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Family with local ties hosts reunions on successive weekends

WORTHINGTON -- Summer is a time of outdoor fun, relaxation and the occasional family reunion. For one local family, make that family reunions -- plural.

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Attendees of the Benjamin and Bertha Smith reunion pose Saturday afternoon on the porch of the Historic Dayton House. (Special to the Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Summer is a time of outdoor fun, relaxation and the occasional family reunion. For one local family, make that family reunions -- plural.

Rosemary Pilatti, daughter of Bob and Marion Cashel, grew up in Worthington, though she now makes her home in Alaska. She decided that one family reunion wasn’t enough this summer; it was much better to make it two.

“My mom’s family has gotten together intermittently over the years,” explained Pilatti, “but this is a first for my dad’s family.”

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The first-ever “Cashel/McDermott/Lien/Weyker” reunion took place July 22-23 and resulted in a fun time for the 28 family members who came -- some from as far away as Alaska and Arkansas.

“It was great to hear stories of Grandma as a child from the cousins,” said Pilatti. “It was all pleasant and uplifting. My dad’s grandmother remarried three times, so it was a real blended family. We had representation from all the families at the reunion.”

As for the Benjamin and Bertha Smith reunion, which took place this past weekend, more than 30 people came, with representation from many of the 13 children of Benjamin and Bertha. Of the original 13, one died young and two never had children.

The last name “Smith” was actually not the original last name of patriarch Benjamin Smith. When immigrating through Ellis Island he “Americanized” his German last name – “Schmidt” – so as to fit better into his new world.

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In planning two reunions of this magnitude, Pilatti wisely chose to double up on basic activities, venues and menus. Each Friday included hors d’oeuvres and dinner at Chautauqua Park with a family photo scheduled as well as a SWAP exchange. Both Saturdays included another family photo (in case not everyone could attend both nights), a “period costume promenade,” more SWAP exchanges and dinner at the Historic Dayton House. Each weekend included gluten-free options on the menu, because, as Pilatti explained, “I need to take care of everyone’s needs.”

The SWAP exchange is something which Pilatti holds dear to her heart, given her years of involvement with Girl Scouts. SWAPs stands for Sentimental Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned somewhere. These hand-made items (which don’t necessary have to be pinnable) are intended to act as a way to introduce yourself and represent things you care about or are interested in. Ideally, a person makes one for each other person in attendance and then exchanges them around with everyone else who made a SWAP as well.

“It’s a Girl Scout tradition,” Pilatti said, laughing. “Not very many people are going to do it, but it’s just an exchange of something handmade to represent you and your home. I’m really into beading, as are most people who live in Alaska, so mine has beads.”

Her SWAP, a beaded character on a wooden skewer, can poke into a flowerpot to add a little whimsy -- and act as a reminder of the reunion.

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The period costume promenade also brought a giggle from Pilatti.

“Last weekend (at the first reunion) I wore an old prairie dress and my 22-year-old son wore my grandpa’s old coveralls from when he worked on the railroad here in Worthington,” Pilatti said. “We were the only ones who dressed up, but that’s OK. I’m really into theater and drama, so it’s a lot of fun for me.”

One event unique to the Smith family reunion is a visit out to the old homestead site in Rushmore. The original deed, in the possession of the family, shows that the property was bought in 1912. The house is long since gone, but the trip is a special experience for the family.

Ben Smith, attending the reunion from Michigan, especially enjoyed visiting Rushmore, where his father grew up.

“The Smiths were really close in the 12 kids’ generation,” Smith explained, “in terms of visiting each other and staying in touch. The cousins would see each other all the time. We’ve lost some of that today.”

It is the Cashels who have been the leaders in getting this and previous reunions going.

“There’s a core group of Cashels who are the best at keeping us in touch,” Smith added. “They’re the glue here.”

Other reunion attendees, some hailing from as far away as Texas, California, Kansas and Wyoming, also expressed their thanks to Pilatti for her behind the scenes work and the beautiful Dayton House location for Saturday’s events.

Pilatti (nee Cashel) has a special place in her heart for the Dayton house.

“My dad grew up in this house,” Pilatti revealed. “Ruth Cashel, my grandmother, ran the nursing home here and they all lived on the third floor. John Cashel bought the house from the Smallwoods, who bought it from the Daytons. Grandma was going through a divorce and (Cashel) was her divorce attorney.

“Yes,” Pilatti added with another laugh, “she married her divorce attorney.”

Pilatti’s father, then 3 or 4 years old, was joined over the next few years by three sisters as a result of that marriage.

“It’s very special to be here,” Pilatti said. “All of this is bigger than I imagined and hoped.”

Pilatti’s mother, Marion Cashel of Worthington, also took particular joy in being at the Dayton house. It was her husband, Bob, who was that 3-year-old boy running around the Dayton House as his mother ran the nursing home.

“It was very special to me to be at the Dayton house,” Cashel said. “I thought of my husband often. It was an absolutely fabulous time having the family together. Many of them had never been here before -- we didn’t even know they existed before -- and I think we made some lasting friendships.”

Cashel and three others from her generation -- all children of the original 13 -- were the “elder statesmen” at the event. Cashel’s mother, Minnie, one of nine daughters, married Archie Russell (whose coveralls were modeled at the reunion).

Murray, son of Henrietta, grew up in Fulda and now lives in Cottage Grove. His mother, third from the youngest of the original 12, died 11 years ago at the age of 102. 

Marti, daughter of Henrietta and Minnie’s brother Ben, grew up in Willmar.

"My dad was the first to fly a small-engine airplane to California ... without crashing,” Marti shared. “He used a road map; they didn't have charts then."

Harriet, also in attendance, grew up in Worthington and graduated from Worthington High School when it still met in the Memorial Auditorium. She is the daughter of Alice Cunningham, oldest of the “original 13." Harriet, now residing in West Okoboji, Iowa, is 88 years old.

"My age group – all of us grew up pre- World War II,” Harriet shared. “It was different then in Worthington; the city had about 5,000 people.

"There were three Smith sisters living in Worthington, and my mother was the oldest,” Harriet shared. “They all had children – Minnie had three children, Gertrude had four children and my mother had seven. I'm the youngest of my mother's children.”

The three sisters would get together often and have tea. They would speak in German when they didn't want their children to know what they were saying.

Stories such as this are what bring a family together to smile and share and learn from each other.

“Our reunions aren’t a big news story, I know,” Pilatti revealed, “but so much of the news today is heavy and hard to listen to lately. We want to tell the story that there’s more good than bad going on.”

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