Debbie and Randy Ristau stand in the main reception room of Serenity Hills, a wedding and event pavilion built just southeast of Preston on Highway 52. 
Debbie and Randy Ristau stand in the main reception room of Serenity Hills, a wedding and event pavilion built just southeast of Preston on Highway 52. CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER

The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” may be the easiest way to explain why local farmers Randy and Debbie Ristau decided to construct a 50-feet by 100-feet wedding and special event pavilion in the middle of their corn field.

“Our daughter, Tori, was planning her wedding and was having a hard time finding a venue for the event,” Debbie began. “She and her fiancé (Stephen Johnson) just couldn’t find anything that really fit the bill.”

 Debbie explained that their daughter found most of the venues were quite expensive and were only available for one day. So that meant decorating and setting up the venue the day of the wedding, which seem to be a very challenging endeavor. Tori came up with the idea to build their own pavilion on her parent’s property.

“I just said, ‘What?’” Randy recalled, thinking back to the initial conversation with his daughter.

“There was no way we were going to do that,” he said with a laugh as he looked around the gigantic structure.

But Tori was persistent and continued to work on her parents.

“I finally told her to put some plans together, get some costs and I’d think about it,” Randy recalled.

The more the Ristaus thought about their daughter’s idea, the more they felt it just might be workable. They realized there was a need for such a facility in the area. So Tori and her mother toured a number of events venues to get some ideas. Originally, Tori envisioned an open-sided building. But the more they discussed it, the idea of having large, glass overhead doors that could be open on warm days and closed on chilly nights won out.

“We felt it would be better to have a venue that could be locked, so when people decorated on Friday night, the place would be secured overnight,” Debbie noted.

Randy got the idea of the large glass overhead doors when visiting a brewery in Fountain.

“We were able to get the doors at Menards,” Randy said. Eight 10-by-12-foot overhead doors with double pane safety glass, situated on the east and west walls, let copious amounts of daylight in the structure and provide a feeling of being outdoors.

The plans were drawn up, the exact location was agreed upon and the poles for the building were set in the fall of 2016 before freeze up.

“I had a lot a folks asking me what in the heck I was building out here,” Randy said. “When I explained what it was going to be, I got a lot of looks.”

Work on the building didn’t begin in earnest until spring of 2017. Preston area contractor Jade Rindells led the project. The September date for Tori and Stephen’s wedding was looming and there was much to be completed in a short time.

“We had a lot of friends and relatives help us with this project,” Randy said. “We spent a lot of nights and weekends working on it. We did get everything completed, but it was right down to the last day.”

Tori and Stephen’s wedding went off without a hitch. About 240 people attended the dinner and reception and about 350 enjoyed the dance.

“It was a perfect fall day and we were able to have the doors open,” Debbie said. “I think everyone had a good time. We were all pleased with how it went.”

When arriving at Serenity Hills, the first thing that greets visitors is the incredible view of the majestic Root River Valley. The 5,000 square-foot pavilion and events center is located on a hill just southeast of Preston that provides a panoramic vista of the rolling farm fields, hardwood forests and the steep valley of the Root River.

The main reception area is 4,000 square feet and can easily accommodate more than 350 people. A movable stage is on one end. A groom’s den, with several couches, a flat screen TV and bar, is on the north end of the venue, right next to the caterer’s kitchen area.

Tori and Stephen’s wedding is the only event held at Serenity Hills so far. Currently, the facility does not have a well or septic system. But a large, luxury restroom trailer, that according to Randy has all the comforts of home, is being utilized for every event.

“We have plans for permanent restrooms and also a bridal suite this summer,” Debbie said. “We wanted to see how things worked out for Tori’s wedding and will be moving forward this year.”

It appears as if the Ristaus have found a niche with Serenity Hills. They already have 12 weddings booked for the 2018 season (May through October) and have been fielding inquiries for the 2019 season as well.

Serenity Hills is not limited to just weddings. The nearly three acres of lush lawn is perfect for kids of all ages to enjoy the great outdoors during family reunions, anniversaries, birthdays, class reunions and many other events.

The large patio and fire pit and a shuttle service to and from local motels for persons attending events are other amenities Serenity Hills has to offer. And Randy pointed out they have secured a liquor license as well.

The Ristaus are pleased with the way it’s gone so far and with the response they’ve received with the bookings for 2018.

Debbie pointed out this has been a family project with all three of their children, Tori, Tanner and Tyson, and their son-in-law, Stephen, having active rolls in it.

Serenity Hills is located on US 52, just southeast of Preston.  For more information, contact Debbie at 507-259-6077 or Tori at 507-251-1760.