When you plan a family reunion for more than 150 people from seven states, it helps to have good organizational skills.

La Tasha Reed of Eagan was able to pull off such a feat, not once but two years in a row, as chief coordinator for the Taylor family reunion, held in Illinois in July 2009 and 2010.

"There's really not a right way or a wrong way to plan a reunion. Different people within a family will have different perspectives on the planning, so I just tried to keep everybody in the loop," said Reed, who spent about a year planning each one.

In addition to gathering Taylor siblings and cousins (from the maternal side of her family), the reunions also were aimed at honoring Reed's great-aunt Synthia, in her 80s and living in Louisiana. She is the only sibling left of the nine Taylor children.

"I remember Aunt Synthia from years ago, but I hadn't visited her for at least 20 years," said Reed. "She was so happy to see everyone. The reunions were a lot of fun and people really started to connect."

To successfully pull off such a big event, especially long distance (the reunions were held in Aurora, Ill., because most of the Taylor family lives in nearby Chicago), Reed did everything from booking hotel rooms and the picnic shelter (a year in advance) to sending out "save the date" reminders, creating e-mail blasts, setting the price for each attendee (they decided to cater the meal), collecting money, finding a DJ and procuring door prizes. Her laptop is still loaded with file folders containing every facet of the back-to-back events.

"I'm a project manager by trade, so a family reunion is just like a bigger project with a beginning and an end," said Reed.

Help from the experts

Lori Kearney, national account executive for Meet Minneapolis, the city's official convention and visitors association, plans a yearly reunion for her 85-plus family members, held each December at a local hotel.

"I always tell people, 'You are not going to please everyone 100 percent of the time,'" she said. "For our reunions, I put people in charge of different activities. I've had teenagers help me plan an 'Amazing Race' game. The aunts have worked on a family history book and someone is always in charge of crafts. Not everyone has to participate in everything, but it's good to have choices."

Some people tie a family gathering to an already scheduled event, such as a wedding or an anniversary, but most opt to hold a reunion for its own sake, with July being the most popular reunion month.

Invites and database

Establishing an initial contact list is the first hurdle involved in reunion planning. Reed reached out to several cousins to help compile a database. Facebook provided a boost to their reunions, said Kearney and Reed. Families can construct a page dedicated not only to getting the word out before the event, but also for posting photos after the reunion and keeping in touch with family members.

The Taylor reunion is on hiatus this year, but the Louisiana relatives have agreed to host a 2012 gathering in their home state.

"I haven't heard anything from them yet, but I have all the lists and addresses if they need them -- and I think they do," Reed said.

  • Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
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