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Family marks 75th reunion
Smith-Foster family has gathered since 1939
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Sandi Carter (from left), Barbara Carter, Cagney France and Estelle Parker-Selby look over a Smith-Foster family album Saturday during the 75th Smith-Foster family reunion at the Spencer-Penn Center. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS -

Since 1939, a love for family, faith, friends and fellowship has brought the Smith-Foster family together each year.

This weekend marks the 75th Smith-Foster family reunion, according to family members Arnold Smith, Tyrone Via and Corey Carter.

Smith and Via are members of the family reunion committee, while Carter is the committee’s president.

The weekend, Smith said, consisted of a number of activities, including a Thursday boating trip at Smith Mountain Lake, bowling at Sportlanes and jazz at the Spencer-Penn Centre Friday, and a turkey shoot at a cousin’s home and a black-tie dinner at Spencer-Penn on Saturday.

While the event has changed over the years, Carter said, one thing has remained the same: a Sunday morning church service, followed by a big meal.

This year, Via said, the reunion featured some special honors. A table was set up during the events at the Spencer-Penn Centre to display letters from President Barack Obama, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Tim Kaine and Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins congratulating the family on 75 years of reunions, along with a resolution honoring the family passed by the Henry County Board of Supervisors in June.

According to Smith, the story of the family reunion begins with Jackson Smith Jr., Mary Foster and their six children: Edgar, Hattie, Henry, Lucy, Bertha and Ben.

Edgar — Arnold Smith’s father, and also the oldest of the six children — was born in 1896. By 1916, Smith said, Jackson Smith Jr. and Mary Foster had both died, leaving six young children on their own.

“The family kind of came together to raise these six kids,” Smith said. “During the war, Edgar went to Pittsburgh and stayed with an aunt, and Bertha went to West Virginia. In1939, they were coming home, back to Virginia. So Lucy and Hattie decided to get together and have some friends over to welcome them home and have a good time.”

That informal get-together took place in July 1939. It was so much fun, Smith said, that the kids decided to do it again the following year. And then the year after that. And the year after that.

“At that time, most of the family was centered in Martinsville,” Smith said. “Only a few people actually traveled from out of town.”

Now, Smith said, about a third of the attendees live in the Martinsville/Henry County area, with the rest coming from all over the country. As a result, a few changes have been made over the years.

Starting with the 51st reunion, when it was decided to create a reunion committee to organize the event, the committee decided to begin moving the event to different locations to be closer to different family members, Smith said. Reunions have been held in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, Atlanta, and Hilton Head, S.C.

The big reunions, however — such as the 70th and 75th — are held in Martinsville, he said.

Over the years, Smith said, changes have been made to try to make the reunion more fun for the younger generations, such as trips to water parks.

“We try to do things to make it interesting for the kids, because they’re the next generation,” he said. “If they don’t develop relationships with each other, then it’s going to end. So we always try to do things during the weekend that we’re together to help build those relationships between the cousins, so that when they get older, they want to continue (the tradition).”

The reunion isn’t just for the family, either, Smith said. Since the beginning, family members have been encouraged to bring friends along, many of whom have become fixtures at the reunions.

“When I tell people at work or people that I come in contact with that I’m going to my family’s 75th consecutive family reunion ... they’re really amazed,” he said. “What I commonly get from people is, ‘I can’t even get our immediate family to get together for a day.’ ... They think it’s really amazing.”

On three occasions, Smith said, weddings have even taken place during the reunion, including his own wedding to his wife, Sandra.

At the 47th family reunion, Smith said, Lucy, the fourth of the six Smith-Foster children, told the family that she hoped they would continue holding the reunions at least until they hit number 50.

Now, 28 years later, Smith said, his wife has put together a book of family photographs — along with notes about the reunions written by Lucy herself — to commemorate the 75th anniversary.

“Everybody carries away something special from the family reunion,” Smith said. “Even though you don’t see many of the family members for a year, you come (to the reunion) and it was just like you spoke yesterday. You pick up where you left off.”

 

 
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