...celebrating 31 years!
~~Sheila Pradia Williams is a strong believer in the power of family reunions to strengthen family bonds and support individual identity and resiliency across generations. Sheila is a part of the Baptiste-Jacquot Family Reunion that has spanned 34 years and the Pradia-Pradier Family Reunion that has a 22 year history. Over the past 20 years she has organized two family reunions in the Washington DC area. In her own words, Sheila has expressed a strong desire to leverage family reunions to address issues important to this unique inter-generational group. “I believe that family reunions can serve an important role in advancing and supporting issues important to family members across generations”.
Sheila is the mother of three young adult children who are actively pursuing their educational and career goals. Being a mother by far has been the most important job she has ever had. She and her husband Chad are “family enthusiasts”, never passing up a chance to connect with family near and far. In her professional life, Sheila is a public health executive in the federal government where she administers $1.55 billion in health workforce grant programs. She has spent the last 21 years dedicated to increasing access to high quality health care for underserved and vulnerable populations throughout the nation, and holds degrees in pharmacy and biochemistry, as well as an MBA and certificate in Business Analytics.
Sheila believes the interactions and communication that occur as a result of family reunions can help us understand our current experiences, contextualize them for deeper reflection and analysis, and provide the background information needed to create blueprints for the future. Her goal is to help FRI expand and fully realize its potential to advance and support the health, economic viability and preservation of families through family reunions.
~~Suzanne Vargus Holloman has served on almost all of the Kountze Family reunion planning committees including chairing one of the reunions. She worked for over 20 years in workforce development and higher education prior to her recent retirement. Suzanne has achieved several firsts as an African American woman in her professional career including her appointment as the Dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Montgomery County Community College. Prior to her career in higher education, she manifested her entrepreneurial spirit as the publisher/owner of Renaissance Magazine, The New Spirit of Black Philadelphia. The magazine, which highlighted the good news in the Black community, was published for 10 years with subscribers in almost 30 states. Suzanne has a BS from Syracuse University and an MBA from Drexel University. She has been married to Rev. Stephen Holloman for almost 39 years and they have been blessed with two daughters.
~~Before retirement, Doug Harris worked as a Community and Public Relations Consultant and Project Manager. During his earlier corporate career, Doug distinguished himself as the highest-ranking African American in various divisions of four Fortune 500 corporations. A skilled communicator, he holds a BA in Education from College of New Jersey and an MBA from Fordham University. He and his wife Myrna celebrated their 47th anniversary in 2020. He enjoys the affection of two spiritual sons, five adoptive grandchildren and a godson. An ordained minister, Doug studied pastoral counseling at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as co-pastor at the second location of Covenant House of God Church in Philadelphia in the ‘80s. He is currently Associate Pastor of Kingdom Worship Center of Philadelphia, where he is an instructor in its Cyber Sunday School.
Doug and his wife edited and published their family newsletter. They also researched and printed a family directory. Doug has self-published his mother’s memoirs (The Marvel Chronicles), a memoir of the Black community where he grew up (Raised By Giants) and a short treatise on his grandfather entitled The Life, Legend and Legacy of John Allan Harris.
