Initially, the goal was to organize our family reunion every five years in both Germany and United States in the same year, beginning in 1997. After the first reunions (June and October 1997), it made more sense to have them on each continent in separate years, trading off between Germany and the U.S. The U.S. has had three reunions (first in Iowa (1997) then Minnesota (2011) and in Washington State (2017). Whereas the town of Schuttertal in Germany has always been the site of the four Mullerleile German family reunions (1997, 2003, 2009, and 2015).
The family reunion in Washington State was the first one that I had planned, and the first I attended in the U.S. Work schedule and location had prevented me from traveling to the Midwest for previous U.S. reunions, although I was able to attend three of the family reunions in Germany. The U.S. reunions were typically located in small towns and did not include many activities other than what was related to family (e.g. visiting a family farm, visiting a cemetery where lots of family members are buried). Previous U.S. reunions consisted of a 3-day weekend event. It seemed logical that after spending the money to come to a distant reunion, there should be options to see other sights in the area either as a group activity or suggestions of what is available to visit in the area.
When I finally decided on the Greater Seattle Area as the reunion location, I reached out to the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority for planning assistance. Meagan McGuire (VP Sales & Services) immediately began walking me through the process. She helped with finding the venue that would accommodate our reunion. She even accompanied us to scope out the best location that would be within our budget and still be enjoyable.
Meagan sent me a list of transportation companies to call for help transporting our group on day trips. It just so happened that the Seattle Express bus company was able to give us a very good price to handle all of our transportation needs. We were very pleased with our drivers.
Since I live in Spokane, Meagan also recommended a storage unit rental site to store our supplies before the reunion. Seattle Southside RTA also provided each member of our group with a welcome packet which included suggestions of sights to see in the area, along with free shuttle service to nearby Westfield Southcenter for shopping. It was very helpful for our group.
Once the reunion began, it was clear that all the effort in planning had paid off. We hired a local caricature artist (Friday evening) and a magician (Saturday afternoon), both of these acts were big hits (especially the caricaturist). The interaction with the attendees and the local entertainment was a great icebreaker for everyone.
We allowed time for a spokesperson from each family to tell us how they were related within the family tree, or something about their family, which was optional for each family. We usually have the family tree genealogy displayed so everyone can search how they are connected historically. We always have a group photo at the end of the event.
Since there are attendees that did not know anyone or just a few people, I recalled from attending the reunions in Germany that if you leave too much time for social hours, it becomes very uncomfortable and boring. I tried to have the agenda include multiple stories of relatives migrating to Washington State, stories of family pets/animal companions (this segment was a hit with both the kids and adults), and local entertainment. It was fun to have door prizes for both adults and kids. The door prizes for the kids consisted of lap-sized animal quilts which I had made for all the kids attending the reunion. For the adults, we had items either purchased, handmade, or donated from the Northwest. We had enough door prizes for each person to receive a door prize.
Some of our group elected to extend the reunion and see more of the Pacific Northwest while they were here. Many family members took a 7-day cruise to Alaska prior to the family reunion. Day trips were planned for those in our group who wished to participate in visiting local sites post-reunion, e.g. City of Seattle tour, Boeing Factory tour, Mt. Rainier trip, Museum of Flight tour, etc. We also took an overnight trip to Quincy, Grand Coulee Dam, and Leavenworth, which was very informative and interesting. Central Washington State is where some relatives of the Mullerleile family first homesteaded in the early 1900s.
Attendees had a great time at the reunion and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. One of the attendees from Germany told me and others that “it was the best reunion that the family had ever put on,” and she had attended all of the reunions in Germany and the U.S. Another attendee said that “the Oscar goes to this family reunion for creativity.”
If I could do anything differently, I would have contacted the visitor center immediately after deciding that Seattle would be the site of the planned reunion; instead of trying to find a venue, transportation options, and hotel/motel accommodations on my own. It would have saved a lot of time and worry. Overall, the reunion was a success. It was exciting, fun, and meaningful for the entire Mullerleile family.