Shannon and Emily Onsager surprised many of their friends in the Harmony and Preston area when they hopped on a plane and got married in Las Vegas – a month prior to their original wedding date. COURTESY OF EMILY ELLIS-ONSAGER
Shannon and Emily Onsager surprised many of their friends in the Harmony and Preston area when they hopped on a plane and got married in Las Vegas – a month prior to their original wedding date. COURTESY OF EMILY ELLIS-ONSAGER

Many women dream about planning their perfect wedding. Those dreams can include when and where their wedding may take place, the colors of dresses and decorations, the design and flavor of a wedding cake and who will share their special day.

No matter how one looks at it, planning a wedding may cast a "veil" of stress over an otherwise joyous occasion. Sometimes, brides and grooms might reach a point where they no longer want to deal with all the details and just skip to the ceremony.

That’s exactly what Emily Ellis-Onsager and her husband, Shannon, of Harmony, did when they tied the knot on July 27, 2014, nearly a month before their original wedding day, Aug. 23.

First, let’s go back to the beginning – when they met at, of all places, a wedding.

“We met at a wedding dance and we started talking. He got my phone number and we started texting,” Emily described.

After the dance and a week of texting back and forth, the two started spending time together, becoming good friends and then falling in love.

Six or seven months passed and their affection for each other grew.

Then one day, Shannon came into the house from deer hunting and popped the question.

Naturally, Emily said yes.


The months and weeks prior to the wedding proved to be stressful for the couple.

“We had everything planned. The invitations were bought, but then I didn’t like them. I had my bridesmaids and everything was set,” Emily said.

But then, something happened. When they began planning for the ceremony and reception, the guest list continued to grow, creating the hardest decision-making portion of the whole process. The two noted Shannon has many siblings and Emily’s whole family was to be invited as well.

“The original list was like 450 to 500 people. We kept cutting and cutting, and eventually got 300 RSVPs,” she noted.

That number was just for the reception as the couple planned to have only a few people at their wedding ceremony.

“The ceremony would be only 40 people,” Shannon added.

“That made it even harder for cutting the list,” Emily said. “I just got to the point where I wanted to go and do this by ourselves.”

Rather than simply treating this "go and do this by ourselves" statement as a viewpoint stemming from stress, Emily and Shannon actually considered it and ultimately decided to act on it.

Only a few people knew of their change in plans about the wedding. More people knew they wanted to go on vacation to Las Vegas a mere few weeks before the wedding and thought it a little strange.

“Only three people here knew what we were doing,” Shannon explained.

Many friends did not know the exact plans the couple were conspiring, but they did figure something was up. Still, for all anybody outside the bridal party and a select few knew, Shannon and Emily were going through with their original plans for the wedding. The wedding was supposed to have taken place at Fred and Lori Pfremmer’s home with close family and friends there to witness the ceremony.

“They have a beautiful garden so it would have been perfect. I was worried about it being rainy and hot that day though,” Emily explained.

After the wedding ceremony, guests were to gather at Wheeler’s Bar and Grill in Harmony for the reception.

The plans for the reception followed through, but the actual ceremony plans changed.

The wedding

While most everyone was under the impression that the wedding was to be held as scheduled, Emily and Shannon looked into wedding packages in Las Vegas.

“There are wedding packages online so it did not take long to plan. We got flowers and a wedding coordinator with it. And they came to our hotel rooms to do hair and make-up. For a little extra we could get even more flowers, so of course I upgraded,” Emily shared.

The couple confided in their wedding party and mothers about the change in plans, but not everyone in the party could travel to Nevada to attend the newly planned wedding.

Emily’s best friend, maid-of-honor Sheila Marzolf, and Shannon’s sister, Mandy Norstad, and a few others traveled with them to Las Vegas. Mike Merritt gave Emily away at the wedding since her father, Don Ellis, had died a few years ago. Emily’s mother, who happened to be in England at the time, as well as her sister and brother and one of Shannon’s other siblings were unable to make the journey, although they were able to see the wedding live over the Internet.

“Shannon’s best man couldn’t come so his sister stood in as the best woman,” Emily said.

Within a short period of time, Emily and Shannon were on their way to Vegas for their wedding, a month sooner than originally determined.

