Summer Wedding Spectacular by Anne Sampson
Sunny days, cool blue water, fireworks lighting the night sky – these are things that make Lake Okoboji special. So when Kelly Elliott’s clients launched their life together, they chose to start here. In June 2022, the couple exchanged wedding vows and created a four-day celebration encompassing all the best of Iowa’s greatest lake. Chicago-based Soprico, a professional event design and production agency, is owned by Kelly Elliott. Elliott has spent summers at Okoboji since childhood, and is the talent behind events like Okoboji Pop-Up Dinners, the Boathouse Apparel Fashion Show and Sunset Summer Dance at Arnolds Park.
For this wedding, Elliott pulled together a crew of event managers, caterers, photographers, entertainers, and other specialists from around the Midwest to create one of the most memorable events of the summer.
“We knew it would take an army of local and regional experts to pull off an event of this magnitude,” Elliott said, “but we got creative with local resources, and pulled in outside experts when needed. We wanted to create a true Okoboji experience for our clients and their guests. Most had never been to the Iowa Great Lakes before. We wanted to make the weekend memorable and easy for them, and as fun and stressless as possible for the couple.”
After a year of planning, the Soprico team convened at Okoboji Commons Hotel on Monday, June 13 with Marquee Rentals (Kansas City) and JER Events (Sioux Falls) for three days of set-up – installing tents, an LED starlight lighted dance floor and club-quality sound equipment, as well as décor and table designs for the weekend’s events. Local BBQ pro Michael Dunn of Back Alley BBQ provided dinner service for the team production meeting Elliott held on-site.
“It’s critical for the success of an event that everyone involved builds comradery and feels confident,” she explained. “The all-team meeting lets everyone meet each other in person before it’s GO time.”
DAY 1 The Ceremony
The celebration kicked off on Thursday evening with an intimate family ceremony on the client’s lawn overlooking the lake, followed by dinner for 30 immediate family members. Two video walls, custom-built by JER Events, displayed an interactive slide show during the ceremony, and guests stood to share meaningful memories of Okoboji and why this place is so special to them and their family.
“We wanted to create a ceremony that was just as special and unique to my clients as Okoboji is to them,” Elliott explained. “The details of things like this are why we love what we do.”
Okoboji duo La Raza (Karina Van Whye and Martin Mendez) provided music for the ceremony and party. Guests enjoyed a gourmet four-course seated dinner on the lawn, catered by Attitude on Food, an Omaha-based business.
“We needed a culinary partner who could meet expectations on all levels, from efficiency in service to quality and boldness of cuisine,” Elliott said. “I have a long-standing relationship with Attitude on Food and ultimately we decided it was the right move to bring them to Okoboji. They knocked it out of the park.” The caterer served more than 900 meals over the course of the four-day event.
Elliott and her client met in the spring of 2022 for a wine tasting with Okoboji Wines owners Mark Reed and Jennifer Tritle. “It was important that we had great wine at the bars, and we knew that Okoboji Wines would be the perfect partner to ensure the selections were excellent,” Elliott said. The couple selected a different wine to complement the events of each day.
DAY 2 Wedded Bliss Bash
Upon arrival at the hotel, team members greeted guests with specialty boozy slushies, gourmet snacks and lawn games, as well as their room keys, while a crew of 10 temporary bellhops and eight golf carts delivered all the luggage to the guests’ rooms – 32 at the Commons, and another 20 at nearby Vintage Block.
“We did not want guests to have to stand in line to check in at the hotel desk when they got off the bus,” Elliott explained. She and Misty Kafetzy, the hotel owner, developed a system to pre-check all the guests. “We gave guests color-coded luggage tags with last names and room numbers in advance so the hotel crew knew where to deliver each suitcase when they were offloaded in Okoboji,” Elliott said. “The guests never had to carry a suitcase.”
