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TV crew finds "wonderful week" at week-long local family reunion.

In early 1850s a stagecoach rumbled into the McCullah Chapel stop near Hurley.

It was John Wasson's first visit to the area. He stepped off the stage noticed a young woman sweeping and according to family history, said: "This is the girl I'm going to marry."

The story wouldn't be worth telling if Wasson didn't. His declaration about future wife Lucinda McCullah is a tale passed back and forth at the annual McCullah-Wasson family reunion--a southwest Missouri fixture for 102 years and soon the subject of a national television program.

WCVB, an ABC affiliate in Boston, shot the McCullah-Wasson gathering in August for an hour-long program called "Reunion." About 170 stations nationwide will show "Reunion" at various times starting in June 1993, said Jerry Kirschenbaum, WCVB senior producer for programming. Springfield station KOLR, channel 10, will air "Reunion," but the CBS affiliate hasn't set a date.

Enjoyable Week: Kirschenbaum admittedly a member of the jaded media, was shocked at the "wonderful week" he and his crew spent with 261 people. "This was a very unusual experience for us."

That enjoyment doesn't surprise reunion organizer Jay Wasson of Nixa.

He remembers his mother, Edna Wasson, saying of the event: "You can come here to be healed. We come here to celebrate our victories and find comfort when we've been hurt.

The week-long reunion begins the first Sunday in August. Relatives and guests gather on family land along the banks of the Finley River, about six miles south of Nixa. This year the descendants of John and Lucinda Wasson and her parents--Alexander and Lucy McCullah, who settled near Hurley about 1850--came from 11 states, including California and Massachusetts.

They swam, fished and floated. They explored caves. Mostly, they visited.

"I would really miss not knowing about each other from year to year," said Nixa resident Hattie Carter, the 1993 reunion president.

"You need to feel you belong to something. This is something that keeps us together."

Healing Family: Like Edna Wasson, reunion secretary Jane Staiger of Billings finds healing occurs by the waters of the Finley. "In all families there are bound to be disagreements. This is a place where you let it go."

You might say Kirschenbaum was searching for Dan Quayle when he found the McCullahs and Wassons.

The producer wanted a gathering that displayed family values. He intends "Reunion" to be the capstone of the WCVB series "Family Works!" It includes dramas, quiz shows and documentaries glued together by the theme of family issues in the '90s.

Kirschenbaum contacted the 20 genealogists from across the country to help him locate the ideal reunion. About 100 were considered.

Typical Family: He chose McCullah-Wasson because the family members are both special and ordinary. Heroes, villains, war-veterans, unusual deaths--these are things with which any family can identify.

"You know the pictures you see of Lindberg going through the streets and all the crowds cheering." They're the crowd. There are things that have happened to this family that have happened to every single American family," Kirschenbaum said.

Acceptance came quickly for the producer and his three-person crew.

The sounds men sang "Oklahoma" at the reunion talent show. Reunion participants made a "camera" with a toilet plunger and cardboard box, then interviewed the
television crew.

Kirschenbaum now understands the feelings of Springfieldian Becky Hartmayer, another reunion organizer, who says: "I have such a sadness when I drive away."

Perhaps it's not surprising, then that Kirschenbaum--minus cameras, crew, and with no story to do--will return with his wife to the 1993
reunion.



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Life & Times (Springfield Newsleader) Friday, September 4, 1992