Family reunion mixes history, business, pleasure

July 19, 2005|by Alicia Notarianni

A family photo including Otho J. and Margaret Welch Poffenberger taken Feb. 24, 1924, shows two young boys front and center, both of whom later met untimely deaths. One sustained an accidental gunshot wound at the age of 10, while the other drowned in the Potomac River when he was 8 years old.

Most of the others in the picture, on the other hand, went on to lead long, full lives. And three of them - Grace Poffenberger Mose, 86, of Quincy, Pa.; Arvella Swain Flook, 84, of Hagerstown; and Mark Swain, 83, of Williamsport - were among nearly 70 people who attended the 53rd annual Poffenberger family reunion from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 17, at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center, south of Hagerstown.

Family historian Marcia Swain, 56, of Hagerstown, said the background of the sepia-toned photo is a house that stands today on the Poffenberger family farm on Shepherdstown Road between Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown, W.Va. Swain said the house served as a hospital for wounded Confederate officers during the Civil War.


"There are still blood stains on the floors," Swain said.

She also said the home served as a backdrop for one of the few photos taken of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

On another of the nearby family farms, Swain said, nurse Clara Barton cared for wounded Union soldiers from her home state of Massachusetts.

Swain's history presentation was among a series of reports that make up the traditional Poffenberger family reunions.

Brian Poffenberger, 38, of Sharpsburg, partially attributes the 53-year-old reunion's longevity to organization. Unlike typical family reunions, Poffenberger gatherings are structured to include not only fun and food, but work, too. Following some mingling and a hearty meal starring fried chicken, children are sent off for games while the adults get down to business, literally.

The family holds an actual business meeting, complete with officers, a documented agenda, majority decisions and recorded minutes.

"Generally at a reunion, you would have girls talking about green bean salad, but not here," Brian Poffenberger said.

Reunion committee president Karen Williams, 39, of Keedysville, led the meeting with a review of minutes and various committee reports and discussions.

Marcia Swain presented an update on births, marriages, anniversaries and deaths, along with a substantial display of historical memorabilia.

On display were a family Bible with handwritten notes from the 1840s; a family atlas of Washington County dated 1877; and a map of Germany depicting Mistelgau in the Hummel "Bumble Bee" district, the home from which Poffenberger ancestors emigrated in 1732, the same year George Washington was born.

Swain said Madge Poffenberger Carter, who used to teach in a one-room schoolhouse off Sharpsburg Pike, began the Poffenberger family reunion tradition.

"Once this bunch gets ahold of something, it won't let go," said Bill Poffenberger, 71, of Sharpsburg.

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