Elliott partnered with Laura Bjornstad, owner of Boathouse Apparel, to curate a pop-up shop at the hotel, stocked with t-shirts, tote bags and hats, branded to commemorate the event. Guests shopped throughout the weekend. All of the proceeds – more than $6000 – went to support Upper Des Moines Opportunity. “It was important to my clients to give back to the community during this entire weekend,” Elliott said, “and this was one of the ways we did that.”
Once settled and refreshed, the group set off on a cruise to the client’s home. Elliott worked with Boji Services and Okoboji Boat Works to coordinate transportation on 14 run-abouts and one excursion boat, operated by 15 local captains and five dockhands, who delivered all 200 guests to the couple’s lakeside home for cocktails, passed hors d’oeuvres and a group photo, before cruising back to the Commons Hotel for the second part of the evening – dinner and a dance party in tents erected on the lawn, featuring multiple food stations and a full bar with signature cocktails provided by Okoboji Commons.
“The quintessential Okoboji sunset cruise from the hotel to the client’s home was one of my big creative ideas,” Elliott said. She partnered with Tara at Okoboji Boat Works to reserve and allocate the appropriate number of boats to accommodate all 200 guests. Before the weekend kicked off, Elliott and team timed the cruise from point to point multiple times in advance to ensure the logistics made sense.
“The couple loved it. We didn’t want the guests who had just spent the whole day on a plane and bus to have to get back on a bus. That’s not why we brought them all to Okoboji – we needed to get them out on the water.”
Photographer Carolyn Vaughn (Des Moines/ Okoboji) had a team in place to capture guests at both locations and during the cruise. “At the last minute we called in local aerial photographer Tom Gustafson,” Elliott said. “I am so happy with that decision. His perspective captured so many elements of the weekend that we would not have otherwise.” Vaughn and team worked overnight to edit a video of the wedding ceremony from the day prior that was displayed on the video walls that were used during the ceremony at clients home the day prior to the tented location at Okoboji Commons Hotel.
Vaughn also designed an interactive photo experience around the couple’s vintage convertible. Guests donned props and posed in and around the car while Vaughn’s team took photos. They each received a professional printed and matted copy of their photo to take home as a commemorative gift. Chicago DJ Megan Taylor kept the dance floor packed, while boats floating on East Lake lingered to enjoy the music.
DAY 3 An Okoboji Day + Dinner & a Concert
Saturday morning began with a menu of lakeside activities the guests chose from when they RSVPed. Yoga Okoboji led 60 people through a private session on the Okoboji Commons lawn, while 30 guests boarded five boats for a fishing expedition coordinated by locals Ben Zenor and fishing pro John Grosvenor. Another 35 guests opted to ride the waves behind five top-level wake surfing boats, coordinated by Boji Services. It’s not a complete weekend without golf, so 40 guests teed up at Okoboji View for a nine-hole tournament coordinated by Millisa Reynolds of Okoboji Events. Another 60 people relaxed on Terrace Park Beach, where the Soprico crew had arrived early in the morning to set up umbrellas and cabanas outfitted with beach towels, blankets, water toys, sodas, water and gourmet boxed lunches. As an extra treat, Laura Bjornstad of Boathouse Apparel closed her store to the public to offer a special private shopping experience for 30 guests. Soprico also coordinated with The Okoboji Cyclist to have ten bicycles delivered to the hotel for guests to use throughout the weekend and explore the Okoboji trails.
“Going back to the goal of the weekend, we wanted the out-of town guests to be able to experience and enjoy quintessential Okoboji and we wanted to make it easy for them,” Elliott said. “Rather than leaving them all on their own for the day, we designed and curated an assortment of hosted activities and planned all of the details for them including transportation, breakfast and lunch on site, and we partnered with locals on all of the activities. Many guests said it felt like summer camp and that it was the best vacation they had in years!”
