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posted: 10/2/2011 6:00 AM

Location, activities add to reunion fun

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Recently, my neighbor received an invitation to a family reunion in the middle of Iowa. Apparently her brother wants to get the whole clan together on the old family farm.

Problem is there's no farmhouse anymore, which means sleeping in a strip-mall motel or pitching a tent. Her brother thinks it will bring the family closer. She thinks, one night of this and they'll totally fall apart.

Her teenage sons agree with her. "There's nothing on that farm except corn," said her oldest son. "There aren't even any cows to tip."

Because we are such a mobile society, family reunions have become big business for the travel industry. But the old family homestead may not be the best location.

Every Thanksgiving our family plans a reunion overseas. My children claim it's because I'd rather make reservations than a turkey. And they may be right.

But because the rest of the world has little interest in our pilgrims, flights across the pond are fairly reasonable and hotels inexpensive.

Our turkey has turned into many things -- fish-and-chips in Ireland, moussaka in Greece and pasta in Italy. The memories of those meals will last far longer than that extra piece of pumpkin pie I might consume at home.

"We plan a group vacation every three years," said Larry Burgess, whose reunions include four generations of families living all over the United States. "We take turns planning the locations and the activities."

Last year the Burgess clan met in Colorado and stayed at a lodge in Estes Park.

The lodge offered horseback riding and river rafting for the adventure seekers, quiet walks for the less active and special activities for children.

The families all met for meals and had plenty of time to reminisce.

Recently, one Chicago grandmother took her children and grandchildren on a Caribbean cruise. "It put me back a few bucks," said the grandmother. "But they all had a wonderful time. Now my grandchildren think I'm the coolest old gal in the world."

It's not just family get-togethers that have taken reunions up a notch. Last month, I attended my 50th high school reunion in East Lansing, Mich.

It was a roaring success in spite of all the old people who were there. While seeing old friends and reliving old memories was the focus, much of what made it a success was the thought that went into it.

Attendees were given choices of activities and time to do their own things. There were golfing and tennis tournaments, tours of the town and schools, cocktail parties and dinners.

The event was planned so that everyone's interests were included. And that's just as important for a family reunion.

While the old homestead gatherings may have literally been a walk in the park, today's reunions are not. In order for a reunion to be successful, it's important to consider the location, the cost and the interest and age of the people attending.

Renewing old ties and warm, fuzzy feelings is not just potluck.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at