~~Bill Vargus has devoted 30 years to the TV news business. A nine-time Emmy nominee, Billy V, as he is known in Philly, won the Emmy for Best Sports Anchor for the Mid-Atlantic Region in 2008 and 2009, his final two years at Fox 29. Billy previously worked at six different radio stations in Philly, and has also been a sports anchor at WWOR-TV in New York, WIVB-TV in Buffalo, and NBC-10 in Philly. His first TV anchoring job was at WHYY-TV in Wilmington, Delaware, where he met his wife, Sue Serio, who is now the morning weather anchor on Fox 29. Over the last four years, Billy has been involved in virtually every aspect of news and entertainment. His most recent credits include:
~~Helen Dow Howell Wilkinson was an educator in the Philadelphia School District for over 37 years, retiring in 2005 as the Director of School Support in the District’s North Region. While education was a major part of her life, so was her family, where she enhanced her reunion and its process by helping found the Dow Family Association, serving as National President for eight years and Corresponding Secretary for six. Guided by family bylaws, the Dow Family Association holds annual local and national reunions. Helen and her family members have been featured in magazine articles and television appearances about family reunions. She is currently doing "Finding the Rest of Me" research on her Georgia roots. Helen is happy to share her reunion knowledge, and interacts with ALL members from both sides of her family (the Dows and Young’s from her mother's side, and Tyler-Robinson-Howell and Allen’s from her father's side). Family members regularly communicate across the country via Facebook, the Family website, email, text, and telephone (where they sometimes convene conference calls). Helen also actively participated in researching her husband’s family, the Townes/Wilkinsons with her sister-in-law. Helen is married and has three biological children, an adopted daughter, a daughter-in-law, and four awesome grandchildren. As a charter member of the Family Reunion Institute (FRI) Advisory Board, Helen served as a valuable member of the conference planning committee. She presented at most of the FRI Conferences; worked the registration table for events and conferences; and traveled by invitation to speak on behalf of the FRI. She designed the curriculum and workbook used for FRI national children's conferences, encouraging children and parents to explore their roots/ancestry. The workbook was used for a project with students in several schools in North Philadelphia. Helen also designed a tool to help her grandchildren understand the connection to their ancestry (e.g., why they eat certain foods and have certain traditions), by making a recipe quilt, cooking, and sampling recipes. A participating relative won a James Beard award, known as the Oscar of Food. Helen has ~~worked hard to see the children in her family come together to set collective goals and get to know one another. These were primary goals when the family Association was set-up, and they’re goals she continues to make happen from one generation to the next.
~~Sylvia Ford-George has embraced family reunions since her mother’s passing more than 30 years ago. “My mother was the family nucleus and kept us all in touch and connected. I was really worried about losing touch with everyone and vowed to continue her work, so I created a family newsletter. Each newsletter generated new information about family members, many of whom were not known to each other. This triggered research on our family history, which led to our first reunion. I’m proud to say that our family, the Harpers, celebrated our 25th reunion in 2014." In 1999 the Harper Family wanted to find out what families were planning for turn of the century reunions. So as most people do when they have questions about planning a reunion, I contacted the Mother of Family Reunions, Dr. Ione Vargus. Our scheduled half-hour meeting lasted more than an hour. It went so well that I eventually became a member of the Institute’s Advisory Board, and began assisting board members with the celebrated Family Reunion Conference (last held in 2007). Today I am spearheading the reorganization of the Institute with a goal of developing a succession plan that will see the Institute expand, grow, and eventually reinstate the conferences that were so well-received and loved. The first step is a revamped website to keep the Institute more actively connected with family members who plan reunions, as well as hospitality, tourism, entertainment and amusement organizations that help make reunions exciting, adventurous and fun.
~~Dr. Ione Dugger Vargus is Professor Emerita of Temple University where she broke new ground as the first African-American ever to hold the title of academic dean in Temple’s history. In addition to her roles as Acting Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and Presidential Fellow, Dr. Vargus served as the Dean of the School of Social Administration for 13 years. It was a combination of her graduate studies and experience as a social worker in Chicago and Boston that inspired her lifelong commitment to strengthening families and promoting reunions as a way to enhance identity, self esteem and family values. Guided by that calling, Dr. Vargus founded the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University in 1990. Since then, she has become a nationally acclaimed authority on reunions and their role in sustaining spiritual and cultural vitality in our families and communities. Dr. Vargus has been interviewed or quoted by nearly 400 national and local publications and has appeared on a variety of radio, television and online shows. For 17 years she, and a skillful team of volunteers, produced a national conference on family reunions, drawing hundreds of attendees from all over the country. It is no wonder that she is widely and affectionately known as “The Mother of Family Reunions”.