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50 Years of Picnics

collage of photos of members of the Bell, Jones and Brown families at picnics in Dan Ryan Woods

A Family’s Deep Ties to Dan Ryan Woods

The Bell Jones Brown family is spread from Chicago to Atlanta to Kansas City, but every year for the last 50 they’ve migrated to familiar habitat—the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

This July, about 150 members of the Bell, Jones and Brown families gathered at Dan Ryan Woods for their 50th family reunion. Their ties to this place run deep: every reunion since 1963 has been held here (except for one year at Calumet Woods).

After 50 years, “the BJB family” pulls out all the stops. According to family member Cynthia Harris, they’ve had the event catered for the last ten years, including ribs, chicken, turkey, salads, spaghetti and corn. There’s a running race and a potato sack race for the kids, and annual softball games for the men of the family. A DJ plays music. A multi-talented clown puts on a magic show, while a big, colorful jumper is full of bouncing kids all day long.

“We have a lot of members who sing,” says Harris. “They always sing at every reunion. They’ve been around all 50 years, so they’re singing Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Sam Cooke. It’s kind of a tradition in our family.”

Dan Ryan draws the family each year for many reasons. “One of the main things is the convenience of the location,” Harris says. “It’s easily accessible to those of us in the city, whether driving or taking public transit. It’s also very spacious, and suitable for the guests we have every year.”

collage of photos of members of the Bell, Jones and Brown families at picnics in Dan Ryan Woods

The forest preserves play an important role in the continuity of the family. “Every year, we look forward to just being around our family and having fellowship for that one day out of the year,” says Harris. “Each year we honor one of the oldest members of the family, for their contribution to keeping the picnic going for so many years. That’s always something to look forward to.”

To learn more about picnicking in the Forest Preserves, including how to obtain a permit for special items such as a “big, colorful jumper,” visit our Picnic Permits Page.