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Down-to-earth family reunion

It was a reunion to remember for the Forrest and Thompson families. Loren Forrest had dreamed of it for years.

His family, including his wife, Joyce and son, Russell, were the only ones who could make it happen. They're the only descendants who still live on a Luverne, Minnesota, farm where the two families originally settled in the 1880s.

In 2008, they invited family members for a farm-based, working family reunion, and 150 relatives, including Patse Hansen, Lewistown, Montana, showed up.

"It was the neatest family reunion," she says. "It all started because Ilse Thompson had written a poem about Russell Forrest's (Loren's dad) love of the land.

In the reunion invitation, Loren and his twin sister, Lorna, advised family members to wear work clothes. Once they arrived, they made flour from farm-grown wheat, butchered chickens, dug onions, carrots, potatoes, and sweet corn, picked apples, and made pies and rolls.

They also made ice cream, churned butter from cream, and made jam from raspberries gathered on the farm. They even had a cow-milking contest. (At one time, the Forrests were dairy farmers, but the cow was rented for the reunion.)

Russell Forrest, a deer hunter, had venison processed at the local locker. Loren bought bison from a neighboring farmer.

"We had to work together, because there wouldn't be any food unless we made it with our own hands," says cousin Judy Toler, Grand Prairie, Texas.

Family members enjoyed rides in a 1907 horse-drawn surrey by the John Deere Plow Company and a farm wagon hitched to draft horses.

They wrapped up the two-day reunion with a barn dance and a church service at the farm.

"One reason for holding this reunion is to see if this family can exist on the prairie for two days," Loren had written family members. "As you work, I hope it becomes food for your soul and mind, as it was for my father, Russell Forrest."

The families traveled across the U.S. -- from Montana to Texas to New York City, as well as Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime reunion," Judy says. "I think we all were just ready for it. We live so far apart."

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