By Sue Moore
One hundred years of continuous family reunions is a milestone for the Charles Munn family of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft. Family members celebrated on Sunday, July 10 at Jackie and Frank Chapin’s farm home in Schoolcraft. These reunions used to mean a lot of cranking on the old homemade ice cream machine according to Jackie, while keeping the tradition alive of homemade ice cream to be served to young and old for the reunions.
“Nobody remembers when we stopped playing ball after the big meal, but they would certainly remember if we stopped serving homemade ice cream. The reunions almost came to a screeching halt when family member Mercer Munn remarked that it was getting too hard for the older folks to get around Prairie View Park where the family gathered in the 80’s. That’s when I spoke up and offered to have it at our farm, without seeking the counsel of my husband, 29 years ago. I stipulated that the date had to move from August when we would be harvesting to July so Frank could help with everything,” Chapin joked since he wasn’t at that momentous gathering.
“I thought it was important to keep the tradition going, so I stepped in. And now here we are going for the 100th anniversary, so I know it was the right thing to do,” she said. “Everyone pitches in to help with the food. I supply the ice cream and the kids were tasked to turn the crank. When we celebrated the 50th reunion, it was at the EUB church in Vicksburg with over 90 notices sent out. This year I sent out 27 invites, so I guess that says something about how the family has gone its separate ways, yet still sees a reason to get together.”
“We see the joy, the smiles, the warmth, and the genuine greeting of cousins being together. We reminisce, tell stories and share the family history.
The founding member of the family came over on a boat to settle on a farm in Brady Township in 1891. Charles Munn actually made several landings in the New World, the first in 1848 when he was 18. He came with two brothers and two friends but they all returned to England at some time or other. He married Ann Wood and rented a farm in England, but couldn’t get the idea of returning out of his mind. Meantime, they had 11 children, though two, Thomas and Mercer Munn, died before the family left again for America. Mercer’s name has lived on in Vicksburg through many generations.
Charles next returned to Michigan in May, 1876 with his 16-year-old son George, leaving the rest of the family behind. They visited friends in Plainwell and Vicksburg. He returned again to England, this time to accompany home an invalid sister who had lived in Jackson. She was very sick and had been deserted by her American husband after he had borrowed her meager earnings. Her only wish was, “Take me home, Charlie,” so he did, leaving 16-year-old George alone at the depot in Vicksburg. The sister lived long enough to sight land and was permitted to be taken ashore for burial.
Meanwhile, George found work on a farm in Brady Township and saved his money. With the help of the money George sent to his father, Charles and Ann boarded another steamer, with the remaining eight of their children in tow this time. They settled in Michigan in May of 1884 and moved to Vicksburg on W Avenue in 1891 to be near George. The youngest of the 11 children, Anne Jane, celebrated her seventh birthday on the ship and remembered how rough and stormy the crossing was. She was Jackie Chapin’s grandmother.
As the older children married and had families of their own, they would meet on George’s farm and have fish fry gatherings. But they didn’t start yearly reunions until 1916. They met at the spot on Indian Lake now known as Munn’s Resort at the north end of the lake. Cattle and sheep roamed over the place. According to family lore, they went out on the lake in an old “side wheeler” to catch the fish for dinner. Certainly a bit different from the modern-day family reunions, Chapin observed.