There will be homemade ice cream, that is for certain.
Marty Hoover has been scouring the Douglas County countryside to find families who can loan out the old hand-cranked ice-cream-making machines.
What also is certain is that there will be plenty of unfamiliar faces turning the cranks and manning the spoons.
Yes, it is family reunion season in Douglas County. And this particular reunion is the sort where you get to wear both a nametag and a bewildered look.
“We have people coming who are great, great, great grandfather’s brother’s children,” says Carol Hoover Redenbaugh, who is Marty’s sister. “So, you don’t know who the heck these people are.”
In fact, out of the 178 people from 18 different states coming to this weekend’s Hoover family reunion, Redenbaugh figures she will know about 45 of them.
But hey, there will be homemade ice cream.
When the Hoovers came to Douglas County in 1855 via wagon train from Pennsylvania, they didn’t know anyone here either. They and their brother-in-law — a character by the name of Jacob Ulrich — thought it would be a good place to practice their pacifist Brethren religion and grow a crop or two.
But pacifism turned out to be a tough sell in the “Bleeding Kansas” period of the late 1850s and early 1860s, especially after Ulrich befriended abolitionist crusader John Brown. Infamous Missouri raider William Quantrill took note of that friendship and burned down Ulrich’s southern Douglas County home on his way back from sacking Lawrence.
Despite it all, the Hoovers stayed. Marty reckons he understands why.
“Land was cheaper here than it was in Pennsylvania,” Marty says. “And you can start something here.”
Evidently, you can keep something going here as well: like a family reunion. This weekend’s Hoover family reunion is the 100th consecutive reunion for the family. All of them have taken place in Douglas County.
This year’s version began yesterday at Lone Star Lake’s campground with cookouts, tug of war competitions, volleyball, a talent show and — of course — homemade ice cream. The festivities continue today with a special worship service at the Washington Creek Church of the Brethren, the church near Lone Star that the Hoover ancestors helped build. The service will be led by Hoovers, and afterwards, the family will serve a potluck on 100-year-old plates donated to the church by the family.
A tour of a couple rural cemeteries, to view Hoover graves, also is on tap. But attendees won’t have to wait until the cemeteries to get a glimpse of their lineage. Remember that I mentioned nametags? Well, at a Hoover family reunion, one name per tag isn’t enough. Redenbaugh and others have listed the attendee’s entire lineage — parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and such — on each nametag. Several nametags have 10 generations on them.
If all this sounds like a lot of work for a family reunion, it is. Redenbaugh was given the title of 100th Hoover Reunion Chairperson at last year’s reunion and has been working on this year’s event ever since.
“They’ve asked me to do next year’s, but I told them I only do the 100th,” Redenbaugh says. “I’ll do the 200th, if they ask me nicely.”
Marty Hoover has a theory about why this family reunion has lasted so long.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the tenacity of the Hoover women,” Marty says.
Indeed, the women who have planned the reunions over the years have played a major role in keeping the tradition alive. But Redenbaugh said there is something a bit tamer than the tenacity of a woman that has played a role too: a homemade book.
Decades ago, a family member created a book called "Hoover Cousins by Dozens" that provided the lineage for several branches of the family. The history the book tells has been the foundation on which the family reunion has been built. It is the type of foundation that many families are lacking these days, but Marty says it is never too late to build one.
“Go on Google as far back as you can go, and then when you get there, start going forward,” he says.
And then share what you find. You may be surprised at how many people will take an interest. At this reunion, Hoovers are traveling in from as far away as Alaska, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Virginia and a dozen other states.
“I don’t know all these people,” says Redenbaugh, who now lives in Arizona. “But I feel like I know them.”
That’s a common feeling at a Hoover family reunion. Marty, who lives just a half-mile or so from the original Hoover farmstead, has a theory about why that is too.
“It is because we’re all at home,” Marty says. “It is good to have a home place to come back to.”
Homemade ice cream and a homemade family: For the Hoovers, it's a pairing that might last another hundred years.
— Each Sunday, Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.