By Steve Sheridan
In June 1905 George Sheridan married Sarah Unwin in Chicago when George was serving as first assistant keeper at the Michigan City Lighthouse. Sons Joseph and James were born there. In 1909 the U.S. Lighthouse Service sent George to man Saugatuck’s Kalamazoo River Light Station. Another son, George, was born there in 1911.
During the weekend of June 21- 23, 2019, 84 descendants of those two families gathered at Brendt and Sara Sheridan’s Saugatuck Township home to reconnect and celebrate 110 years of continued presence by one or more of the two families in the area.
Last winter Steve Sheridan and his cousin Dave, with wives Tanya and Beverly started planning the event.
“We had no idea at the time how many would come, Dave Sheridan said, “so we just sent out an email to all the families. The response was an overwhelming ‘yes, we will be there.’”
Organizing the reunion included ordering special t-shirts, arranging for meals and scheduling activities for old and young alike.
The group spanned four generations with the oldest being Douglas resident Jack Sheridan, 81, and the youngest Leland Sheridan, 3, son of Aaron and Trish of Fennville.
Festivities began with many family members arriving Friday night to reconnect over pizza. Brendt’s property, with its wide-open spaces and fishing pond overlooking the Kalamazoo River, was perfect for the event. Out-of-state family came from Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, California, Oregon and New Jersey to attend the gathering.
On Saturday, the Sheridans-Unwins met at the Mt. Baldhead pavilion for a box lunch, then set off in different directions for an afternoon of exploring.
One group climbed Mt. Baldhead and hiked the back trail to the old harbor and a view of the present-day Deam cottage, site of the old lighthouse that was destroyed by tornado in 1959.
Others enjoyed a visit to the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center’s Pump House Museum or a Kalamazoo River cruise aboard boats of family members Dan Sheridan and Andrew Zolper.
The group reassembled Saturday night at Brendt’s for a dinner of ribs and chicken, conversation, story telling, picture taking, fishing in the pond and marshmallow roasts by the fire.
Sunday morning’s sendoff at the History Center’s Old School House, hosted by Kathy Sheridan, included a presentation by Jack on the family tree, then viewing a digitized version of 1950- 1960 reel- to-reel home movies of the Joseph Sheridan family.
“Family reunions have become a tradition with us,” Beverly Sheridan said. “They started back at the old lighthouse when the Unwins came from Chicago to visit the Sheridans there.
“We held one in 1991 and another in 2000, both at the Saugatuck Yacht Club,” she continued. “But there were smaller numbers then. The young ones of 1990 are now the parents of a whole new generation of grandchildren … and so it goes.”
Representing the Unwin side of the clan were Kathy Harthorn and husband Dave of Saugatuck Township; daughters Miranda and Megan, plus grandchildren from Mt. Pleasant.
“It’s a great opportunity for the cousins to reconnect,” said Kathy, “and for the old folks to visit and appreciate the sight of a family coming together once again, if only for a short time.”
When will the next reunion be? “It will be up to the next generation to decide that,” Dave Sheridan said. “I think we will pass the torch on to them.”