One of area’s oldest families holds on to ‘big’ tradition

August 05, 2011 at 9:10 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Sidney and Malvina celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in 1976. The couple began a family reunion tradition that now boasts nearly 200 people.
Courtesy Photo
Sidney and Malvina celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in 1976. The couple began a family reunion tradition that now boasts nearly 200 people.
In the 1700s, Thomas Becnel set sail from London and headed for the German Coast. When he arrived, he and German Coast native Catherine Brou were married and founded what would become one of the oldest families in St. Charles Parish today.

Now, nearly 300 of their descendants come from near and far to reunite with family in southeast Louisiana each year.
Kay Becnel, a descendent of the original couple, is in charge of this year’s reunion and almost 200 of her relatives are expected to come. But Becnel can still remember when the large gathering was held in her grandparents’ home in Destrehan.

“When I was a child these gatherings were held at Grandma and Grandpa’s three-bedroom home,” Becnel said. “Of course, we were much smaller then but it was still quite crowded with over 100 people in attendance.”

Her grandparents, Sidney and Malvina Becnel, wed in 1908 and moved into a small house across from St. Charles Borromeo School. They raised 11 children and instilled in them the importance of keeping family together.

When Sidney and Malvina died - both around age 100 - their surviving children decided to move the reunions to a larger venue to make room for the four generations of cousins, children and grandchildren.

“Our reunions are a way for the cousins to see each other,” Becnel said. “We have family spread throughout Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois and even Canada. Without our reunions, we wouldn’t see each other on a regular basis.”

Sidney and Malvina have 259 living descendants that honor their memory each year. The number is so high that the group must rent out a large conference center to have enough room.

“The memories of Sidney and Malvina are kept alive through shared memories, photos and stories passed along from one generation to another,” Becnel said.

So what started as annual holiday gatherings has become a weekend of golf, children’s crafts, raffles, family Mass, dinner and entertainment.

Grandchildren of Sidney and Malvina take turns planning the massive event each year along with a Reunion Committee made up of various family members.

Over the years, family cookbooks and photo albums have been made and distributed as keepsakes and Carolyn DeJean, a family member in Norco, keeps a running record of all family births, deaths, marriages and divorces.

View other articles written By Michelle Stuckey

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