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ACCORDING TO PLANNER Mary Dann, the qualities that helped Rosalynn Sumners reach glory in the 1984 Winter Olympics also made the renowned figure skater an exciting, and challenging, client. “She's very creative and determined,” explains the president of Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Mary Dann Wedding and Party Coordinators, “and she works well under pressure.” Good thing, since Sumners tapped Dann to plan her April nuptials a mere four months out — about eight months short of the year Dann typically slates for her full-service wedding package.


Four months of lead time is tight for any high-end wedding, says the star of the Style Network's “Who's Wedding is it Anyway?” But throw in a busy hotel as your venue — in this case La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta, Calif., booked by the bride well before Dann entered the picture — and the difficulties increase exponentially.

Most challenging, Dann recounts, was reconciling her client's concepts with the property's space and scheduling constraints. Originally, Sumners had envisioned her wedding ceremony taking place beside a waterfall, and her gourmet wedding dinner inside a tent on the resort grounds, “with a whole fabric thing, chandeliers, a fountain — they were going to spend 30 grand on decor for a tent they'd only be in for three hours,” Dann says. But that was before a meeting with hotel catering staff revealed that other events taking place during the same weekend rendered tent setup and breakdown an impossibility.

Enter a major change of plans. “The new idea became that we were going to give her a waterfall wedding, still do cocktails outside, and dinner would be this ‘Tavern on the Green à la desert’ thing,” says Dann. Eight-foot hedges and decorative umbrellas would provide privacy in the absence of a tent. A shift of dinner location closer to La Quinta's upscale Azur restaurant would allow catering to come from a higher-end kitchen with a stronger focus on fine-dining service.

Problems solved … sort of. Dann points out there was still the little matter of logistics. “Everything had to be in on Sunday morning and out by 7 a.m. on Monday. We had to pull the whole thing off in 24 hours!”


The lightning-fast setup included such complicated maneuvers as the delivery, installation and decoration of two full-size, three-tier fountains. Then there was the last-minute hand-painting of umbrellas and spray-painting of hedge boxes, the hanging of string lights and setting of cranberry and moss-green linen for the outdoor dinner, and the outfitting of a ballroom for postprandial dancing, cigar-smoking and fireside socializing.

Despite a glitch or two — “The bride didn't get her lunch on time” — come event hour, things went off beautifully, Dann says. The wedding's 180 guests particularly enjoyed the cocktail reception's drink luges and make-your-own crab cocktails, as well as the dinner's garden setting and tableside choice of poached snapper or slow-roasted rib chop.


The wedding, which ultimately came in at about $200,000 and kept her on day-of duty for a full 18 hours, was “one of the hardest jobs I've ever worked,” Dann says. It was also a great educational experience, she adds.

If she had the event to do again, she would have scheduled one more meeting with vendors before setup, “just to double-check everything.” For instance, “I would have checked to make sure there was no spray-painting going on that day, because of the problem with runoff,” she notes. “Whatever it meant — getting the trees there sooner, paying a little more to have them all painted ahead of time — I would have done that.”

Such hindsight considerations aren't mere second-guessing, but the professional planner's greatest opportunity. “Every event I do, I take mental notes,” Dann says. “I always go through what I could have done better — that's how I learn.”

Mary Dann Wedding and Party Coordinators 4005 Crest Drive, Suite 6, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266; 310/545-1827;

Turn to page 65 for a list of resources for this event.


Spring Celery Root Soup with Pistachio Oil

Salad of Heirloom Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Watermelon and Buffalo Mozzarella with Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette

Trio of Prickly Pear, Pink Grapefruit and Mango Sorbets

Olive-Oil-Poached Hawaiian Snapper or Slow-Roasted Rib Chop

Trio of Banana Chocolate Tart, Creme Brulee and Marinated Berry Tiramisu

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