by Cathy (Wivell) Yoder and Phyllis (Wivell) Green
Since 1978, Grandparent’s Day has been celebrated the Sunday after Labor Day. September is a good time to make plans to honor past generations. A few years ago, a friend described a memorable breakfast that she organized with cousins to honor their grandmother. We liked the idea, so in March of 2015, the women in our Wivell family held the first “Grandma’s Girls” gathering to honor our matriarch, Helen Guise Wivell. We have met annually for lunch since then to catch up with each other, share wonderful memories, and enjoy our time together. The Wivell men camp each summer in Western Maryland, so this event is for the ladies.
Many local people have heard of, and even remember our grandparents, Roy and Helen Wivell. They met at a barn dance at the Guise farm. They were the dedicated parents of 20 children. They had a deep faith in God and a commitment to their community. They possessed a strong work ethic and passed this on to their children. For younger family members who never knew them, the “Grandma’s Girls” gathering is a good opportunity to learn about their ancestors and feel connected. Each year approximately 50 ladies, from babies to late 80s attend.
Our grandmother Wivell usually wore an apron, so aprons have been an ongoing theme at our gatherings. The first year everyone was asked to bring an apron to wear and small prizes in several categories were awarded. We all had a hearty laugh at the apron dance as the long line of apron clad ladies tried to keep time to the fast drum beat of the Hawaiian War Chant. Last year some cousins suggested that we make aprons for the family. That seemed like a lofty goal, but several aunts and cousins used nice cloth napkins leftover from a family wedding and fabric remnants on hand, to piece together more than 60 aprons, complete with lined pockets, at no cost. A lovely lady added a beautiful and priceless embroidered rose with “Grandma’s Girls” logo to each bib, making them a special keepsake. Everyone was encouraged to make memories with their new aprons, but we think they are too pretty to get dirty.
Family members lend their talents to make the occasion special. If we mentioned each by name we would surely miss someone. Prayers of thanksgiving are always offered and loved ones are remembered. One of our cousins brings her tea cup collection each year and we look forward to a special cup of steaming tea or coffee, served in dainty china from times past. Another cousin developed poster displays depicting family members and birthdates. Cousins make centerpieces from flowers, elaborately decorated cupcakes, or meaningful mementos. Food items are assigned alphabetically based on first names. There is always a good selection of delicious food.
Prior to the event, cousins have selected a theme, prepared questions, and interviewed family members. They then share these stories about our ancestors and life growing up in the 30s, 40s and 50s on the family farm. Times have certainly changed and the stories are quite interesting, like the laborious process of washing 12 loads of laundry three times a week with a wringer washer. It starts with building a fire to heat the water. This year we honored our Grandfather, Roy Wivell, on the anniversary of his 120th birth year, with special memories from his children, an interesting picture and farm display, and a decorated birthday cake.
Chinese auction items are always a favorite and help to cover expenses. Popular prizes include copies of a framed family picture from times past, and expertly handcrafted gifts from family members. Games to entertain young and old alike have been a highlight. This year’s “Human Hungry Hippos” probably was the all-time favorite. Ladies from 4 to 70s tried their luck at snatching the most balls with a round laundry basket while lying on little wheeled dollies, as someone held their legs and pushed them in the right direction.
If this sounds like something your family would enjoy, we hope you will organize a family gathering to honor your ancestors. We hold our gatherings at a local church hall, but smaller families could go to a restaurant or home. It takes some planning, but it is a lot of fun and well worth the effort.
Pictured left, Roy and Helen Wivell of Emmitsburg are pictured on their wedding day, October 20, 1926. They were dedicated parents of 20 children. The male descendants of Roy and Helen enjoy an annual ‘Savage’ Wivell reunion. Since 2015, the female descendants now enjoy the ‘Grandma’s Girls’ Reunion.
Pictured below, Roy and Helen Wivell at their 25th wedding anniversary celebration.
Above left to right, daughters of Helen and Roy Wivell are Joan Matthews, Helen Reaver, Therese Topper and Genny Little wearing the aprons that are now a highlight of the annual Wivell ‘Grandma’s Daughter’s’ reunion