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Reunion of Old Older Mennonites

An Old-Order Mennonite Family: Like the Stars in the Heavens

My husband and I will celebrate 45 years of marriage this August. We are taking the month of July to do a 4000-mile book tour with my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

The Saturday before we left on this trip, however, we attended a celebration honoring Stuart’s maternal grandparents, Webster Clay and Sarah Mabel Rhodes, who were married in 1914, one hundred years ago.


Looking over the crowd at the Rhodes Reunion

Can you guess how many descendants they have, including spouses? No one has an exact count, but the best estimate is 1,200.

Our own progeny number six, including spouses, after 45 years. At the most, that number could double or triple in 55 more years. Our descendants, unlike Abraham’s and unlike Grandpap and Grandma Rhodes’, will not number more than the stars in the heavens.

The Rhodes Reunion provided opportunities for us to reconnect with cousins, aunts, and uncles we had not seen in years.

It also led to reflections on the value of a large family that shares the same spiritual heritage. Stories and songs floated up to the rafters in the large gymnasium. Fervent prayers and hymns united all 450 people who attended the reunion, reminding us all of our responsibility to keep the faith.

Just a few sights and sounds from the Rhodes Reunion.


People got to the reunion in cars and trucks, but also by bike, buggy, and buckboard wagon!


The food from the Rhodes family farms and kitchens made the tables groan and the guests salivate. What a treat for country cooking lovers! All eyes focused on the pie table – fifty different homemade pies with no duplication of crust style and filling type. I saved space so that I could have thin slices of shoofly and cherry.


I love to watch the children play at a family reunion. Of the 450 people, about 100 of them were younger than sixteen years old. While we ate indoors, we heard rain pounding the roof. After the program ended, the children, many in dresses and long braids, ran into their natural habitat – the great outdoors. Immediately their shoes came off and the swings were full of legs heading for the sky.

Watching them, I spied the eye of one little girl who reminded me of myself at her age. She was looking for eye contact as she pumped her feet vigorously.

I remembered Robert Lewis Stephenson’s poem, “The Swing”:

How do you like to go up in a swing,

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

Ever a child can do!

I also remembered other reunions of Mennonite families in which the same freedom and joy ran wild among the children after the serious singing and praying of the adults. Soon enough the children join the train of the generations, singing and praying and telling stories inside.

And their own children will splash in the puddles and head for the sky on the swings.

What memories do you have of family reunions? Do you come from a large family or a small one?

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Shirley Showalter (9 Posts)

Shirley Hershey Showalter grew up in a Mennonite farm family and went on to become the president of Goshen College and a foundation executive at The Fetzer Institute. She is now a writer, speaker, blogger, and consultant living in Harrisonburg, VA. She recently released her memoir, "Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World."


  1. Imagine the family tree that would make!

  2. I can imagine it. They were selling genealogies at the reunion! But an actual tree might take up a whole wall!

  3. I grew up surrounded by so many cousins, aunts and uncles it was hard to remember all their names. We didn’t distinguish between 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th cousins, and we frequently got together. One branch of the family still holds a reunion every summer, 3rd Saturday of July, at the same park, same shelter. All wear colored shirts, so we can see who descended from whom (my grandfather’s children/grandchildren/greats & great-greats wear red, his sister Lois’s wear white; Nat’s wear green; and so on and so on).

    We have an annual Bocce Ball tournament, with a traveling trophy. But we don’t do pies like that! Is there any way I can sneak into your family gatherings?

    When I studied German-from-Russia-from-Alsace genealogy, I discovered that the last name means something like “rich and famous.’ It must have been ironic, even at its inception.

    I love this post, Shirley. It made me happy!

  4. Making you happy makes me happy, Tracy! And I love the idea of different colored t-shirts. Very creative.

  5. This is a wonderful story. This past weekend in Lancaster PA, a woman dressed similarly to those in your reunion picture paid me a wonderful kindness. Dressed in a colored print and kapp similar to those in your photo, would I be correct in assuming she was Mennonite and not Amish? Her actions were so spontaneous and motherly that the thought of this still warms my heart. I left her my address hoping she will write to me.

    • If she wore print-patterned clothing instead of plain colors, she was most likely some form of conservative Mennonite. I hope the woman writes to you. And I’m glad she touched your heart. Thanks for sharing this story. I know you will pass along the kindness to others.

      • I was wondering what you thought the chances were that she would write? Did she feel the same connection with me as I did with her? What happened was I was attending an event and was extremely cold. She was sitting next to me and before I knew it arms had gone around me and a scarf was draped over my shoulders. I was so touched that I almost hugged her! No one in my neck of the woods would do something like that. I doubt they would even offer something to keep one warm. This was so unusual but seemed so natural and “loving”, still makes me feel good thinking about it.

        • Maire, you were touched by an “angel.” I have no way of calculating the odds of getting a note. I will say this, however. I have known many Mennonites who would be more drawn to an act of kindness than to writing. There are many others who would love to write, but if action is your mode of living your faith, it could be that action will trump words. Come back and let us know if you get a letter. Try not to be too disappointed if you don’t.

