Alumna Shelly Tolo plans Pennsylvania Governor’s Inauguration Ball
After graduating from Messiah, Shelly (Johnston) Tolo ’90 followed her heart through various career paths that brought her into the world of event planning, eventually landing her an award-winning company, TOLO Events. In the last four years, her company has won six Emerald City Applause Awards for various aspects of event planning including best nonprofit event, production, design/décor and logistics. What was Tolo’s latest big assignment? Plan Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Corbett’s Inaugural Ball.
Planning the Ball
On January 18, over 4,000 guests gathered at the State Farm Show Complex for an evening of musical entertainment, dancing and sampling regional specialties from the Commonwealth in celebration of Governor Corbett’s inauguration. Prior to the event, Tolo’s job was to plan the perfect evening in only two months. By “having Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays all wrapped into that time frame, we had to be really strategic in the planning,” she said.
First, Tolo needed to “create a vision” of what she wanted the Ball to look like in order to know what vendors would allow her to turn that vision into a reality. She had to interview caterers, staging companies and lighting and AV providers to select the right companies to work with. Sticking with the Pennsylvanian theme, Tolo invited several college bands from the Keystone state to provide music for the Ball including the Messiah College Jazz Ensemble.
Beyond the big stuff, responsibilities of planning each detail came down to the last minute. “For the final weeks it is selecting the visual elements like the china, glassware, linens, floral etc,” said Tolo. “Don’t forget coat check—we’ll be responsible for about 4,000 winter coats at the Ball. That alone took hours of planning to make sure we were prepared with security, shuttle transportation, registration, EMS, photo opportunities, entertainers and much, much more.”
Tolo emphasizes how event planning is the perfect fit for her. “I’m a very goal oriented person… planning for our clients typically happens in a relatively short time frame with no extensions,” she said. However, with her skills and personality, that’s exactly what Tolo thrives off of. Looking back on her career thus far, Tolo said that she has “favorite events for different reasons. Sometimes it is because of the cause, sometimes it is because of the client and the relationship you form with them and sometimes it is because of something you thought up in your head that actually came to life on a stage.”
Tolo found her niche in event planning through embracing opportunities that were presented to her as a student at Messiah. Not only did she discover her passion for fundraising and working with nonprofit organizations through volunteering in the Development Office on campus, but her classes instilled her with principles that she would carry into her career. “Messiah helped prepare me to become a good leader and a thoughtful business person,” Tolo said.
Advice from the Experienced
Since Tolo has clearly experienced success in her career as an event planner, her advice is certainly worth listening to. “Take studying math seriously,” is her first of four suggestions that she offers aspiring event planners. Next, “always be open to other people’s opinions but be confident in making the final decision.” Third, “start out working for a non-profit as they are great places to cut your teeth on event planning.” Finally, “don’t do anything cookie cutter.”
Maybe only creative talent can explain Tolo’s mastery of this last piece of advice, but she is adamant that confidence will set planners apart. After all, it has unquestionably set Tolo apart.
Messiah’s culinary team helps prepare food for the Ball
Shelly Tolo wasn’t the only Messiah connection involved in the preparations for the Inaugural Ball. JDK Catering requested the help of a few members from Messiah College’s culinary team to prepare food from a menu based on the five regions of Pennsylvania. Chefs Percell Green, Claire Dacko, Benjamin Dodaro and Stephen Musti were selected by the JDK staff to each lead a different region’s station. The chefs spent the evening working alongside other area chefs and guiding culinary students from local culinary schools in the preparation of the various foods for the event.
The regional menus featured delicious Pennsylvanian specialties—everything from Kennett Square mushrooms with marsala cream and smoked trout crustini to good old Philadelphia cheese steaks and deconstructed pot pie. Executive chef Percell Green kept busy sautéing the mushroom marsala, and afterward “had a great time flaming bananas’ foster” for dessert. Green said that “the Ball was an excellent and rewarding opportunity for the culinary staff at Messiah College,” and he looks forward to more opportunities for Messiah College Dining Services to “continue to partner with the local community on events such as this.”
Story by Mary-Grace MacNeil `13.
All photos courtesy of Hoffer Photography.
See an interview with Shelly Tolo from ABC 27 News on January 17.