The wedding planner
By Frenche Brewer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Annette Hoover moved briskly across USC’s Horsehoe one April afternoon, rattling off instructions to the dozens of local chefs who would soon circle the historic landmark and give visitors a chance to sample food and drink from some of Columbia’s signature restaurants.
“Come on, let’s move!” the diminutive Hoover ordered.
Hoover knows all about the need to keep things moving. As an event and wedding planner -- and an instructor in the University of South Carolina’s school of hospitality, retail and tourism management, she also knows the importance of getting it right – from the big venue to the tiny details.
The April event, Chefs on the Shoe, was classic Hoover event planning, and it was organized by the students in her hospitality, retail and tourism management class. It was being held on the night before another big event that has made Hoover’s name synonymous with dream-come-true weddings. For the past six years, Hoover and her students have planned a complete, expenses-paid wedding for one lucky couple. It’s a chance for students to receive valuable hands-on training in wedding event planning.
HRTM student Caroline Richardson understood she was signing up for a special learning experience in Hoover’s class.
“Mrs. Hoover's class was unique in that it gave major responsibility to the students for the outcome of the event, Chefs on the Shoe. There is no better reward than attending an event where people are enjoying themselves and knowing that you planned it,” Richardson said.
There was little sleep for Hoover and her team during the 24 hours of Chefs on the Shoe and the wedding day.
But sleep is not something Hoover worries about too much – not since she woke up from a six-week coma following a near fatal car crash in 1995. Hoover said doctors told her she’d never work again, but she was determined to keep moving.
“There was some brain damage. Stuff you can’t see. The accident broke the vertebrae two to six. The only things that saved my life was that I had a birth defect I didn’t know about, and it didn’t snap my neck, which would have snapped my spinal cord, but I’m fortunate I had a lot of people who wanted to see me come back,” Hoover said.
In her life before the car crash, Hoover had wanted to become a doctor. But she came of age in the 1960s, and her caterer father told her that was no career for a woman. Instead, Hoover distinguished herself in multiple careers — as owner of a real estate business, a real estate appraiser and in appliance sales.
But perhaps she learned the art of event planning through osmosis. After her car crash, with encouragement from her husband, Hoover returned to school at USC and earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in business and education and a masters degree in international hospitality and tourism management. In the years since, she has established a booming event planning business. That’s in addition to teaching classes in the college from which she graduated.
The self-professed workaholic needs little more than three hours of sleep a night, and is up and running again.
“The students will tell you that they can call me at three o’clock in the morning, and I’m still up. I go to bed at 3:30 and get up around 5:30 or six o’clock,” Hoover said.
When Hoover began teaching the wedding planning and management class six years ago, she used case studies of weddings to show her students how to plan big affairs. But she wasn’t convinced that the students were fully grasping the magnitude of what it takes to pull off the important event. That’s when she got the idea to let the students plan a real wedding and she turned the idea into a class assignment. Students were to launch a contest to find a couple willing to let the class take over their wedding plans, to select everything —attire, rings, reception venue, food and honeymoon.
In customary Hoover chutzpa, she used her professional event connections and convinced dozens of vendors in South Carolina and beyond to donate their goods and services in the name of education. She told them were several advantages to them helping her and the students.
“Number one, it will help your industry. Number two, it will help the wedding planning industry, and number three, it will have a positive economic impact to our community, and they have been so generous…so generous,” Hoover said.
For her students, the class has provided them invaluable preparation for careers in event planning.
“As a professor, Mrs. Hoover holds her students to exceptionally high standards, and ultimately it helps each of us realize the full extent of our capabilities,” Richardson said. “She is understanding and respectful of what we can achieve and demands excellence. That is what made this learning experience valuable beyond belief. My classmates and I will carry this knowledge throughout the rest of our careers, whether we become event planners or choose to find success in other endeavors.”
The wedding planning industry has exploded in popularity, and is becoming a crowded field, but one in which Hoover has distinguished herself. Richard Markel, president of Association for Wedding Professionals International (AFWPI) is a huge Hoover fan.
“This gal has energy that she instills in her students, and I think she’s incredible. It’s a very difficult profession and key to being successful is to have backup plans, and Annette has that covered,” Markel said.
Hoover turns 68 this year, but she isn’t thinking about backup plans or slowing down. This year she launched a new event planning business with a partner, called Eventus, of which a significant portion is dedicated to wedding planning, Southern style.
“What we are doing differently is creating the charm of the South on a budget, and with, as the brides say, the ‘bling’ of today,” Hoover said.
As she pushed up her sleeves to get busy directing the caterers where to set down their tables, Hoover stops just long enough to leave this morsel of wisdom--
“You have to give back what you learn,” she said. “I firmly believe that if you’re blessed with an ability to do this you have to give back.”