PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with Athena Award Winner Shari Kelley of Shari Kelley Events

Shari_9468 003Shari Kelley, CEO of Shari Kelley Events, has been creating parties in the desert since 1978 and lists among her clients, The Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Palm Springs Art Museum, The Palm Springs Air Museum, Eisenhower Hospital and Jim Houston, Stacey and Greg Renker, Donna MacMillan, Annette Bloch, Arlene Schnitzer, Carol Price, Bill and Dianne Moss and The Vintage Country Club.

She has traveled the US extensively for events, but may be best known for the annual Houston Halloween party which last year featured a 40 ft. pirate ship sushi bar. Shari is always quick to point out that without her amazing crew the dreams do not happen: “I am blessed with a phenomenal staff who understand that the art is in the process.”

Shari will be honored at the City of Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce Annual Athena Women in Business and Leadership Awards on Thursday, Dec. 3rd at 11:30a.m. at the Renaissance Palm Springs. Kelley receives this award alongside United States Senator Barbara Boxer, local journalist Gloria Greer, and Betty Callies, Director of Tribal Administration, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. For ticket information, please visit www.pschamber.org.

HOUSTON HALLOWEEN HOWL, featuring a 40 ft. pirate ship sushi bar.

HOUSTON HALLOWEEN HOWL, featuring a 40 ft. pirate ship sushi bar.

Kate Buckley: Congratulations on your career achievements and on receiving the prestigious Athena Award! You must have overcome some significant obstacles along the way; can you tell us about any mentors or role models who were instrumental to you in your journey?

Shari Kelley: In the first two years of business (1978 – 1980), Hal Broderick of Arthur Elrod & Associates took us under his wing and basically introduced us to the Social Society of the desert by hiring us to do a large 200 person New Year’s Eve party. Later in my career, Jackie Lee and Jim Houston became my mentors for 25 years—their support has been the primary reason I am in business. I will always consider Jim Houston my advisor and close friend.

Of the Athena Award winners, Mayor Steve Pouget has said: “They truly exemplify the highest level of achievement when it comes to excellence in community service and serve as tremendous role models for future generations of women leaders.” What do you personally see as your legacy for future women leaders?

I would hope that my legacy would be to always go with your instincts and never to give up. I believe the only way to fail is to give up. My “failures” were my best teaching moments.  And of course surround yourself with an amazing crew, as I have, who understand that the process is the gift.
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75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PALM SPRINGS ART MUSEUM. Carpet stripes on the street entrance.

How did you come to be interested in and begin your career in event planning? And is it true that you coined the term, “Event Coordination”?

Starting an event coordination service was a natural segue after operating a catering company for 12 years. My favorite part of a party has always been the visuals—flowers, colors, lighting, special effects, and music. In 1990, while asking my Higher Power for direction, it came to me to call myself an “event coordinator.” That is how it came to be—basically, a gift.

You produce the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala, along with The Bob Hope Classic Ball. Any favorite moments from these star-studded events?

It’s a team effort! Richard DeSantis and Kevin Swank do the actual production of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but our team gets to do the look of the room with the flowers and linen.  Also every year, Jim Houston and I design a party favor for every guest—2,500 this coming year!
As for favorite moments, a few years ago when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrived at the Palm Springs Film Festival, it was pure magic.

What are some of the more memorable events you’ve produced?

I think many of my most memorable events haven’t been parties at all. I have had the privilege to work on many local funerals and memorials—Jackie Lee Houston’s, Betty Ford’s, Cargill MacMillan’s and Richard Milanovich’s to name a few. Never in my life had I planned on being involved in funerals, but it is an amazing, intimate life event and is a real compliment to be trusted for such a personal family time.
PARTY FOR ARLENE SCHNITZER, MOUNTAIN LODGE SET AT THE PS AIR MUSEUM

PARTY FOR ARLENE SCHNITZER, MOUNTAIN LODGE SET AT THE PS AIR MUSEUM

KB: Has anything ever gone horribly wrong? How did you fix it?

The first time I worked at Betty and Jerry Ford’s home they were hosting 200 guests from the Republican National Committee.    The party was on a cold rainy Saturday in January and we had pre-set the tent and rentals the day before so I felt very ready until I showed up early on party day to find that the Secret Service had jimmied the door to the generator truck and we had no power. No lights, no music, and no heat!  And guests arriving in three hours!

My crew set up the party—buffets, flowers, and bars by candlelight while I went into solution mode—making phone calls and trying to get another generator, or fix the one we had. At 5:45pm with no solution at hand, I realized I may just have a serious break down here! I dropped to my knees in front of a table in the tent and began asking God for one very big favor.
Betty Ford came over to me and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Shari, it will be okay.” Such a lovely women! A few minutes later we heard the generator kick in, the lights came on and the heaters started whirring. WHEW!
MAGIC CARPET RIDE PARTY AT THE VINTAGE CLUB

MAGIC CARPET RIDE PARTY AT THE VINTAGE CLUB

When you’re not hard at work, what activities do you enjoy in and around Palm Springs?

For many years, my time off was spent in Montana out in the middle of a forest—hiking, antiquing, and kayaking. Now I spend time with my granddaughters, Paige and Brooke, both here in Palm Springs and in Laguna Niguel.
Are there any upcoming Palm Springs events you’re particularly excited about?

I always look forward to the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and we have a very unique party coming up for Annette Bloch—of course, it is top secret!

And what is it you love most about the community of Palm Springs?

I have enjoyed Palm Springs for 37 years, and continue to be intrigued with the mountains—the sun rising on the mountains in the early morning never loses my interest. The Indian Canyons in particular are very intimate to me; I love spending time there.

Last but not least, the wonderful mix of people from all over the country we have in the desert is fascinating to me. Where else could I be and associate with so many different folks from different lifestyles?
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