Baltimore contingent's turn to be host.
Although Jordan's mother, who is a Williams, is the official treasurer of the Baltimore reunion committee, a lot of those responsibilities have been turned over to her.
In the year preceding the reunion, Jordan and the Baltimore committee organize fund-raisers to help defray the cost, arrange for a site, book hotel space, decide on activities, arrange for food and take care of all the many details that planning a reunion involves.
"We always have between 125 and 150 people," she says.
This year, the Williams family reunion will be held over three days in late August at Piney Run Park in Carroll County.
"You know, I literally don't see a lot of them but once a year," she says of family members who live out of state.
"But the reunions have been successful family gatherings. They have evolved into what they are now."
A starter kit
For those who don't have the experience of more than two decades of pulling a reunion together, the how-to kit offers a wealth of planning information.
The kit also includes a listing of Baltimore information numbers, hotels, parks, crab houses and other restaurants, as well as a helpful budget worksheet.
One of the best places to start when contemplating a family reunion is to talk to others who have already gone through it.
"There will be times when the responsibility seems thankless," say the editors of Reunions magazine. "Ignore them. Kudos and accolades will surely be yours on reunion day."
Before you decide to hold a reunion, consider that there are no shortcuts when it comes to planning the details. Once the decision is made, you have to be willing to stick to it and try to build enthusiasm among family members for the idea.
The first decision to make is to determine who is willing to take charge, has the time to devote to it and is enthusiastic about the idea.
If you or someone else answers yes to those questions, the next step is to recruit help. That help could be other family members, or there are professionals - hired hands - who will make all of the arrangements for a fee.
Besides the chairperson or leader who will oversee everything, there should be people responsible for collecting money, maintaining the mailing lists, communicating with family members and coming up with activities, as well as a family historian, genealogist or storyteller.
The next step is for the organizers to meet, agree on things such as when, where and how long, and set deadlines for chores that need to be done.
Families may want to consider fund-raising for reunions. Others may want to agree on "scholarships" for some members of the family.
However you approach it, family reunions are a lot of work. But the rewards and lasting memories are well worth it. You can make the memories last even longer by purchasing personalized bricks, which will be installed at Bicentennial Plaza at the intersection of Light and Conway streets at the Inner Harbor, for $75 or $250 for a bigger stone. Place orders with the Baltimore Harbor Endowment at (410) 347-5225.
Filling in gaps
Today's reunions, of course, are tomorrow's history. And what better place to recall details than at family reunions? Often, however, there are holes that need to be filled in.