All in the family

"When the Hamming family holds a reunion, it’s a big occasion. In more ways than one.More than 100 Hammings partied from Monday to Friday this week, at the Oak Harbor Street home of Connie and Jim Matthews. They filled Jim’s big shop with tables and chairs and spread out over his field in RVs, tents and campers. Family teams cooked around 700 plates full of breakfast and dinner. Nobody kept track of how much lighter fluid got squirted on barbecue coals, how much water got pumped through super-soaker guns, or how many kids got told, “My, how you’ve grown!”All those Hammings, and about 40 more who couldn’t come this year, are the descendents of Tom and Grace Hamming who moved to Whidbey Island in 1932 — from Michigan by way of Lynden — and stayed to raise their 12 children in Oak Harbor. Eleven of the 12 brothers and sisters were at the reunion. They included the eldest child, Wilma Ekkelkamp, 85, who lives in Mount Vernon; Kenneth Hamming, 80, the oldest boy, who traveled from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Tom Hamming Jr., from Ontario, Calif.; Harriet Maginnis, of Reno, Nev.; John “Jack” Hamming, of Mount Vernon; and Julie Terpstra, Mary Fuller, Betty Moore, Connie Matthews and Elmer and Gordon Hamming, all of Oak Harbor. Only Maurice “Moe” Hamming, 59, the youngest brother who lives in Colorado, was absent. Although six of the siblings still live in the area, this is the first time since they started holding reunions, almost 20 years ago, that the family has gathered in Oak Harbor. Relatives came from Tennessee, Michigan, Nevada and California, as well as other Washington towns. “We called it the ‘Back to our Roots’ reunion,” Connie Matthews said. “This is our hometown.” What is the family famous for on Whidbey? “Children!” laughed Betty Moore. Even in a time when lots of people had large families, an even dozen children was a claim to fame. The Hammings can also claim to be famous for staying married.All but one of the brothers and sisters married, and they have pretty much stayed that way. Between them they have racked up a total of 481 years of married life.“Getting married was the best thing I ever did,” Jack Hamming said. And the secret of staying married is simple, Connie Matthews added. “Hang in there. Persevere. Make it work.” They weren’t quite sure what family traits they might have inherited. “We’re all hard-working,” Wilma Ekkelkamp offered. “We’re all a bunch of stubborn customers,”Jack Hamming said. But they did agree on what it is that keeps their family so close, no matter how big it gets.There were hard times when the brothers and sisters were growing up, and it helps that “We didn’t think we were poor, because we always knew we were loved,” said Mary Fuller. But the main thing, she said, and the others all agreed, “Is our absolute staunch belief in God, and family, and then country. Our whole family always reverts back to religion. That’s the glue that holds families together.”"

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