By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — If Stephen and Charity Harrison were alive today, they would probably have quite a big smile on their faces, seeing what became of their family.
Stephen and Charity Harrison were married in the 1850s and spent their married life in the Slidell area, raising 10 children together.
Today, approximately 160 years later, the descendants of that couple continue to hold a reunion every two years that includes all the family members who want to be a part of the “Harrison Family Reunion.”
The gathering of the Harrison and Jackson families usually includes 400 relatives or more, with many traveling to Slidell from all over the country. The reunion is a wonderful example of a family keeping their heritage alive, and passing down stories from their ancestors, going back to the days when segregation was still a part of our country’s history.
Michael Moody, from Winter Park, Fla., is one of the organizers of the reunion and said it was expanded in 1992 as a way to bring together as many family members as possible.
Different family members related to the 10 children held small reunions starting in 1948, but then in 1992, Col. Ellis Moody decided to organize a joint reunion of both sides of the family. Of course with 10 children, more than 100 years later, there are hundreds of relatives.
“We have a genealogy committee that has worked on the family lines for years and we estimate there are at least 2,000 descendants,” Michael Moody said.
There were over 400 relatives at the first reunion in 1992, and Moody said they seem to maintain around that number showing up every year.
“We keep finding new people and they replace some who decide not to come every year, or some who have passed away,” he said. “Somehow we seem to have around 400 people every two years when we have this.”
Elizabeth Reece, 88, is one of the oldest family members who just started coming two years ago, and returned this year. Her son, Kenneth Harrison of Slidell, married Reece’ daughter, and added some new people to the large group.
“I was told about the reunion and it sounded wonderful, so I came two years ago,” said Reece, who lives in Carson, Calif. “The one I came to last time was better than I ever imagined, so well organized. Everyone is so very friendly, southern hospitality so to speak, and everyone loves you and hugs you.”
Moody said that one big part of the reunion is to keep their family history alive. The reunion is a four-day event, with an opening night meet-and-greet, followed by a program Friday night at a Slidell church where new family members are introduced, and stories are told about history in the family.
On Saturday there is a morning of games, with an Olympic theme this year, followed by a big picnic in the afternoon. On Sunday, family members attend a host of area churches.
“We don’t want to get together just for funerals,” Moody said. “Our interest is to keep our family history alive since we have so many great stories in our past. The reunion has been a great way to accomplish that.”
The event is also an economic boost for Slidell since approximately 20 percent of the visitors are staying in local hotels, while all 400 of the attendees are shopping at local stores, Moody confirmed.