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Published: Sunday, 12/19/2004

At holiday time, definition of family grows

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Roger Allmandinger, left, Kathy Kusisto-Allmandinger, and Anne and Bill Oldaker have spent past Christmases together. Roger Allmandinger, left, Kathy Kusisto-Allmandinger, and Anne and Bill Oldaker have spent past Christmases together.
ALLAN DETRICH / BLADE Enlarge

The definition of family gets fuzzy this time of year, its boundaries expanding to envelop neighbors, friends, foreign students, empty nesters, widows and widowers, single parents, and others who find themselves orphaned in a season that celebrates togetherness.

For people who don t have relatives to share the holidays with, this can be either an achingly lonely time, or one that s rich and full of surrogate family.

Anne Oldaker, a transplant to southeast Michigan from Pennsylvania, fills her Temperance home with close friends. Her philosophy: The more, the merrier.

The Oldakers Anne, her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Katie moved to the area about six years ago. Our first holiday here was very quiet, just the three of us, Mrs. Oldaker recalled. In some ways it s sad, because you miss the American ideal of a holiday as huge family gatherings, but I think it brings you closer when it s just the three of you.

Meanwhile, the concept of Pennsylvania as home has changed. When your parents are gone it s like it s not quite the same, she reflected. Now my sister goes to her in-laws and my brother goes to his in-laws , so it s not quite the same to go home again.

Today, the Oldakers Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve celebrations always include neighbors Kathy and Roger Allmandinger who moved to Temperance about 15 years ago from Jackson, Mich. along with a shifting assortment of other friends. The plans aren t always definite. We invite anybody. If it s a holiday and you don t have anyplace to go, you can come to my house, Mrs. Oldaker said.

In Bowling Green, Betty Laukhuf also approaches the holidays with open arms.

We are all one family, and it doesn t necessarily have to be biological, she pointed out.

Mrs. Laukhuf added four leaves to her dining table on Thanksgiving to accommodate 24 guests, only five of them officially family members.

Among those around her table ranging in age from 11 to 89 were longtime friends and members of their families. People came from Oswego, N.Y.; Lambertville and Grand Rapids, Mich.; Massillon and Walbridge, Ohio, and Bowling Green. They included guests born in Russia, Lithuania, and Korea. The nucleus of the group remains the same from year to year; three or four newcomers join them as Mrs. Laukhuf learns of people who don t have anyplace to go. It always makes it more joyful when people are together, she said.

In the same spirit, Carol Kanfield of South Toledo took over responsibility last month for her church s annual Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition which looked as though it would go under this year because there was no one to organize it. I can t imagine not having a place to go, Mrs. Kanfield said.

The 11 people who gathered in the fellowship hall at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in West Toledo on Nov. 25 included Mrs. Kanfield s mother, husband, and daughter; a single woman whose father is in an assisted living facility; and two single fathers, one who came with his mother and two young sons, ages 4 and 8.

The 8-year-old hugged me and asked, Are you going to do this at Christmas, too? Mrs. Kanfield said.

Mrs. Kanfield s good deed became much more a special Thanksgiving for herself as well. It was really nice to sit down with a group of people. If it were just my husband and myself I never would have gone to that much trouble. We were all exhausted, but it was worth it, she said.

Bill Balzer and his wife, Margaret Lockhart, of Perrysburg, have shared Christian and Jewish holidays with a Sylvania couple, Ken and Aileen Pargament, for about 20 years. Mr. Balzer and Mr. Pargament work together at Bowling Green State University.

Family is far away for both couples: Mr. Balzer and Ms. Lockhart moved here from the New York City area, and the Pargaments are from the Maryland/D.C. area. We have celebrated many Christmases with them in the past, and we have gone there for Hanukkah, Mr. Balzer said.

Mrs. Pargament remembers being pretty lonely when she and her husband moved to northwest Ohio. They traveled home when they could, but we decided to create a family here, too. When you re not near your family physically, you create a family where you are.

The two couples and their children were together at Thanksgiving, along with two BGSU international students, one from Syria and the other from China.

It was just a wonderful time around the table, with them experiencing the overindulgence of Thanksgiving, Mr. Balzer said. What I enjoyed most was hearing about the celebrations in their cultures.

He had a similar experience at his first Thanksgiving away from family almost 25 years ago. He was in graduate school at Rice University in Houston, and it wasn t possible for him to get home to New York.

A group of 15 to 20 graduate students created their own Thanksgiving feast, he said. It was not only eclectic in people but in cuisine. There was a very Texas flavor to the Thanksgiving, from the seasonings that were used in the stuffing to how the turkey was cooked, he said. It was certainly very different.

Don and Betsy White of Sylvania have family on both coasts and in-between, so they know what it s like to be away from them at the holidays. But as a faculty member at the University of Toledo and coordinator of the Toledo International Hospitality Program a joint project of UT and the community Mr. White can make sure they never have to feel lonely.

Friends and students often join them at Christmas and Thanksgiving, he said. There were 36 people at this year s Thanksgiving dinner; 19 of those were students and 17 were international students, he said.

They ve given up so much in terms of their family connections in order to travel here. We have an understanding of that, and we want to give something back, he added.

But the Whites benefit, too.

We have a very fun time. All of us enjoy getting to know each other, Mr. White said.

And when his children were young and their teachers asked what they did for Thanksgiving, they could report that, I had turkey and egg roll and Chinese pot stickers.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6126.



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