Patty Dillabough is a self-proclaimed list person. Perhaps that’s why she does so well in her roles a prom coordinator for Crookston High School, wedding coordinator for Trinity Lutheran Church and Golden Link Senior Center director.
"I’m up every morning at 5:30 and soak in tub with a cup coffee and just think about what I need to do today," she said. "Then I go downstairs and make a list of 10 things I have to do. Most days I accomplish them, but sometimes I don’t."
Scattered throughout her house, she has to-do lists posted inside cupboard doors, on the fridge, on mirrors and anywhere else she can think of. She also has a list tucked in the visor of her vehicle of items to get next time she stops by the store.
"If I don’t come to work without a list, I don’t get anything done," she said. "I can’t remember what to do. I have too many things on my plate so a list is the only way to keep organized. As long as I have a list, I’m happy."
Her husband, Dwayne, doesn’t always appreciate her list mentality, she said, especially since she regularly has a little honey-do list made up for him as well.
The list thing all started when she took a class taught by Sue Brorson at the University of Minnesota, Crookston more than 30 years ago, Patty explained. For one of their assignments, students were to write everything they planned to do over the next week on paper and prioritize them.
"Ever since then I’ve always done it," she said.
Dillabough, who was born and raised in Crookston, is in her 17th year as CHS’s prom coordinator.
"I told them I’d do it for three or four years then," she said.
It all started when she just happened to be at the high school for something else and then Principal Allen Zenor was talking about the prom. Because a number of problems at the previous year’s prom had made local headlines, he was looking to hire a prom coordinator.
"He made the comment that if he didn’t get one in a couple of days, he’d stop prom that year," she said.
Somehow, she was recruited for the job.
"He told me to just change everything and he never wanted to see negative publicity on our prom again," she said, stressing that she didn’t know all the details of the prom troubles, only that students had apparently caused a lot of damage.
So she set about giving the prom a much-needed makeover.
"Basically all I did was take the rules we had 30-some years ago and put them into play," Patty said. "Believe it or not, it caused a lot of problems with parents, some of whom were quite upset. No longer could you take that 14-year-old to prom – they had to be juniors or seniors age 20 or younger. And there was no drinking, alcohol or drugs allowed, of course.
"I actually got phone calls at home complaining," she said. "People would tell me, ‘My kid’s a responsible drinker.’"
After a couple of years, though, things settled down. She noted that there have been no accidents, arrests or other major incidents since tightening the reins. And while the prom itself is a school-sponsored event, as opposed to the parent-sponsored Blast to Bede that takes place afterward, they work in conjunction with each other.
"Once you leave prom, you need to sign out with me so that the school is no longer responsible for you," she said. "We give the names of the kids who signed out early to Blast to Bede so they can be on the lookout for signs of drinking or other naughty things.
"All we did was take it back to the old days," she said. "We had the grand march at the high school, a sit down dinner and dance over at 11. That’s all it took to straighten it out."
Right after the Christmas break, Patty starts meeting with the juniors who volunteer to be on the prom committee. The students come up with the theme, colors, icons and motifs and she helps them bring it all together. Some years, as many as 40 students came on board. This year, there were 10.
"These girls are all so agreeable," she said while noting that boys do join the team some years. "They came up with this jungle theme and just agree on everything. They almost make it too easy."
Patty prides herself on being able to get the most bang for students’ buck, so to speak. She has Gary Stegman’s art Mike and Geffre’s welding classes create large props at a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere.
"It doesn’t matter what we need. I can bring in a picture and those classes will whip it up beautifully, like the Eiffel Tower or the big tree we’re using for an archway this year," she said.
She’s also become very adept at recycling items. As one might expect, after 17 years, quite a collection of various themed décor has accumulated. This year, for example, she plans to reuse the tiki hut used as the main prop at a recent prom to cover the punch table.
"I’ve got stuff stored all over at different places because the school has no storage space for it," said Patty. "But I know where everything is and can retrieve it in a heartbeat."
That comes in handy for other local events as well, like the Gala for Girls held in February. Movie reel props that previously graced the grand march stage wowed the crowd at the Eagles.
"Anytime anyone needs something they come to me," she said.
This year’s theme proved to be a bit challenging to decorate for, partly because it’s the first in Patty’s memory that doesn’t revolve around romance with something like the moon, stars, silhouettes and "pretty things. This one’s wild and exotic. It’s harder to incorporate things from before."
