fueled by family

July is National Family Reunion Month. Every summer, folks from all over the country pack into planes, vans and hotels — traveling across town or across the country — to reconnect with both distant and close relatives. These get-togethers provide an opportunity to make new memories and embolden the familial bond.

For some families, regular reunions are also a time to handle vital family business, organized by a formal structure that includes executive boards, bylaws and planning committees. Official records are kept and shared, important decisions are made and meetings are held throughout the year.

It’s not just a party — it’s a production.

Just ask Bug.

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Iris “Bug” Diltz is fueled by family.

From her home in Texas, she keeps tabs on hundreds of relatives across the country. In 2019, she’ll help convene more than 200 family members for the bi-annual Harvey, Govan, Lambert and Turner Family Reunion. This year, though, she’s focused on the smaller Cousins Reunion, which is happening this July in Memphis, Tennessee. The last we heard, the list was at 75 and growing. Again, this is the small reunion.

Bug says the Cousins Reunion has been going on since the 1960s, traveling from state to state each year, getting passed like a baton from family to family. It really started to grow in the late 1970s. “As more family members started going to college, it became more important to have a Cousins Reunion because some of them would end up going to the same schools, meet on campus — not knowing that they were related,” she says. “That’s when the elders had to get involved.”

As it turns out, Memphis is Bug’s hometown. She can’t wait to get back this summer. One day, she plans to retire there. For Bug, Memphis isn’t just home. The very word is synonymous with family.

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FueledBy spoke with Iris “Bug” Diltz about her passion for family and the fuel that it takes to produce an awesome reunion.

FueledBy: Family reunions seem to be just as much about the place as they are the people. Tell me about what comes to mind when you think about Memphis.

Iris “Bug” Diltz: I was born in Memphis. We moved to St. Louis when I was in second or third grade, but I still spent a lot of time there. See, I have eight siblings and the three oldest of us would spend all summer, every summer, in Memphis. We’d get out of school in early June, load up my dad’s station wagon and drive out. We’d stay there all summer, getting back just in time for the first day of school. All my family, all my cousins who lived in Detroit and Chicago and other states, we would all gather for summers in Memphis.

FB: Sounds incredible. Also sounds like you have a pretty big family.

IBD: My mother had nine sisters and brothers and they all had kids. One auntie had seven. One had five and one had four. My mom had eight kids. My grandparents lived in Memphis, and so everyone would meet there. Everyone. I’m talking about fourth-, fifth-and sixth-generation cousins.

FB: What does it take to organize a reunion like the ones you’re part of?

IBD: Constant communication. Especially among the family captains. Each state has family board members, and each board elects a state captain. The captains get together in January to start planning the next summer reunion — the when, the where, what activities. The information has to be clearly communicated — more than once — to make sure it gets to everyone. And there are deadlines to meet. You have to know when and how to book the photographer for a family photo session if you want one. If you miss the T-shirt sign-up period, you don’t get one. We’ve done family T-shirts for at least the last 10 years. Every year, there’s a newly designed shirt with a new saying, like “It’s a cousin thing” or like when it was held in Louisville, it said “Cousins in the Lou!”

I keep in touch with everyone — cousins in Colorado, New York, Alabama, Michigan, Illinois — I just love to keep in touch with everyone.

FB: What happens at the reunion?

IBD: It’s about teaching the younger generations the ways of our family. Staying connected. History. I always look forward to the Cousins Reunion talent show. There are individual and group performances; people sing songs; dance, there’s comedy, storytelling and even a clown act. On a video screen, there’s a continuous slideshow of family photos from early on to the present. People are coming from all over — California, Colorado, New York. It’s going to be a little different this year. Usually there’s a big banquet at a hotel. But we’re not doing that this year. Memphis is hosting an outside event and renting out a theatre for a movie night on the Friday that everyone arrives. That’s the meet and greet this year.

FB: Is the captain structure just about the family reunion?

IBD: No, it’s used to communicate all important life moments too. Whenever there’s a new baby born, graduations, birthdays, you name it. I just like to make sure everyone is connected, so I get in touch with the captains, and they communicate the information down the ladder in their home state. I remember everyone’s birthday — it’s just a gift I have.

FB: Aside from family, what else are you passionate about?

IBD: My passion is people. I go and visit people that are sick in the hospital and in nursing homes. I keep in touch with everyone — cousins in Colorado, New York, Alabama, Michigan, Illinois — I just love to keep in touch with everyone.

FB: What’s the story behind your nickname, Bug?

IBD: You want the real version or the version I usually tell? (laughs). I’m going to give you the real one. Coming up, when you look at the history of the family, I was the first girl born in a long, long time. My aunt Erlene said I looked just like a ladybug. And that got shortened to bug. It just stuck. I could always tell if you really knew me by what you called me. If you called me Bug, you were a real friend or family. But if you called me Iris — you were just some classmate.

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