Tondra Talley, Vice-President of the Mitchell Family reunion, was worried. A whole lot of planning had gone into the reunion, but not many reservations were being made. “I’m thinking OMG, nobody’s going to show up,” Talley remembers. “We financed an event that’s not going to be successful.” After all, her planning committee had paid for a lot of amenities up front, with the expectation that they would reimburse themselves when the reservations and checks started flowing in. There had not been a reunion of the Mitchell Family since 2004, but Tondra and her committee had been holding monthly meetings, in-person and on Zoom, trying to finish making arrangements that had been started a few years back before being interrupted by the COVID pandemic. They had a Facebook page, sent out snail mail and even created a non-profit 501c3.
But the response remained lukewarm. Until finally, with only 60 days left before the reunion, the responses began to flow in. They ended up having 200 people attend.
The reunion of the descendants of Promise Mitchell’s 15 children was a success. It took place in Lucama, North Carolina—about an hour from Raleigh by car—in August. It began with a gathering at the bowling alley on Friday. Then there was a Hibachi dinner. Saturday at noon came the major event of the gathering; seniors were honored, and there was a memory wall of those who had passed away. On Sunday, they held a church service and then ate brunch at a restaurant.
Talley was delighted to bring those 200 members of the extended family together because, “People need to get back to family reunions. As a culture, we’re getting away from it.” She was glad that she stumbled upon the Family Reunion Institute as a resource. And she hopes that her success in pulling off the reunion after 19 years of not meeting will “give other families hope that you can still have that connection.” “But” she adds, “it is a lot of hard work.” And sometimes, you do have to remain patient.
One of most tangible benefits of the Mitchell reunion is that it brought two fractured branches of the family back together. There had been a terrible trauma a couple of generations back, when a female member of the family was being physically abused by her husband. The woman’s brother confronted the husband, and the husband killed him. The husband did no jail time for his crime. And the brother’s family was alienated from the sister’s. That bad blood between them existed for some 60 years or so. But the son of the murdered brother decided to forgive his killer. There was no public gathering where this took place—it wasn’t at a group event. But it allowed the fractured family to come together to heal during the reunion.
And now the Mitchell family is planning to build on the success of their reunion and do some pretty amazing things. They want to create a benevolence fund and an education fund. “We want to buy a place (to hold) future reunions, as well as birthday parties,” says Talley. “We want to keep it going with invitations for engagements, parties, birthdays—anything besides a funeral.”
Having their own place for family gatherings is quite a goal. But “I’m not one to set the bar low,” Talley says.
The National Family Reunion Institute’s new series of features spotlighting families and their reunions continues thanks to Tondra Talley, who made it possible for Billy Vargus to conduct the interview. If you’d like to have your family featured, click here to drop us an email and let us know a little about yourselves and how to contact you.