Patty said she really loves prom, but it does get a little harried that weekend. They start decorating on Friday morning and work into the next day to get everything set up. Guys are recruited to set up the stage, ramp and other heavy items. The girls then hang up decorations and do the more delicate decorating. While Friday’s crew consists of mostly juniors, she pulls in a bunch of 10th graders to help on Saturday.
"It wouldn’t be fair for the juniors to have to work so hard and then have a hard time enjoying it all later," she said.
The boys attending prom aren’t required to rent a tuxedo if they can’t afford to, she said, but they must at least wear a suit for the formal occasion. Not everyone attends with a date, either.
"Sometimes you’ll have these groups of guys and groups of girls going to the banquet, and later on they’ll all sit together," she said. "But they’re not dates."
For this year’s prom, Patty decided to try something new in an effort to keep costs down and have the dinner and dance at the National Guard Armory, with the Eagles Ladies Auxiliary catering the meal and 10th graders serving as waiters and waitresses. The meal used to be held there years ago, but not the dance.
Everything was falling into place when, late last week, she was informed that because National Guardsmen helping with the state’s flood-fighting efforts were still occupying the armory, the prom would have to take place elsewhere.
"Nothing like putting a colossal crimp in our plans," she said.
This left her no choice but to move the festivities to the high school, which she wasn’t exactly thrilled about.
"The whole point is to create this magical experience for the kids, and the best way to do that is to take it away from the school," she said. "I mean, they spend every day there eating lunch and studying. How magical is that?"
So now she’s scrambling to line up enough décor to transform the CHS commons into an exotic paradise for Saturday night.
"I guess if you’re handed lemons…" Patty said.
Dwayne gets put to work, hard, the day of the prom as well as the next day tearing it all down, she added.
"I don’t know what I’d do without him."
Patty started coordinating weddings for Trinity as a fluke some six years ago. Although the church had a regular wedding coordinator, it needed someone to help with the growing number of ceremonies that were being held at Trinity Point on Maple Lake. Her cousin was about to get married there in a rather large ceremony, and the pastor at the time asked Patty if she would coordinate it on the church’s end. She obliged.
"I became the coordinator for weddings there, and months we had one every weekend," she said. "Since we camped there every weekend, it worked out great."
After her second year, though, the caretaker there wanted to take on the duties, so Patty was moved into coordinating weddings at the church in town. This didn’t necessarily fit well into her camping and family time schedule, but because the church has two other coordinators, they take turns. She now does about six weddings a year.
"You do whatever’s happening at the church," she explained. "You don’t help with flowers and stuff like that, but you do help with ceremony itself, wedding pictures and reception if it’s at the church. We make sure they know all the rules and are there for the rehearsal."
Some years have been extremely busy, with weddings every weekend, some even with three weddings a weekend – one each Friday and Saturday evening at the church and one at Trinity Point during the day on Saturday.
"The pastor was running back and forth just to cover all these," she said.
Patty’s regular job is Golden Link director, which she’s been doing for five years. She’s proud of the fact that the center has upped its enrollment by about 140 members since she first started. Unfortunately, "We’ve lost a lot of our seniors. We’ve probably lost as many as we’ve gained, but I always seem to find more."
One of her biggest goals with the center is to make sure it gets used, she said.
"We’ve opened it up to a lot more clubs. It’s a senior center, so as long as there are some seniors in the club, they can meet here," she noted.
The building offers well-established handicap accessibility and plenty of nearby parking, making it a good, safe place for seniors to meet, she said.
One of the most enjoyable parts of her job is the trips she gets to go on with the seniors, which they really love taking. They usually take one or two in the summer to places a few hours away. Some years, they take longer excursions to locations like Branson or Washington, D.C. This year they’re staying a little closer to home by visiting the Black Hills.
When Patty first started at the Link, she’d spent more than 20 years doing child care and working as a guardian ad litem for children. She said that while six or more decades separate the ages of her clientele then and now, there are actually few differences between working with children and the elderly, or with any people, for that matter.
"It’s all human needs," she said. "It takes compassion and organizing what they need. Sometime you just need to let them vent for 20 minutes."
When Patty’s not busy coordinating things for work, she’s organizing everything at her bustling home. Her father, Elwood Hill, lives with the family, as does her daughter, Shannon, and granddaughter, Jada, who moved back in around Christmastime. Sons Michael and Alex are also still at home. Plus, there are the dogs.
"We have the full spectrum here – elder care, child care, mental health care and animal care," Patty quipped. "I wonder if there’s a name for that?"
The couple has three other grown children, John, Jamie and Shannon, and two other grandchildren, Hallie and Hunter.