- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The fat manila envelope arrives in Doug Lecher’s mailbox every year, stuffed with letters and photographs from uncles and cousins of some 24 branches of his family tree scattered from Florida to California.

Mr. Lecher, of Riverside, Ill., reads through the pile, removes his old letter and writes a new one to bring his relatives up to speed on his marketing work, his two grown children and his softball league.

Then he mails the whole package to the next person in the chain — a tradition three generations of Lechers have maintained for 87 years.

“It is a kick to get it,” Mr. Lecher says. “Lots of the letters aren’t all that riveting — how the garden’s growing and all that. But it’s very warm and nice. We’re all over the country, and you don’t see them very often.”

But last month, members of the Lecher clan got together for a reunion in Savannah, where family members got to tour the city’s oak-shaded squares and take in a minor-league baseball game. Some in the youngest generation got to meet for the first time.

The jaunt was Doug Lecher’s prize for winning a $25,000 reunion trip, sponsored by hot-dog maker Hebrew National, by writing an essay about his family’s long-lived chain-letter swap.

The tradition started in 1916 when Reno Lecher, his four brothers and three sisters began leaving the family dairy farm in Gosh, ID., to attend college and start families of their own. The siblings would send letters home to their parents, who bundled them for mailing to each of their grown children in turn.

“They were a close-knit family and they wanted to keep in touch, so they started this letter that had a regular pattern,” said 83-year-old Jim Lecher, of Green Valley, Arid., one of Reno Lecher’s sons and Doug Lecher’s uncle. “As the families grew, that meant the offspring started to get into the act.”

The original eight have all since died. The last of the siblings, their sister PA Pickett, wrote letters for the chain until 1988, when she died at age 100.

For their children, picking up the correspondence habit came easily. The letters were a constant in their lives, said Jim Lecher, who can recall the bundles arriving as early as 1925, when he was 5.

His cousin, David Lecher of Bloomington, ID., also remembers his parents discussing the letters at an early age.

“My mother said she knew the contents of the closets of all her sisters-in-law because that’s all they had to write about — cleaning the house and all the family doings,” he said.

But as the family grew the letters began to form a larger chronicle of the Lechers’ family history through most of the 10th century — births, graduations and deaths as well as travels, careers and household pets.

Unfortunately, nobody kept the early letters, said David Lecher, a retired history professor.

“We should have saved them, of course, if we had any historical idea of the value of a family history,” he said. “You would have to sift through a great deal of material to winnow out all the interesting parts. But it would be something a social historian would take great pleasure in.”

Doug Lecher won the contest, which he entered earlier this year after seeing a newspaper ad.

He said the prize money covered travel, lodging and other expenses for 22 persons. His two children, aged 22 and 23, were able to meet his uncles Jim Lecher and Richard Lecher and their families.

Though none of the family lives in Georgia, he picked Savannah because his daughter became enchanted with the city’s Victorian homes and oak-shaded squares while visiting one St. Patrick’s Day.

There have been other family reunions, the last being in 1997, Doug Lecher said. “But not this exotic and in such a cool place.”

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