ST. PETERSBURG — Children, adults and seniors came from as far away as Rhode Island, New York, Ohio and North Carolina, just to name a few places, to attend the Joe Wilson Family Reunion dinner held at the Chef Creole Café, 901 22nd St. S.
Sat., June 11, a charter bus pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, and members of the Wilson family filed off of the bus around to partake in the family’s 33rd reunion.
Thirty-three years ago one woman had a dream of uniting a family who had grown and spread throughout the continental United States and beyond with many serving overseas in the military. Lizzie Mae Wilson Shaw wanted to have family gatherings at times other than the somber occasion of funerals, and because of this dream a tradition was born that fostered love, support and strengthened family ties.
Shaw and Valeria Wilson McGarrah worked together to plan the first Wilson Family reunion held Sat., July 10, 1982, at Shaw’s home on 27th Avenue South.
To this day, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins eagerly anticipate the long-standing tradition of the now named Joe Wilson Family Reunion. This is a time for fellowship, reconnecting and just relaxing among those you love and who love you.
It all started with Benjamin Joe Hezekiah Brown Wilson, who was the father to 18 children. Seven of the eight living children attended this year’s celebration with ages ranging from 68 to 89.
This year great measures were taken to ensure that the reunion was a success. It has been hosted for several years near Blakely, Ga., the homestead of the Wilson family. This year they decided to return once again to the birthplace of the gathering. Mayor Rick Kriseman extended a welcome on behalf of the citizens of St. Petersburg.
The planning committee members’ ages range from 30 to 79 and were therefore able to bring together a variety of ideas including traditional and innovative ideas, such as communicating through social media and teleconferencing.
This committee once again includes McGarrah, the daughter of the late Joe Wilson, as well as several grandchildren of Joe Wilson including Valencia W. Pierce (daughter of McGarrah), Susan Walker, Rhonda Harris and Carolyn (daughter of Lizzie Mae) and husband Elihu Brayboy. Granddaughter of McGarrah, Veronica McCoy, was this year’s committee chairperson.
The reunion was a three-day event with a meet and greet on Friday, a beach picnic at Fort De Soto Beach Park on Saturday before the ceremony at Creole Café and a worship service and dinner on Sunday.
“This is the second time that it was held in St. Petersburg,” said McGarrah, daughter of the late Joe Wilson who passed in 1972.
According to McGarrah, the reunion in St. Petersburg this year signifies the beginning of a new era for future family reunions. “Next year the young people in our family will take over,” she said proudly.
McGarrah sounded very relieved to be turning the reigns of planning such a large event over to the X, Y and Z generations.
“We’re so fortunate with our young people who are doing so well. Many of them are in education, and the young man, my nephew that sang for us this evening is an optometrist. The girl that passed out the programs just graduated from Duke University,” said McGarrah, as she attributed the success of the young people in her family to everyone working together and upholding family values, morals and discipline.
Based on the Wilson family, social media pales in comparison to face-to-face interaction. A quick scan of the gathering is a testament to the integrity of a family that grows and flourishes together no matter the distance or ages between them.