As July 27 dawned, the weather in Las Vegas proved to be just what Emily had feared back home, although a little bit hotter: 110 degrees with a downpour on the day of the wedding.

“It was very hot that day so we could only do the ceremony after 9 p.m. because of the heat. Then it started pouring. It had been four months since the last rain and was very windy, but it stopped by the time we started the ceremony,” she related.

Finally, in the Terrace Gazebo, the wind died down from the storm, and the time came for the ceremony to begin.

There was one problem. It did not start on time.

Emily and Shannon had traveled to the gazebo in separate limos. Emily arrived earlier and had pictures taken with her bridesmaids. However, one important person did not arrive on time and it wasn’t the groom.

“Shannon loves Elvis, so I booked Elvis for the wedding. I was upset because it was not starting and not starting and not starting. I didn’t see Shannon and he didn’t see me so we were both wondering where we were,” Emily recalled. “And there were people still waiting online for the ceremony to start and it was not starting. Elvis was 15 to 20 minutes late and already had a lot to drink.”

In spite of the delay, the ceremony went on as planned. Elvis serenaded the couple as Emily walked down the aisle singing “Suspicious Minds.”

Instead of lighting a unity candle, as is a common tradition locally, Las Vegas dictates one choose another option.

“We had a normal non-religious ceremony. But they don’t do candles there because of the desert, so we did an exchange of roses,” Emily noted.

After the exchange of vows and presentation of the couple, it was party time.

“We laughed the whole time through the ceremony. We took pictures and then went to Margaritaville. A band was playing there so we started dancing and everyone else started dancing too because they wanted to dance with the bride. It was fun,” Emily said.

The reception

Prior to their escape to Las Vegas, Emily and Shannon had sent out their invitations to the reception, still wanting to include friends and family in celebrating their marriage. So, their guests showed up on Aug. 23 for their reception.

“We did the rehearsal dinner the night before. We had the bridesmaids and got our hair done for the reception. We had DJ Digger Hanson there and dancing and jiving,” Emily said.

“We had everything except for the ceremony here,” Shannon noted.

“We were very much less stressed because the stressful part of the wedding was done,” Emily added.

Since they held the reception at a different time and place, one bonus Emily and her bridesmaids had came from being able to wear their dresses more than once. Especially since they really liked the dresses.

As for the decorations for the party, Emily and Shannon hired Tammy Brink of Canton to spice up Wheelers for a wedding reception. And spice it up she did. Tablecloths and napkins were of any color. Lanterns hung from the ceiling. Chairs were covered.

“Tammy did all the decorations and they were wonderful. But it was not much more expensive than when you do it yourself. She did a beautiful job on the cake table, cups and drinks,” Emily emphasized.

At each table, the couple placed pictures of their wedding in Las Vegas for anyone who desired to take it with them as a memento of the wedding. Purple flowers from the Harmony greenhouse decorated the tables as well.

Rather than a traditional wedding cake, Emily and Shannon ordered 600 mini-cupcakes from Pinters Gardens and Pumpkins in Decorah. With six different flavors, naturally they were a hit for anyone who had a sweet tooth. In fact, out of the 600 cupcakes provided by Pinters, Emily and Shannon only tasted one a piece and had a "vast stock" of only 20 left over. They also had mints in various shades of purple made by Shannon’s grandma.

One other part of their wedding that one usually doesn’t see at a reception was their main dish. Tacos often don’t mix well with white and dressy clothes, but both Emily and Shannon are big fans of the dish.

“We love tacos. Jerry Wheeler did them for us,” Emily mentioned.

Looking back

Even with the surprise for those who didn’t know about the change in wedding plans, for Emily and Shannon it worked out very well.

Actually, they are glad the wedding happened as it did rather than the way many couples plan to get married – with photos, ceremony and reception all in one day.

The two agreed that the ceremony is stressful enough, trying to make sure nothing goes wrong.

“It would have been nice to have family there, but this was a commitment just between us and not everyone else. It was my decision,” Emily declared.

The couple was able to avoid the stress of holding all their wedding festivities at once and was able to spend time vacationing in Las Vegas, visiting the Mohave Desert and touring the city while having a party with friends and family later on.