When Mary and Dale Flanery were laying the groundwork to open Stoney Ridge Winery in Kent City near Grand Rapids, they needed to obtain some zoning adjustments.
So they invited their neighbors, including the Andersons — owners of a centennial family farm directly adjacent to their property — over to talk about their plans.
“It would have been an opportunity for us to object to a zoning change,” says Gary Anderson, one of the sons of the now-deceased Russell and Frances Anderson. They followed his great-grandfather and grandfather in owning the farm, which later was owned by one of Gary’s brothers and now by an LLC consisting of Gary and two brothers.
Gary and his 15 siblings grew up on the Anderson farm, where his dad raised purebred registered Holstein cows. He can recall when the property where the winery sits now was a working farm where the man in charge yodeled to call in the cows to be milked.
The Andersons didn’t object to the couple’s plans for the winery. Instead, they approved, and went on to watch as Stoney Ridge developed into what Gary describes as “a beautiful place.”
“They tried to restore some of the original buildings, but some weren’t structurally sound and had to be replaced,” he says. “But they have a beautiful winery and place for events.”
And when the Andersons needed a venue big enough to accommodate a large family gathering to celebrate making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, they turned to Stoney Ridge.
The achievement surrounds the fact that the combined ages of Gary and his siblings — all living, ranging in age from 66 to 91 — beat the current record. At 74, Gary’s actually No. 11. The siblings frequently identify themselves in jest by using the number they were in birth order.
“My parents raised 16 of us on that dairy farm,” Gary says. “Fourteen of us were born on the farm and the last two were born in the hospital.”
After one of his older brothers had spotted a report on CNN around the end of 2020 about a Guinness world record for the highest combined age of living siblings in years, they decided to look into it.
“As it turned out, when we Googled it, that actual record was for 13 siblings,” Gary says. “Googling further, we found a record for 16 siblings and doing a quick calculation, we blew that record out of the water by almost 50 years.”
The family filed the paperwork to claim a new record: a combined 1,251 years and 295 days. It was granted in February. The pandemic delayed the celebration, but with every one of the brothers and sisters and their spouses vaccinated in the past few months, they felt it was finally safe to gather and turned to Stoney Ridge.
“It’s adjacent to the family farm,” Gary says. “And the view of the farm from the winery is really quite spectacular.
“It was an easy decision that it would be the place for our event, and it was just wonderful.”
Parts of the family had gotten together there a few times in years past for special occasions. And Anderson says he and his wife, who live nearby, like to go up to Stoney Ridge for a glass of wine every now and then.
This time they gathered — some 30-plus of them — on May 5.
“They are just a great group of people,” says Mary Flanery. “I love being able to sit and look out at their farm and to watch their faces as they’re sitting up here, and all the memories.”
For the Andersons, it was a long-awaited reunion in addition to a world record celebration.
“It was the first time we’ve all 16 of us been together since the summer of 2019, and much of that is because of the pandemic,” Gary says, noting that most of the siblings live in lower Michigan with the exception of a sister in the U.P. and brother in Wisconsin. “Mary (Flanery) set tables up social distancing and we had people wear masks and were all vaccinated.
“It was important enough for all of us to get together safely and we were able to do it at the winery.”
And yes, there was wine — “lots of wine,” Gary laughs.