Family reunion hits 100-year milestone

Alexis Ingleheart spent some of her first Schenck family reunion taking a nap.

It wasn’t that boredom was setting in at Sunday’s family reunion. Instead, Alexis was doing what any week-old infant would be doing.

She was born Sept. 11 and was named the youngest relative at the event, which was quite the occasion.

The descendants of John and Mary Schenck were celebrating the centennial of their family reunions.

On Sunday, roughly 140 family members gathered at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds for food and fellowship.

One of this year’s organizers, Nancy Seifert of St. Peters, Mo., a great-great-granddaughter of John and Mary Schenck, said the reunion normally averages about 30 relatives and for the past few years has been held in Topeka.

But with this year marking 100 years since the first reunion, a bigger event was planned in Tonganoxie for its proximity to the family’s Leavenworth County homestead near Springdale, which is north of Tonganoxie.

John and Mary Schenck married March 13, 1851, and had 11 children, but Mary died shortly after giving birth to twins when they lived in Indiana. John remarried and the family moved to Kansas. He married a third time after his second wife died, and he himself died in 1879.

“I think that made for a strong bond” among John and Mary Schenck’s children, Seifert said, and subsequently, the tradition of a longstanding family reunion.

One of the older descendants of the Schencks, Norman Zinn of Omaha, Neb., is 85. Known affectionately as “Uncle Norman” at the reunion, Zinn was greeted with warm hugs and handshakes from the family.

Zinn said he’s been to several family reunions, but this one was special. In fact, he saw a relative from Washington state he hadn’t seen in about 25 years.

“Honestly, it’s very, very interesting,” he said.

At the reunion, family quilts were on display, as were family artwork, a family tree on which people in attendance could place their family “leaves” on respective branches, and life-size cutouts of John and Mary Schenck. Family members took photos with their “ancestors” wearing vintage bonnets and other clothing.

In addition to the members from Washington, Schenck descendents traveled to Tonganoxie from as far away as Oregon, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, and from as close as Missouri and Nebraska.

Other activities the family participated in were a digital scavenger hunt, in which teams took photos of items they were to search for and then turned in their cameras, and a stortytelling/talent show. There were also a memorial service at the Springdale Cemetery and church services at Tonganoxie Evangelical Friends Church, where family members once worshipped.

Sylvia Kesinger, of Tonganoxie, who is a great-great-granddaughter of John and Mary Schenck, is the grandmother of newborn Alexis. As Kesinger chatted about family history, Alexis, who is a seventh-generation family member, slept in her grandmother’s arms.

For the milestone reunion, Kesinger made four large sheet cakes, as well as mints.

She said it was “really great” to have the milestone reunion in Tonganoxie because of the rich family history in the area.