          • It’s been months since I met this “angel” and I gave up thinking I would hear from the woman. I thought I was too forward for them and I might have stunned them or made them uncomfortable giving my name, etc.

            At the beginning of November I buried my mom of 102 years! We were so close – best friends as well as mother-daughter. It’s been hard.

            Today when I got the mail, there was a card from Pennsylvania. I didn’t recognize the address or the name. I opened up a Christmas card with a lovely note from that woman! I believe that she was sent to me at this time – such a comfort! Best Christmas present!

  6. The pies got me. How glorious. Love all the photos, which say more than words, as always.

    • Those pies were the hit of the party to be sure. Even a bakery would not have such an array. I wasn’t the only one taking pictures! Thanks for stopping by, Melodie.

  7. “…and the swings were full of legs heading for the sky.”

    MY legs would be heading toward the pie-laden table. Goodness gracious sakes alive! I think I gained a few pounds just looking at the photograph!

    • Ha, Laurie. My legs did just that also. And the taste was as good as the visual treat. What talented cooks and bakers my husband comes from. Guess who bakes the pies in our family? Yep, that’s right. Stuart.

      • Shirley – I’m a good cook. Len’s a better cook! I can see apron-clad Stuart wielding a wooden spoon in the kitchen. When Len cooks, I clean up. It’s a nice balance 🙂

  8. Kentucky Lady 717 says:

    What a great article and pictures and the pies were something else…..I would have liked to had a slice of each one ,LOL……….

  9. Kentucky Lady 717 says:

    Didn’t see recipe for cinnamon bread Kevin !!!!!

  10. The swing poem still has me. I used to say it to myself while swinging as a child. Both sides of my family tree have extended reunions. What I appreciate most is knowing how connected we all are to one another, whether by blood, marriage, or humanness. Thank you for stirring memories as you often do, Shirley. -Kathleen

    • “How connected we all are to one another, whether by blood, marriage, or humanness.” Yes, that’s exactly the feeling, Kathleen. Thanks for naming it so well. Having met members of both sides of your family, I’m sure you learned this lesson from an early age.

  11. Shirley, your and my commonalities continue. I can see why you think the girl in the periwinkle blue dress reminds you of yourself at that age. You recently had a post about your mother’s and Anne Frank’s diaries. Some time ago my husband’s and my youngest daughter told me she sees a resemblance between some photos of Anne Frank and me when I was around her age.

    You and your husband attended an Old-Order Mennonite family reunion. Chipotle Mexican Grill has started a literacy promotion campaign by posting on their cups and bags very short stories (two-minute reads) by 11 authors. Yesterday I read Malcolm Gladwell’s which began, “I grew up in Canada, in an area of Ontario where there is a large community of Old-Order Mennonites.” He went on to tell about a barn-raising his father helped with and being accepted even though he and his three sons were different from the other there.

    Stuart’s family of orientation goes back to the Rhodes family. Ross Rhodes from Kalona, Iowa was the boy I have told you about whom I had a full blown crush on when we were both in a newly reorganized Iowa high school for only our senior year. He had a way of giving me a captivating look while we waited for our English class teacher to make her rounds in the classroom – so much so that he made ME BLUSH. He graduated from Goshen and went on to become a medical doctor, then died from cancer between our 40th and 50th high school class reunions.

    And finally the pies – and the Hallmark print – Save room for dessert. And at the reunion you had saved “space” for shoefly and cherry.

    • Hi Barbara. Thanks for sending me off in quest of the Malcolm Gladwell story. I know he describes his Mennonite connection in his last book, which I have not read yet.

      And thanks for offering more information about Ross Rhodes. No wonder you could appreciate BLUSH. You, in many ways, lived my story also. At least you connect enough to understand it in detail. Thanks so much for your active interest and sharing. It touches me to know that you are touched.

  12. elainemansfield says:

    I have no family reunions that come close to this, but the groaning board of pies takes me back to my grandmother Ziola Edna Munderbach Ware who made the world’s best pies for her two sons, their wives, and the five grandchildren every Sunday. She knew how to feast. So take Grandma times 100 and I might get close to your husband’s family reunion.

  13. Thanks for sharing. Your other stories are fascinating too! I’ll bet your wife makes a great mac ‘n cheese. 🙂


  1. […] the same two people — Stuart’s grandparents. You can read the story and see the pictures here. You have to see the picture of that pie […]

  2. […] MASSIVE REUNION:  I loved this story!  A Mennonite couple who married 100 years ago still have occasional family reunions for the 1200 or so relatives that that couple spawned.  Sheesh, my wife often brings mac n cheese to my family reunion.  How much would she need to make to feed 1200 people?  This reunion is so big it is held in a gymnasium.  For comparison’s sake my Mom’s family has their annual reunion at a picnic shelter and we are all wowing if 75 people show up.  But 1200?  Amazing.  The photos with the entry are great, especially those pies.  Yum! Click here to enjoy the post. […]

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