When it came time to plan her daughter’s graduation party, Gayle Crummer knew throwing burgers and brats on the grill for a Saturday afternoon open house just wouldn’t do. Instead, she wanted a graduation party that was as unique as her eldest daughter and honored the graduate Georgianne, who goes by the nickname Georgi.
“This is the one time where you celebrate a kid alone—it’s not a wedding or a college graduation. We wanted it to be a big deal, because it should be,” Crummer says. “Georgi is and always has been very artistic. She said she wanted something different.”
Since Crummer is an interior designer by trade, she tackled the project with relish. Around spring break, she brought home swatches of fabric for Georgi to pick a color scheme of black, white, robin’s egg blue, lime green and what Crummer calls “a pink shade of red.” The Wayzata High School graduate wanted to stay away from the blue and gold of her alma mater as well as the colors of her college of choice, the University of North Dakota. The five-color palette would subtlety be sprinkled into the Crummer home to create a party with all of the coolness of a coffee shop. “We opted for a Friday night party of just dessert served with iced coffee,” Crummer says.
Creating a Coffee Bar
By hosting the party on a Friday night, Crummer wanted to allow guests time to stay and mingle longer. “One Saturday, I was invited to 19 open houses,” Georgianne remembers, who wanted people to enjoy the party at leisure instead of just dropping by. The tactic worked, too. Around 75 people ranging from out-of-state relatives to Georgi’s teachers stayed late to honor the graduate. “The party went way past 9:30 p.m., and that was fun,” Crummer says.
Because Georgi and her friends enjoy coffee shops, Crummer wanted to recreate a coffee bar in her kitchen at a fraction of the cost of renting an actual coffee bar. She asked for advice from family members who are baristas and used the internet to find businesses that sell products wholesale. When she visited one location to check out products, Crummer learned what she needed to do. “I wasn’t planning on making the investment of a small commercial blender, but I’m now using it more than I ever thought I would,” she says. She brought home samples of frappe powder for the iced coffees and the family wound up choosing the flavors of iced coffee, a decaffeinated vanilla bean and a chocolate chunk for the drink menu.
With the help of a family friend, the Crummer’s kitchen island transformed into a coffee bar. The friend became the party’s barista and whipped up drinks using a special note pad for orders. A party-goer would fill out a drink order which included the type of coffee and what type of topping—whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, toffee bits or even crushed Oreos. “Then she’d call out the name just like in a coffee bar,” Crummer says.
For the desserts, Crummer hired a caterer to make a wide array of bars and cookies to enjoy. One friend made red velvet cake pops and designed a cake stand of peg board so the cake pops were displayed like a cake. “One cake pop fit in each hold and it was easy to fill in,” said Gayle.
Besides the cake pops, party-goers dined on lemon bars, chocolate brownies, frosted vanilla bars and fruit kabobs. “We didn’t want to use forks so everyone could eat with their fingers,” Crummer says. “The fruit went over really well.”
Even though the party was billed on just desserts, Crummer wanted to offer something substantial for people who might be coming to the event straight from work. She relied on friends and neighbors to make simple appetizers like artichoke dip, hummus dip and pesto all served with a variety of artesian breads.
A Family Affair
Planning the party wound up being a project that involved the entire family. Georgi herself designed the coffee bar sign and created a slide show that looped on the home’s televisions. She also went through artwork from her high school career and created a mural on a wall. And Georgi made sure to include a few pictures of her extracurricular activity of choice: gymnastics.
Georgi and her father collaborated to come up with a music mix for the party. But her father, Flip Crummer, was also working on the party as many as five years before the actual event. Both Flip and Gayle started working on the exterior of the home while their daughter was still in junior high. They put in new bushes one year, painted the house another year and worked on the driveway the next. “You can’t do it all in one year,” Crummer says. “We did it little by little so it wasn’t overwhelming.” The week of the party, Flip only had to put last-minute touches on the landscaping and spray the perimeter for mosquitoes.
Georgi’s younger sister by four years, Elliott, even had a few fun duties for the party. She dipped strawberries in chocolate for the dessert table, then during the party, Elliott teamed up with a friend to take candid shots of party-goers.
To complete the coffee bar look and to eliminate the need to rent a large number of chairs, Crummer opted to rent high-top tables and splurged on floor-length tablecloths. She created her own small floral arrangements using large simple flowers, fruit-like limes and black grapes along with hostas from her yard. “Fruit is much less expensive than fresh flowers,” Crummer says.
The family hung paper lanterns in party colors in one room and strung white twinkle lights on bushes outside. The family moved large furniture like the dining room table out of the room and adjusted the height of the accompanying chandelier to allow party traffic to flow more smoothly. Crummer also strategized where to best store items like coolers and other party essentials in advance. “Know where everything is going to go so the day of the event you just have to put your plan in action,” she says.
Crummer says the guests enjoyed the party but the family really bonded over the planning and preparation. “It’s a wonderful way to spend time together and have a project to work on,” she says. “It went so fast and Georgi had a great time.” Because Crummer started early and had an organized approach, she believes the family had more time to celebrate the graduate and Georgi had a party that was as unique as she is. “It was really important asking what Georgi wanted and I feel good walking away knowing it was what she wanted,” Crummer says.
Party planning tips from the Crummers
1. Pick a unique time. Instead of competing for the coveted Saturday or Sunday afternoon party time, try to think of a different time that might allow party-goers to mingle longer. The Crummers picked a Friday night option, but you could also design a party around a weeknight “happy hour” style drop-in or even a weekend brunch.
2. Start early—way early. If you are planning to host a party at your home, start sprucing it up early. The Crummers started home projects like painting, repairs and landscaping projects five years before their daughter’s soiree not only to avoid last minute projects but to allow landscaping time to mature. “My neighbors made fun of me,” laughs Crummer, “but you don’t want to be putting down sod as people are walking into the party.”
3. Put up a banner. It sounds simple, but chances are there will be two questions your graduate will be asked throughout the party: 1. Where are you going to college? 2. What will your major be? Answer one of those questions simply by putting up a banner of the college your graduate will be attending come fall. The Crummers did that on their front porch for that very purpose, “so when people walked in, they knew where she was going and she didn’t have to tell them,” Crummer says.
4. Get help. The Crummers relied on neighbors to supply a few simple appetizers and one friend to act as a barista during the party. “It’s too much for you. Get a friend and trade off,” Crummer says. “You can repay them when their child graduates.” By trading out or hiring out, you’ll be able to actually enjoy the party and your duties as host.
5. Find a theme that fits the crowd. What is your graduate interested in? What activity defines your family? What is your comfort or party food? Brainstorm ideas with your family and seek out the plethora of party blogs on the internet or the social media site Pinterest for inspiration.
1026 Central Ave. N.E., Minneapolis
Dale Simpson Designs
200 E. Lyndale Ave. N., Minneapolis
Wine glasses, votive candles and napkins:
8000 Ikea Way, Bloomington
Cups, plates and paper lanterns:
434 E. Lyndale Ave. N., Minneapolis
Blue bowls for floral:
3503 Galleria, Edina
Tables and linens:
7625 Cahill Rd., Edina