Clinton Journal | Descendants of Weldon family to celebrate 100th annual reunion this month

WELDON — The descendants of Emmett and Alice Gray will gather on August 14 in Weldon to celebrate the 100th annual Gray reunion.

Started by Emmett and Alice in 1923, the reunion was a way to bring their five grown children and their spouses together and preserve the Gray family legacy.

Emmett and Alice lived in Weldon most of their adult lives, where they raised five children and were active in the community. Emmett served as the village policeman, was a manager/partner of the Gray & Company Meat Market and also worked at the Railsback Brothers Elevator.

Some early reunions were held at Emmett and Alice Gray’s house in Weldon, but over the years most have been held in Weldon Park, where generations of Gray descendants have played on the cannon that still stands there today.

Other Central Illinois locations of the reunion include Weldon Springs, Nelson Park, in Decatur, Crystal Lake, in Urbana, Miller Park, in Bloomington, Big Creek Park, in Canton, Andrew and Leita Jackson’s home, in Weldon, Hessel Park, in Champaign , Charles and Mildred Gray’s home, in Canton, and Phares and Harriet O’Daffer’s home at Lake Bloomington.

The Gray reunion was established with bylaws and 13 charter members, which included Emmett and Alice Gray and their children/children’s spouses/grandchildren who lived in Weldon or Clinton, Jesse and Haidee Gray and their son Robert, Virgil and Lila Gray and their son Kenneth , Charles Gray, William (Bill) Gray, Ruby Gray, and Leita Gray and her husband Andrew Jackson. Nine of them attended the first reunion in 1923.

Officers are elected (president, vice president, secretary-treasurer) for two-year terms. Each year, the president conducts a business meeting in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order. There are recorded meeting minutes from 1927-present.

For almost 60 years, only men served as president, but in 1982, the first woman president, Cherry Jackson Kingston, who lived in Weldon, was elected. She was one of Emmett and Alice’s four granddaughters.

After the business meeting, entertainment is provided by members, which has included poetry and other readings, singing and dancing, musical instrument performances, magic tricks, baton twirling, martial arts demonstrations, and stupid pet tricks. Members also played horseshoes and croquet in the early days on Emmett Gray’s sand croquet court in his backyard at his Weldon house.

Prior to the business meeting, members enjoy a potluck picnic lunch with many family favourites, such as fried chicken, beef noodles and homemade pies.

There are 62 Gray reunion members still known to be alive, including three of Emmett and Alice’s grandchildren, ages 88, 91, and 95, 16 great-grandchildren, 17 great-great grandchildren, and two great-great-great grandchildren. Most live in Illinois or Indiana.

Special activities are planned for the 100th Gray reunion, including: lawn games, karaoke, a watermelon seed spitting contest, original poetry readings, BBQ from Hickory River, in Urbana, and more.

One of Emmett and Alice’s great-grandchildren, Sara O’Daffer Marberry, has also authored a memoir about the reunion that will be published in July 2022. It includes nine original poems written by her grandmother, Ruby Gray O’Daffer Atteberry, about the reunion.

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