The Valdosta Daily Times
For more than half a century, the Mullis family — and related offshoots of Wilson, Weeks and Harnage — have been gathering together once a year for family and fellowship, and this year, this weekend, they celebrated their 65th family reunion in Lowndes County.
It's a tradition with origins reaching back to World War II, a story of overcoming a tragedy.
After enlisting in the Army Air Corps, James Wilson found himself on the crew of a B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber that saw extensive service in World War II. In a tragic accident during a training mission in October 1944, Wilson's plane clipped its left wing tip on Camel's Hump, a mountain in Vermont, and crashed. Of the crew, only Wilson survived, though not unscathed; due to the frostbite he suffered at the crash site before being discovered, Wilson lost both hands and both feet, which were replaced with prosthetics. Not one for giving up, Wilson obtained his law degree, setting up practice in Denver, Colo., where the cooler weather was easier on his prosthetics.
It was Wilson's survival, recovery and dogged determination which led the Mullis family to gather and celebrate in 1948 in the front yard of a family member's home on Gordon Street in Valdosta on a Sunday afternoon.
They enjoyed it so much, they decided to do it the next year, and the next.
But the family was growing, as families will, and
in the early to mid 1950s, they decided to hold the yearly reunion at the 4-H Camp in Lake Park.
“It was mostly adults in those years,” said Gail Eicher.
“When we started coming out here, there was no air-conditioning,” said Joyce Melugin, who had driven in this weekend from Texas. “We had to fight the heat and the snakes.”
In addition to moving it to the 4-H camp, where it has been held ever since, the reunion also started getting longer, slowly adding days until it was where it is now, starting Thursday and running through Sunday.
“We show up on Thursday and wait for them to open the gates,” said Melugin. “The first day is for visiting and catching up.”
Friday evening is marked by a traditional fish fry, followed by Saturday, which is mostly given over to fun, games for the kids, a talent show and awards.
“We hit a point where a lot of the children were backing out and stopped coming,” said Ruthie Mullis Gay, who acts as treasurer for the reunion. “We started doing the entertainment, the games and the talent show to try and draw the kids into it.”
Throughout the weekend a silent auction is held, the money from which is put back into next year's family reunion. Indeed, the whole thing is run like a small company, with different people in charge of different committees: Planning, Entertainment, Cooking. It's a lot of work, but it's work that the family shares.
For years, to even get a spot at the 4-H camp in the summer, family members had to camp out at the commissioners office. Now, registration is handled by lottery: everyone interested enters on the first work day of the new year and then numbers are drawn.
While they're a tight-knit family, member are spread across the United States. It's not unusual to find people at the reunion who have driven a thousand miles or more to attend; the family has even started presenting an award for whoever drove the furthest.
“Family is important,” said Gay. “On the face of this Earth, family is the most important thing.”
“The little ones, they are so excited to come back each year,” said Eicher. “They can't wait to get here. Even though some of them don't see each other but once a year, it's like no time has passed.”