A full day – but not done yet, and not without a blip in the plans. The fleet of water taxis Elliott had booked to transport everyone to Arnolds Park for the evening’s events couldn’t operate in unexpected high winds, so the Soprico team pivoted to motor coaches, working closely with the local police to coordinate their safe arrival and departure through Park traffic. All the guests arrived in plenty of time for cocktail cruises on the Queen II, followed by dinner in the Majestic Pavilion.
The day wrapped up with the biggest event of the weekend, a concert by top-ranked country music star Jake Owen. “My clients wanted a big concert on Saturday night, they wanted to celebrate the new stage, and they wanted to open the show to everyone in the community,” Elliott said. She collaborated with the management team at Arnolds Park to book the concert, and Soprico worked with the park to coordinate the band’s logistics. Over 8,000 people turned up for the inaugural show on the new stage, and none of them had to buy a ticket. The couple and their guests rocked the night away in a VIP area near the stage. Grand finale – Okoboji’s signature fireworks show over the water. “The vibe that night was so high,” Elliott recalled. “You could feel the positive energy in the air. I am so grateful to have been a part of bringing the Jake Owen concert experience to Okoboji.”
DAY 4 Farewell
After Sunday morning brunch in the tents at Okoboji Commons, the guests boarded ground transportation back to Sioux Falls for return air transportation. Soprico’s squadron of baggage handlers, who had moved everything from airport to hotel rooms on Friday, moved it all back to the airport and onto the homeward bound flight on Sunday, with service most airlines only dream about – just one bag was misplaced in the entire weekend, and reunited with the owner a day later.
Local Event Partners
Planning, design, production: Soprico (Chicago, Okoboji)
www.soprico.com, IG: sopricoevents
Photography and videography: Carolyn Vaughn Photography (Des Moines, Okoboji)
www.carolynvaughn.com. IG: carolynvaughnphoto
Aerial footage: Tom Gustafson
www.visionairydrone.com, IG: tom.gustafson
Wine purveyor: Okoboji Wines
www.okobojiwines.com, IG: okobojiwines
Crew catering: Back Alley BBQ (Spirit Lake)
Facebook: Back Alley Bar-B-Q
Guest accommodations, bar service, Friday venue:
Okoboji Commons Hotel
www.okobojicommons.com, IG: theokobojicommonshotel
Water Transportation: Okoboji Boat Works
Passenger Van Rental: Borth Auto Rental (Spencer)
Golf cart rentals: Oak Hill Outdoor
Floral: Holland Flower Farm (Sioux Center)
www.thehollandflowerfarm.com, IG: hollandflowerfarm
Cake: Playful Cupcaketions (Spirit Lake)
Print and paper goods: Lakes Marketing and Print
Acoustic duo: La Raza (Okoboji)
Glam: The Hair Team (Spirit Lake)
Logistical support, boat captains, wake surfing lessons: Boji Services
Concert venue and partner: Arnolds Park Amusement Park
www.arnoldspark.com, IG: arnolds_park
Specialty dessert: The Nutty Bar Stand (Arnolds Park)
Event Support: Okoboji Events
www.okobojievents.com, IG: okobojievents
Charity partner: Upper Des Moines Opportunity - Spirit Lake
Charity SWAG shop partner: Boathouse Apparel
www.boathouseapparel.com, IG: boathouseapparel
Yoga: Yoga Okoboji
www.yogaokoboji.com, IG: yogaokoboji
Bicycle rentals: The Okoboji Cyclist
www.theokobojicyclist.com, IG: theokobojicyclist
Fishing charter: Fish Okoboji (JTG Expeditions)
“We wanted our Okoboji wedding to be small and intimate, but we also wanted to celebrate afterward with a big weekend party. Kelly and her team executed both events perfectly. Soprico made our wedding day feel incredibly special and all about family, and then switched gears to execute a flawless weekend of non-stop action. The Soprico team was professional and talented, and they were also fun! Our wedding weekend exceeded our expectations in every possible way.”