While there is no English counterpart for the German concept of "gemutlichkeit," the word roughly translates to a feeling of warm friendliness, like wearing a favorite sweater or, as Paul Liepe said in his opening address at his family's 150th reunion on June 29, like being surrounded by family.
That feeling was certainly prevalent at the reunion, for which more than 300 members of the Liepe family both near and distant converged on the 4-H Fairgrounds off Route 50 at the border at Galloway and Hamilton townships.
The family last reunited in 1963. Liepe, who served as master of ceremonies at the event, said it was about time they did so again.
"People are feeling sort of disconnected right now, and I think that the family really wanted to get together," said Liepe, who grew up in Hamilton Township but now lives in Virginia. "A lot of the more senior folks in the family were very emphatic, saying we simply have to get together."
Heinrich Liepe, patriarch of the family, moved to the United States from Germany in 1855, and was met a year later by his wife-to-be, Antonia. The couple lived first in New Orleans and then Chicago, before moving to South Jersey to join a growing group of German expatriates.
The couple had two sons, William and George, and three daughters, Sophie, Antonia and Bertha, who married men with the surnames Schaab, Henschel and Grunow, respectively.
Now, the descendants of Heinrich and Antonia number more than 1,300. Many still live in South Jersey, mostly in Hamilton Township, Galloway Township and Egg Harbor City, while others live as far away as Utah and California.
The reunion came about because of Liepe, the family's self-appointed historian, who took it upon himself to write a history of his family in North America. In researching the book, many of the older members of the family expressed an interest in getting the family back together for a reunion.
Liepe began the festivities by calling the family together to give a brief presentation of their history as well as to give awards to the oldest and youngest members of the family and those who traveled the farthest and least in getting to the celebration.
At 98 years old, Helene Young is the oldest member of the family. Despite her age, she still goes out for daily bike rides and picks up trash near her home on the White Horse Pike in Galloway Township. Young, who married into the family in 1938, said she enjoyed speaking with her relatives.
"There were many that I didn't get to know intimately, and I've had a chance to speak to some of them today," Young said.
Among the happiest to be reunited with the family were Carol Schaab-Gressman and Kathy Schaab-Parnell, who said they were moved to California as toddlers when their mother abruptly left their father, Bill Schaab, for another man. The sisters said they knew nothing of their paternal family until about six months ago, when Schaab-Parnell made an account on genealogy research site ancestry.com, finding she was part of a family tree made by Paul Liepe. She contacted him and was invited to the reunion.
While it was an afternoon of fun and fellowship for all, few at the reunion got to understand that feeling of gemutlichkeit quite so well as the sisters.
"It's just fabulous," Schaab-Parnell said. "These people are everything I expected them to be - warm and loving, and like there was no passage of time."
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