Twenty years ago we were in the final countdown to the 1996 Fassbender Family Reunion.
My husband and I planned and held a family reunion back in the early days of home computers, before home internet was common, and “You’ve Got Mail” was the welcome message. Using Creative Writer, a program our children used, and whatever word processing program we were using at the time, I started creating reunion documents.
Never having planned a party of this magnitude, and having no idea how large the task was that we were taking on, Gary and I jumped enthusiastically into planning. The reunion was to celebrate the children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, etc., of Henry and Ida Fassbender. 51 letters were sent out to the families descending from this couple and their eight children: Harold (Fat) b. 1907, Laurine (Ena) b. 1909, Norbert (Red) b. 1911, Bernard (Butch) b. 1912, Mildred (Hunce) b. 1914, Hubert (Cub) b. 1917, Ann (Hank) b. 1921, and Rosemary (Rosie/Foos) b. 1926. 21 responses were returned, and with that, the date was set: July 20, 1996. With the date selected I got busy creating a cute “reunion t-shirt” note using a Creative Writer template, and developing a survey to be included in the mailing. What was asked in the survey? I sadly do not have a copy. But my mother-in-law thankfully saved the t-shirt page.
With the date set, we reserved the Hollandtown Community Park and pavilion, a photographer was asked to take group pictures, we finalized the activities for the kids, the tour of White Clover Dairy, the place to share photos and memories of past reunions, and the dinner which was catered from Van Abels. Chicken, ham, German potato salad and rolls. The family was then broken up into two categories, one group was to bring dessert, the other a snack/munchie of their choice. As the surveys and reservations came in, I diligently worked on compiling the information that I received, into a family directory, preparing to have a copy available for every attendee. Looking back, I am amazed that my curiosity about family, and desire for a sense of order were apparent even then. I color coded the name tags by family, seven different colors adorned the tags, and helped cousins who in some cases had not seen each other in years, quickly identify, and recognize old friends.
As the event drew closer, Butch and Marie, Cub and Dolores, Hank (Ann), and Hunce, the four remaining siblings, and Stella, the widow of Red, began to make their plans. Cub and Hank were coming from out of town, and would stay for the weekend; making it a true reunion, and allowing lots of time for chats and memories. And a bit of cheese and crackers with their evening beer.
We planned the best we could, but sometimes the “best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” On July 5th Butch not feeling well, went into the hospital, and it was discovered he needed surgery. The surgery was successful, but his tolerance for the morphine they gave him for pain was not. He ended up falling out of bed and breaking his arm. This set his homecoming back a few days. His younger sister, Hank, who had been battling cancer for many years, still was planning on driving up for the reunion. Sadly, she passed away, Saturday, July 13th. Her funeral was held July 16.
The date was set, the planning complete, and these events rocked our world a bit, but we moved forward towards reunion day.
The day was a perfect July day. While we only had 21 people respond with an opinion as to the choice of a date, we had almost a 100% RSVP a response of “yes, we are coming!” The day went off without a hitch, and Butch, just home from the hospital, was able to attend for a short period of time. A good time was had by all. For that I am thankful, because I am not sure I would do it again. But I do have to say, looking at the materials that were saved, we did an amazing job. 20 years later, we surprise ourselves.
This weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, we find ourselves giving thanks for family and friends. Thinking of being thankful brought this story to mind.
In the spring of 1906, Samuel Andrew Cook starting planning a reunion. A reunion to bring his brothers and sisters together for the first time in 50 years. There had been trips made by many members up to Canada over the years, but they had not all been together in one place, and especially not at the old homestead in Stockbridge. This excerpt is taken from A Snapshot: Jacob Harrison Cook: 
“He [S.A. Cook] set the weekend of August 2-4th as the date weekend for the festivities. Coming from all over the North American continent, the whole family gathered at his home in Neenah.
Present in birth order were: Kate Healy, and her husband, Conner Healy, Unity, Wisconsin; Watson H. Cook, Washington, DC; Loretta Elliott, Toronto, Canada; Jacob H. Cook, and his wife, Anna Cook, Appleton, Wisconsin; Sarah Drake and her husband, Isaac P. Drake, Stanley, Barron County, Wisconsin; James M. Cook and his wife, Helen Cook, Baker City, Baker County, Oregon; S. A. Cook, Host, Neenah, Wisconsin; Alfred Cook and his wife, Amanda Cook, Unity Wisconsin; and Albert Cook, Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho.
This was the first time that they would all be together since the early years when the family first settled in Stockbridge, and the last time. Loretta had not been back to Wisconsin for over fifty years, and as Louis Cook, son of Alfred, remarks in his paper the Marathon County Register, the Calumet County of 1906, ‘will present a striking contrast to the wilderness to which they removed from Canada over fifty years ago.’ 
Saturday, August 4th, ‘S. A. Cook with his touring car and three other like machines that he had chartered left Neenah with the party for a trip around Lake Winnebago, arriving at their old home in the town of Stockbridge during the afternoon where they received warm welcome from many old neighbors and friends. Dinner was served at the Stockbridge Hotel, and the party was regaled [sic] with good things furnished by Mr. and Mrs. P. F. Gillespie. The trip was enjoyed by all and they were greatly impressed with the wonderful transformation in the old home they loved so well during their younger days. — Chilton Times.’  It must have been quite a sight to see these three cars, each carrying five people, heading around Lake Winnebago and into Stockbridge.
Such a large group could not all stay with S. A. at his home on Commercial Street, although some of them may have stayed with him.
Alfred and Amanda stayed at the Kasson Hotel in Downtown Neenah, and a letter written to Louis Cook by his father, gives a wonderful first-hand view of the boisterous time that they were having.
Alfred writes from the Kasson Hotel:
Neenah, Wis. Aug 6th, 1906 Louis Cook Unity Wis
My Dear Son will Drop you a few lines this is Monday morning and we are all a live and that is saying a good Deal after them acting as they have. We have all had a good time
We will Be home to morrow noon, the most of them will not go to Unity for a nother week. Tell Mabel and the Rest of them that their Mother has acted offel and if she Continues to Eat as much after getting home it is going to cost us a good dealt to keep her and they must be shure to have some Potatoes Corn-Meal and sawdust on the table when we get home. Your Father A. Cook. 
From other newspaper accounts, we know that the family extended their time together beyond this fun weekend in Neenah and Stockbridge. They traveled first to visit the Drakes’s in Stanley, and then back to Unity to visit with the rest of the family before returning to their homes. A good time was had by all!
Susan C. Fassbender, A Snapshot: Jacob Harrison Cook, (Appleton: Self Published, 2006): 14-15.
‘Family Reunion,’ Marathon County Register, (Unity, WI), August 3, 1906, front page.
‘From the Chilton Times,’ Marathon County Register, (Unity, WI), August 17, 1906.
Alfred Cook to Louis Cook, August 6, 1906, Neenah, Wisconsin. Original letter, transcribed as written. Robert D. Sternitzky Family Archives.