Bennett history brings family together


It was the largest gathering of Bennett descendants who ever attended a reunion recently at Mike and Diane Baker’s in Elgin. Those in attendance represented seven states, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Illinois, and Minnesota for an afternoon of sharing their knowledge of ancestry.  (submitted photo)


Bennett history brings family together



William N. Bennett was an adventurer, farmer, gunsmith, and ancestor to many throughout the United States.

He was thrown into the world at an early age, learned a marketable trade, traveled the West in dangerous times, and managed to farm and raise a family near Elgin in Fayette County.

While he is seldom listed in Census records and any records of him have conflicting dates and information, one consistency of his life was his talent as a gunsmith.

Next to his descendants, his guns are his greatest legacy. In 1871 William applied for and was granted a patent on a special trigger mechanism, which is listed as an improvement in gunlocks. Descendants know of 12 William N. Bennett guns that are in Iowa.

William’s son, Ira, helped his father carve the woodstocks for the guns and later created handmade checkerboards, as well.

Ira had five children, Martha, Emma, Earl, Harold, and Iva, and the family has continued to grow and spread throughout the United States.


idea is born

That history brought 75 individuals from seven states together on Sunday, Aug. 10, for a reunion at Mike and Diane Baker’s in Elgin.

It was the family’s third reunion since 1999.

The idea of such a reunion emerged in 1999 when Elgin resident Bill Bennett encouraged distant family members from Louisiana to make reservations at Skip-A-Way Campground, knowing that Bev (Bennett) and Skip Baker operated the northeast Iowa getaway.

Conversations flowed easily among the cousins for days, and soon the idea was born.

After a long wait Bill Bennett hosted a reunion in 2007, and the turnout drew even more family members to northeast Iowa.

A year ago, Bev Baker decided that it was time to gather the Bennett relatives again. Having maintained contact with her relatives over the years, Baker pulled together addresses and mailed out letters of intent for the reunion to be held Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014.

“We thought that all the families would need to plan vacation times,” said the Clermont resident. “The first email we received confirming attendance was from a relative in Wisconsin and she was so excited and passed the word on to her family in the area.”

Knowing her own Clermont home could not accommodate such a large group, Baker enlisted the help of her son, Mike, and his wife, Diane, to use their Elgin home.

Leading up to the event, Baker’s granddaughters Morgan Thias and Ashley Baker designed a quilt block with a checkerboard, a gun, and a “B” to commemorate the reunion. With the screenprinting complete, Bev made quilts for each family.

“Each reunion has gotten larger,” beamed Bev. “It’s great to think that despite being distant relatives, we can get together and share stories and photographs.”

In preparation for the large event, Bev asked each of her children and grandchildren to make food for the large crowd, knowing it was a way to involve them and get them to attend the reunion. Mike grilled hamburgers and brats throughout the day as well.

Earl’s son Bob Bennett from Missouri mentioned several times to Bev that he hadn’t wanted to attend the reunion, but his daughters brought him along. Later he commented, “You know what? I’m having the best time of my life right here with family. I am so glad I came!”

When the big day came, Bev knew instinctively who some relatives were by their resemblance to the elder generation, as she welcomed the family members to her son’s home.

To help place each person on the branch of family to which he or she belonged, Bev’s grandchildren created name tags that indicated the name of family members of each generation.

In addition to simply sharing stories, many families brought old photographs along that needed to be identified.

“We laid them out on a table, along with scrapbooks, to look at,” shared Baker.

By late afternoon the reunion had come to an end, leaving all those who attended to say the reunions needed to be held more often.

“I do wish — and hope — that we can get together more often,” closed Bev. “We will continue to lose our older generations but we can still keep the Bennett family alive.”

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