Generosity drives family reunion

Visiting with relatives is usually enough to draw folks to summer family reunions, but there was a special incentive for the Reil family. Albert Reil, 90, gave away a red Mustang to one lucky relative who made the trek to Lake Chelan.

The gift was given in memory of his wife, Ethel Reil.

Born in 1914 in Kansas, Reil married Ethel Smith, a South Dakotan, in 1940. They had three children and a wonderful 62-year marriage. Reil retired 37 years ago as a police sergeant and detective, but he never really stopped working. He sold landscape materials to contractors, owned a garden store, worked as an investigator for an attorney and as a travel agent.

The couple moved from Richland to Mukilteo in 1973 to be near their daughter in Snohomish.

Life was good. The three children gave the Reils 23 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren. In 1994, they had a memorable family reunion in Oregon. Ethel Reil, who had diabetes, was looking forward to the big reunion planned for 2004.

She died Jan. 30, 2003. Reil nursed her in a care facility where they lived in Everett. After some fuss and a fight with his insurance company over a 1989 policy that was supposed to cover nursing home care, Reil was given a $50,000 check.

He knew exactly what he wanted to do with it.

With help from his granddaughter, Jennifer Smith, Reil planned and paid for a family reunion in Lake Chelan.

He bought airplane tickets for relatives from places such as Arkansas, California, Alaska and Arizona. He paid for the hotel. He bought the meals and organized a banquet. There were many perks, but the big deal was the drawing for a 2003 red Ford Mustang that Reil bought to give away at the party.

Only family members with valid driver’s licenses, 41 in all, were eligible for the drawing where they gathered at the Best Western in Lake Chelan. Using a bingo ball set-up, everyone got a number.

The winner was Reil’s daughter-in-law from Kennewick, Pat Reil, the mother of 14 children, who Reil said certainly deserved the candy-apple red wheels.

He assured me that when the winner was handed the car keys and title, there was no envy.

“The roof about came off,” Mr. Reil said. “Everybody was so happy.”

His daughter-in-law, who calls Reil, Dad or Grandpa, said she never imagined driving home from the reunion in a Mustang. When it came time to give away the car, Pat Reil found a spot in the back of the room.

“I loved looking into the faces of family members as they received certificates to places like Olive Garden and Outback,” she said. “You could tell that everyone was very pleased, not only for receiving gifts, but also happy for those who received.”

At last the big moment came. She said she couldn’t believe her ears when her number came up.

“All I could think of was hugging Grandpa,” Pat Reil said in an e-mail from Kennewick. “Grandpa Reil’s generosity is legendary in the family. He willingly and cheerfully gives all he can to every family member. Grandma was the same way. Whenever a need was felt or seen, they were among the first to respond with love, concern and discreet help in many ways.”

Younger members of the family received laptop computers, car-replica banks filled with coins and teddy bears. The Ford runabout bank was a model of the car that the Reil family had in Kansas. Mr. Reil said the car was more fun than riding in the spring wagon pulled by Marg, an old farm horse.

Perhaps the nicest gift given to families at the reunion were beautifully crafted family albums, designed by Reil’s children, Rick Reil, Saralyn Curtis and Scherion Bohlke.

Reil said he spent the $50,000 windfall on the reunion project, almost to the penny.

“Ethel would have been tickled to death,” Reil said. “I didn’t need the money.”

Saying he isn’t a rich grandpa, Reil said he has been frugal in his life, bought a few good stocks, and worked hard. He said he was overjoyed to share with his kin.

“I have a hell of a family,” he said. “They are good to me. They call, e-mail, write and come and visit.”

No doubt wonderful memories of Al Reil will be shared at the next reunion. In his will, he set aside money for a family gathering five years after he dies.

Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or oharran@ heraldnet.com.

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