Good food, friends and family members you haven’t seen in a while: those were the main reasons Chris Statler attended the Baie family reunion in Waterman on Sunday.
“I used to come with my mother and grandmother,” the 23-year-old Cortland man said.
Like a lot of young people, he hadn’t gone to the annual gathering for a few years.
“Maybe they find them boring,” he guessed. “Young people want to go out and explore life on your own.”
Family reunions, that summertime staple, have always tried to bridge the generation gap. Despite hectic modern schedules, it seems families are still making time to gather; shelter rentals for reunions at Shabbona Lake State Park are up significantly this year, office coordinator Molly Haseman said.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the weather or not,” she said. “I think families are just getting together more.”
Statler decided to go to his family reunion this year to reconnect, he said.
“It’s not often you can find time to spend with your family, so I just jumped on it,” he said.
Over the past 92 years, the Baie reunion has been held at sites throughout DeKalb County, including Martin Woods, Pioneer Park, Lions Park, Annie’s Woods and at the Community Center in downtown Waterman, where the 2013 reunion was held.
Parks are popular sites for family reunions. Although they are available anytime, the four shelters at the Sycamore Park District are usually only rented out on weekends, said Jackie Hienbuecher, superintendent of finances. May through September, she said, are the shelters’ busiest months.
“People like the ones at Hopkins Park because they are close to the playground and the swimming pool,” said Scott deOliveira, Hopkins Park Community Center operational director for the DeKalb Park District.
Many families meet at the same site every year. No matter what the summer weather, Tony Barkey, office manager at the Genoa Park District, said rentals are consistent.
“When I go to my office on March 1 (the first day to make summer reservations), there’s always someone waiting for me,” deOliveira said. “They know they need to be there early if they want a certain date.”
Haseman said local family members usually make reservations for those coming from outside the area, who then stay longer. “We are seeing more families making it a weekend, rather than just getting together for a few hours,” she said. “They come in Friday and are leaving Sunday.”
Some, she said, have been coming for many years, but none as long as the Baie family, which held its first reunion in 1921. It was just three years after World War I, Babe Ruth was in his second year with the Yankees and Warren G. Harding was president.
“We have to make it to 100,” Joan Baie-Stanley said. “That’s our goal.”
“I’ve missed a few, but not that many,” said Phyllis Breese, who will turn 90 on July 18. “At Annie’s Woods in DeKalb, we used to have 100 (people), but now it has dwizzled over the years. People have so much going on. ...Still, it’s nice to see the people.”
“Families are just so spread out these days,” said Sue Breese, another member of the family. Advances in transportation are one big reason families don’t stay together anymore, she said.
When they do get together, Stanley said members bring a dish to pass. For the most part, she said, no one really knows what anyone else will bring, except for Chuck Breese, who always brings chicken. Sue Breese started a family cookbook in 2004; the entry for Chuck Breese’s favorite chicken reads: “Drive up to Kentucky Fried Chicken and order a bucket of chicken.”
“It’s a tradition,” he said.