OACOMA -- The Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center at Cedar Shore in Oacoma has drawn people from around South Dakota to its facilities for decades.

For some, it is a place to hold business meetings. For others, it is a place to vacation and get away from it all. Others even make it the destination for their wedding ceremony, forming memories that will last a lifetime.

For the past two decades, Kathi Anderson has been part of that tradition. As the banquet and wedding coordinator at the resort, she has worked with couples to create a memorable experience with family and friends as they begin a new life together. Anderson was recently recognized for that work when Gov. Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Department of Tourism made her one of the recipients of the Ruth Ziolkowski Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award.

Anderson said she was honored to receive the award, even if she was surprised she was even nominated.

“It was such a surprise. My workmates lied to me,” Anderson said with a laugh.

Anderson coordinates weddings, meetings and other events at the resort, doing her best to accommodate different organizations, people and tastes. The location appeals to many diverse groups thanks to its central South Dakota location, convention and meetings facilities and a picturesque spot on the river that includes a marina.

After a customer has booked their dates, Anderson takes over.

“When they book with us they come to me and we talk about how they want the meeting set up, meal times and anything special,” Anderson said. “It’s the same with weddings.”

She takes special enjoyment in helping plan weddings. She said the resort hosts around 20 weddings a year during the summer busy season, and while such an event can be stressful for new couples, Anderson takes a practical approach to the affair, helping them navigate the many small decisions that can go into a memorable wedding.

Her strategy? Keep it simple.

“I’m pretty down to earth, and this is a blessing and a curse. I’m pretty blunt, and it can help because people get nervous (about making decisions),” Anderson said. “They’re getting married, but nobody is going to remember what color the napkins were. They just need to take a breath.”

She said she loves what she does because, simply, it’s fun. From the planning to the food preparation.

“It’s all fun. I like the food, because I’m involved with the food and will go into the kitchen and make sure everything is set up the way I like,” Anderson said.

A natural conversationalist, the Zell native began working at Cedar Shore when her son was a cook in the restaurant. At the end of the summer, the seasonal employees left even though there was still a need for waitresses, so her son got her to come in and help with a few shifts. She enjoyed it, even though she had little experience.

“It was fun, and everybody was wonderful,” Anderson said. “And then this position opened up and I was approached about it. And I’ve been here ever since.”

And while organizing weddings is the most memorable part of her job, the bookings at the resort keep her on her toes with a lot of variety. The South Dakota Hall of Fame hosts their annual banquet there, and state agencies often hold regular meetings there due to the central location in the state.

Of course, the South Dakota summer provides the best backdrop for almost any event, she said.

“Everything just keeps changing seasonally. We have the hunters, and then we have a lot of state groups because of our location,” Anderson said. “Anytime of the year is wonderful, but we’re really unique from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

She also said she’s only a small part of what makes the Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center a destination for gatherings.

“We have such a great crew. It makes life a little easier,” Anderson said.

And while she’s enjoyed the 20 years she has helped organize events, she acknowledges it may be time to step aside and allow the next generation to take the reins. Anderson, 64, said she has an eye on stepping back from her duties, though she said she has loved her time in the role.

“I’m seriously considering retiring in November. This is wonderful, but we’re talking about 50 to 60 hours a week,” Anderson said. “It’s time to have someone else do it, and I’m sure they’ll bring wonderful ideas in.”

Other recipients of the Ruth Ziolkowski Award included Dan Miller with Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown, Kasi Haberman with the Yankton Convention and Visitors Bureau and Shirley Wetz with Sturgis Buffalo Chip.