A Reunion of Historic Proportions

If I had planned the 2015 Lovewell family reunion, I might be in tears right now, or at least moping around the house in my robe and slippers with a drink in my hand, thinking it had been a failure because so few invitees showed up.  The invitations that went out looked splendid, there was a full slate of fun activities planned including a guided tour of history-rich sites in the area, a hootenanny and wiener roast on Saturday, a potluck meal on Sunday that was exactly as tasty as one would expect, considering the lineage of the ladies who prepared it, and the setting for the whole shebang was along the shores of a beautiful lake in the chalk hills of northern Kansas.  Plus there was the opportunity to hear a tedious illustrated lecture from me.  That may have been the problem.  People had been warned off.

It seemed in the days leading up to the reunion that the universe was hinting that I might want to skip it myself.  On Memorial Day weekend, a driver who must have caught an early showing of “Mad Max: Fury Road” went joyriding in the wee hours before dawn, jumped the curb a few hundred feet up the street, tore across my neighbors' lawns and totaled my wife's noble old Nissan which was parked in the driveway in front of my house.  The culprit sped away into the night and vanished.  

I had taken two days off work last week to hone my presentation, but had to spend Thursday afternoon frantically searching for someone to deal with the gigantic limb from a tree in my yard that fell on a neighbor’s electrical service line.  We’ve had lots of rain lately.  A pair of stalwart lads from Jeremy’s Tree Service arrived with chain saws and a bucket truck, braving a steady drizzle from the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill to chop up the limb and haul it away before my neighbor’s lights went out.

On Friday, I set off with my wife and son toward the Spring River Buffet at Downstream Casino, a sort of dual celebration combining her birthday and Father’s Day, when I would be visiting Lovewell State Park.  Ten miles from Downstream my Focus suddenly died and refused to start.  I phoned a coworker to come rescue my family while I waited for the tow truck.  Instead of contacting someone in Joplin, which was only 15 miles away, for some reason AAA decided to summon Parsons Towing Service, which is 60 miles distant on an ordinary day, and this was no ordinary day.  Business had been slow, so the owner decided to spend the morning at an Amish auction somewhere between Parsons and Chanute when the call came in.  I had been waiting at the side of the road for three hours when he arrived.  Did I mention that I’m photo-sensitive?  I was a radiant rubine by nightfall, when my wife and I began feverishly transferring stuff from my car at the auto shop to her nicer, newer Focus, which would be my transport for the weekend.

Dragging myself out of bed at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, I started to print out my travel route when Google Maps suggested a last-minute shortcut at El Dorado.  It seemed a bit serpentine but simple enough.  Little did I know that streets had been renamed since Google made their survey.  The road labeled “Kechi-Towanda Road/Wikechi Road” on my map, is in reality deonoted by a sign that reads simply, “Towanda,” while “Towanda Avenue,” which I expected to encounter few turns later, has become “Central Avenue.”  I rode around in circles until getting dizzy, making numerous three-point turns and several impromptu U-turns, though not as many as I made on the return trip when I tried to read the route backwards, which just doesn’t work at all.

As I began to unpack my gear after finally pulling into Willow Shelter at Lovewell State Park, I quickly realized that the carton which was supposed to contain all the parts for assembling an 8-foot projection screen, was missing a key piece of hardware.  What I had brought with me was an expensive but useless erector set.  While other attendees set off on their tour of historic sites, I zipped into nearby Superior to find something that could be cobbled together to reflect a projected image.  Returning with a 49¢ remnant of white material from the Thrift Store and a roll of Gorilla Tape from Ace Hardware, I concocted an ungainly screen that would do the job.  As the adventurers returned from their history safari, someone suggested rearranging the agenda to have me do my presentation immediately instead of waiting until Sunday.  I had planned on doing some last-minute editing in my motel room that night and also hoped to refresh my memory of the visuals, but some attendees were heading home in a little while.  I was game.

At one point Jim Lovewell kindly assembled his Karaoke unit and handed me a microphone so my somewhat wearily-disjointed narration could be heard above the roar of all the fans that were keeping us from melting into puddles of goo.

So how was the reunion otherwise?  Utterly fantastic, easily the most delightful reunion I’ve ever attended.  People who weren’t there should feel envious.  There were so many highlights that it will take another posting to name them all.

Attendance struck some as depressingly low.  The head-count was low, but probably not as meager as it seemed.  Since the reunion occurred over a two-day period, and on Father’s Day weekend, some people who showed up on Saturday couldn’t be there on Sunday.  On Sunday descendants of the late Max Lovewell arrived, who hadn’t been there on Saturday.  A few people trickled in early on Saturday to greet old friends, swiftly meet some new ones, and then say adios.  There was never a moment when everyone who attended the reunion was in the same place.  If they had been, and had posed for a photograph, it would have looked something like the one below, a famous birthday party which, Dave Lovewell and I have decided, must have been held on 20 December 1913.*

Birthday gathering sm

We had a few more adults than that one did and probably fewer children, but around the same total attendance, which newspapers at the time considered large.  So that may be the appropriate newspaper headline for the 2015 celebration: “Lovewell Reunion Attended by Crowd of Historic Proportions."

It occurs to me that I’ve never properly enjoyed the other Lovewell get-togethers quite the way I did this one, always arriving dead-tired, shaking a few hands, having some chow, sometimes offering a little speech concerning a recent discovery I was wildly excited about, and then thundering off into the Flint Hills, bound for home.  There probably won’t be another two-day event, based on the attendance for this one, but Pat Lange and Carolyn Simms should be congratulated for concocting a truly memorable event for those who showed up.

This is the one I will remember fondly. 

* For the real story behind this frequently-misunderstood photograph, which was taken April 1, 1916, see The Face-Maker Makes the Case"

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com