Reunion brings Burnett family together

September 30, 2000

Reunion brings Burnett family together

By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

When Elizabeth and William Burnett were raising their 18 children, there were always two things present in their West Bethel Street home - a smile and the Lord.

Saturday, more than 200 Burnett family members attended the first family reunion at Pangborn Park, bringing their own smiles ... along with some tears.

One granddaughter, Lesley Smith, spearheaded the effort to pull the reunion together. T-shirts, name tags and Burnett family pins adorned those who came to share old memories and make some new ones.

"The family is so large that there are people here who have known each other as friends and now find they are cousins," Smith said.


Painstaking research by Smith and other family members turned up 47 grandchildren, 63 great grandchildren, and 58 great-great grandchildren.

Smith is the daughter of Nettie Russ, 71, who is the oldest surviving child of the Burnetts.

"We've never all gotten together before, so I thought it was time," Smith said.

She got a committee together and they began working on the reunion months ago.

As family members began to gather Saturday, there were hugs and handshakes and more than a few moist eyes. Some members couldn't make it, but the extended Burnett family has stayed fairly close to center over the years.

"Some live in Georgia and they couldn't make it, but the farthest anyone traveled Saturday was from Clinton, Md.," Smith said.

The highlight of the afternoon was the reading of the Burnett family tree. In turn, designated grandchildren began with one of the 18 siblings and traced the lineage to the present generation.

Nettie Russ remembered there was lots of love in the home she grew up in with her 17 siblings.

"We could only play with each other," she said. "And our mother wouldn't let us go out of our own yard when we were playing."

Entertainment was simple but sweet. Often it was just sitting around the kitchen table and singing, she said.

"Our father worked two jobs, on the railroad and at a furniture store," Russ said. "Mom had her work at home."

In an interview 24 years ago, Elizabeth Burnett said it was her job to be strict with her children and bring them up with religion.

"The problem today is with the children who run the streets at all hours," Burnett said in that 1976 interview.

Each child had chores and each was encouraged to keep up with studies and schoolwork, she said. But it wasn't drudge, it was just what was expected.

"There was always a smile in that house," Russ said.

Twins Lola Mosby and Lela Greene were at the reunion Saturday, recalling a lot of church attendance and rules about behavior.

"It was a strict house. ... We were all raised strict," Lola Mosby said.

The Bethel Street home had just four bedrooms, but the children were spaced in age enough that it wasn't too crowded.

"The older ones would leave the nest and make room for the younger ones," said Lela Greene.

She also remembered that their mother was always at home when they came in from school.

"There would be a homemade snack waiting for us," she said, evoking a response from several of her brothers and sisters.

Alberta Freeman, who is still referred to as the baby of the Burnett family, said the get-together was a great idea.

"Recently we had only been seeing each other at funerals," she said, recalling that her mother died in 1988. "I'm already looking forward to the next reunion like this."

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