Long before Rolling Ridge became the Rolling Ridge we know today… there was an event that changed everything.
Randy Schmitz the founder of Scenic Specialties and the future Founder of Rolling Ridge had a passion for design. His unique passion, coupled with his creative mind allowed him to take an otherwise normal property, space or place and reinvent or redesign it into something functional or sometimes sometimes something totally unconventional. When Schmitz purchased a hobby farm near the city of St. Joseph- it was anything but pretty. The property was scathed with rundown buildings, overgrown trees and buckthorn bushes. Beyond the rubble stood a big red barn and an old brick house. These two buildings caught Randy’s eye and their future was anything but a place to raise cattle or a place of residence.
September 2001 became the year the Rennie Farm would begin it’s journey to become an award winning wedding & event center. It took many hours of sweat equity and years of thoughtful planning to imagine. It all started with a renovation of the Brick Farm House as it became home to The Design Studio and Scenic Specialties Landscape Co. Soon other buildings would follow suit. The machine shed became a retail store and other yard areas became a garden center before the slate was virtually wiped clean in 2015.
It was ONE EVENT that changed the course of history forever. It wasn’t 9-11 or the crash in the economy that made the change take place. Although all these events contributed to the overall timeline. It was the inaugural event in the Historic Barn that changed it all. Randy has always prided himself in doing things right. And so it began, the cow stanchions and crusty concrete floors were replaced with paving stones that mimicked wood slabs. A new floor was installed, and the entire barn was cleaned top to bottom. A new courtyard patio was installed to provide an accessible entrance and a portable restroom trailer was incorporated to provide restrooms with running water. The barn looked amazing and it appeared to be ready for its first event. It was in the mid fall season and the weather was perfect- who could complain with the sunny 70 degree temperature. Two days later was event day and we were ready. We were exhausted from our year long project to get the barn ready. We cleaned, painted, mowed the lawn and we THOUGHT we were in business.
Event day- the clouds came, the winds began to howl and the temperature dipped to single digits that night. We prayed for a miracle- but it didn’t happen. 4 hours before the vent was to begin, the organizers nearly decided to move the event to another location. We were determined to do everything we could to host this event. Especially after the amount of time and money we had spent to prepare for this event. We found ourselves stuffing black plastic bags in the cracks of the barn to keep the wind out and hold the heat inside. We constructed a tent to block the wind from the large open doorways. We rented 4 commerical heaters that provided over a million BTU’s of heat EACH! Guests began to arrive and we graciously escorted them to the entrance- attempting to cover up our exhaustion. The guest attending our event were some of st. clouds finest. Entrepreneurs, inventors, doctors, surgeons and philanthropists were in attendance. The event was ready begin when I realized the water lines had froze for the restrooms. Instead of standing inside my barn to watch the party we worked so hard for, I spent the next hour in the freezing cold attempting to thaw the water lines. Without luck I was drenched in sweat and water from the busted water line. I returned to the entry of the barn and muttered the words “Honey, we’re screwed!” to my wife as she looked onward to my zombie-like appearance. So exhausted I didn’t even realize I was covered in ice and water, she grabbed a table cloth to wrap around me and dry the melting ice. The event ended with many stories and myself sleeping for a month straight because I was so tired and defeated.
It was at this event I learned that even though I thought I did things right- things were far from it. I don’t give up easily- but I almost threw in the towel. I was determined to make sure this didn’t happen again. I met with a builder to find out what could be done to improve my barn. I didn’t realize that since my barn was built for animals and not people- it would need to be structurally reengineered and built according to code. I was doing things illegally without realizing it. I needed a public occupancy permit… which meant the thousands of dollars spent on planning and remodeling the barn so far, would require a complete overhaul. New beams, electric, plumbing, reinforcements needed to be done before I could open for business and before I could insure my building properly. Had something more gone wrong such as fire- people could have died and I could have lost everything I worked my entire life for.
Many venue owners using their barns for hosting events aren’t as lucky (or unlucky- depending upon how you look at it) as I was. I experience the event from hell- long before a bride complained the barn was too hot. Long before someone got hurt in my barn and sued me for not having a properly licensed facility to host events. Long before my barn could blow over in a wind storm the day before a wedding because it wasn’t properly engineered. Long before my barn could have burned down from burning candles placed next to crispy dried floral decorations because I had fire sprinklers installed.
Rolling Ridge could have been a disaster… but it became a dream come true. The hard work and perseverance earned us the right to be known as one of the Midwest’s safest and unique wedding venues. Unlike many other barn venue owners who continue to operate under the radar… it only took me one event to realize I wasn’t willing to risk my livelihood or the lives of others to live out my dream.