SIOUX CITY | Todd and Kathy Ellison owned and operated a golf driving range just outside of Sioux City for 20 years, and prayed for rain so they could have a day off in the summer. Now the Ellisons pray for dry weather when a bride and groom book their new event center for an outdoor wedding.
“Twenty years of no summers was enough summers with no summer,” Kathy said with a laugh, recalling a business they operated seven days a week for six or more months out of the year. “It was time for a change. I’m a grandma now and we want to be able to spend time with the grandkids.”
They closed their Country Drive Driving Range and Mini Golf on north Hamilton Boulevard last fall and broke ground on their Country Celebrations Event Center in November. Where the driving range once was now stands a 13,500-square-foot rustic building with modern amenities to accommodate events for up to 500 people.
Even before the first wedding was held at the event center June 24, Kathy showed the venue almost constantly this spring to prospective clients. Partly because of the current popularity of rustic weddings and partly because of the unique location and features of Country Celebrations, Kathy already has events booked through October 2017. In addition to weddings, the venue will host graduation parties, reunions, business meetings and nonprofit fundraisers in the next year.
"This is so different,” said the Ellisons’ daughter Erica Antrim, explaining why she thinks Country Celebrations has become instantly popular. "I still haven’t found one that compares, and we spent a lot of time on the Internet looking at other places."
"Everyone in town has their own thing,” Todd added. "Our concept is once you come through those gates, it’s your day for you and your family. We only do one event at a time. The entire place is yours."
“It’s a destination wedding location,” Erica said, "but in the city. When you’re out here, you’re out in nature."
The event center sits on 130 acres of wooded land that has been in Todd’s family for more than 150 years. Todd’s great-great-grandfather George D. Perkins, who founded the Sioux City Journal, purchased 1,000 acres from a railroad company sometime before 1870. Todd’s 83-year-old mother, Shirley Perkins Ellison, has lived on the property all her life.
Todd and Kathy are planning to build a house where the mini golf course currently stands. Erica, her husband, Michael, and their two children live on the property as well, making Erica’s children the seventh generation to live on the Perkins homestead.
To give the event center a one-of-kind design, the Ellisons trucked seven loads of Black Hills pine from a saw mill in Sturgis, South Dakota. The stained pine covers the exterior of the building, as well as the ceiling of the main reception area inside. Exposed pine trusses lend to the rustic feel, with the addition of simple wrought iron circle chandeliers.
Todd, who handled the majority of the construction himself, admits he is a fan of western architecture and décor (he got a lot of ideas for the building by watching episodes of “Bonanza”). But he resisted hanging lots of farm and ranch antiques and barn décor on the walls.
“We wanted it to be neutral, not too country,” he said.
At the front of the building are two antique farm wagons that could be brought inside and decorated for events. But other than that, the white walls provide a clean slate for any style of event decorations.
The foyer of the event center features a rustic floor-to-ceiling stone and rock fireplace, but with a modern horizontal gas insert. The glass rocks surrounding the gas flame insert can be lighted in a selection of colors to coordinate with the event décor.
To determine what functional features were needed for a wedding venue, the Ellisons watched the TLC show “Four Weddings,” a television show where four brides attend each other’s weddings and rate a variety of elements of the weddings, including the venue spaces.
“We really listened to the comments they made and what they wanted,” Todd said.
So the Ellisons incorporated a large catering kitchen, allowing brides to book one of four outside approved caterers, a roomy serving area and a separate bar area. Also available are separate bride and groom dressing rooms, each with attached private bathrooms, and a children’s play area.
To the rear of the facility is a patio, a covered area for outdoor wedding ceremonies and seating for 200, with a backdrop of trees, flowers and wildlife.
The Ellisons’ son George contributes to the event center too, offering his services of a carriage pulled by Percheron horses for brides and grooms.
“It’s a family business,” Todd said. “If (granddaughter) Ahna wants to design dresses and have a dress shop out here, we could build one here. We have the space to accommodate more things and grow into it. As time goes on, we’ll be able to do a lot of things.”
Todd said they are continuing to work on landscaping for outdoor photograph opportunities. Down the road, they may consider building some cabins on the property to allow for overnight wedding guests, and a small chapel to accommodate intimate wedding ceremonies of 20 to 30 people. Todd said they would also like to add their own events, such as dueling pianos, small concerts or movie nights on their large projection screen, and open up to events during the week for perhaps card clubs or other club meetings.
“I don’t think the theme of what we do will ever wear off,” Todd said. “The newness will, but we will always offer a unique experience here.”