Nontraditional Grad Rebuffs Retirement

Annette Marquez meets success as independent event manager.

Annette Marquez

Annette Marquez

Hardly slowing down, Annette Marquez, 66, of Eagan, picked up the pace when she approached retirement age a couple years ago. Disillusioned with her job as a mortgage closing manager, Marquez decided to rethink her career options.

“The housing crisis shook up our profession,” said Marquez, who experienced two layoffs in one nineteen-month period. “We knew the market was due for a natural correction.”

With a Bachelor of Science degree in restaurant management from Kansas State University, Marquez knew all along that she loved the hospitality industry. She hired a life coach and began preparations for an entirely new future.

“At one point in my life, I worked in the banquet department of a hotel,” Marquez said. “I enjoyed working with the hotel’s clients and found that I liked planning their events.”

Marquez decided that she was ready to explore starting her own event planning service. She enrolled in the Meeting and Event Management program at Dakota County Technical College and soon earned a 16-credit certificate. Her instructor, Rosealee Lee, an expert on professional domestic and international meeting planning, gave Marquez all the knowledge and tools she needed to make it on her own.

“Annette is a shining example of the shifting student population within our Hospitality Careers department,” Lee said. “She had a very successful career prior to coming to DCTC. Indeed, she had a few careers, but had never explored her passion—planning events.”

Lee added that life stages typically lead people to review past accomplishments and examine aspirations for the future. “Changes in our economy and technology also inspire motivated professionals to reinvent their careers. Annette took charge of her life and followed her passion. When I look at her success along with the numerous successes of our graduates—regardless of previous career histories—I am reminded of the Robert Schuller quote, ‘What would you do if you knew you would not fail?'”

“Starting my own event planning service has been a journey—one that I’m really enjoying. It goes to show that you’re never too old to change careers.”

In the fall of 2005, Marquez launched The Perfect Occasion, an event planning service that caters to small and medium-sized companies and nonprofit organizations. The mission statement of The Perfect Occasion promises a comprehensive approach to event management with an emphasis on excellence.

“As an event planner, I help clients clarify their event objectives and budget,” Marquez said. “My job is to create an event tailored to the client’s needs by carefully planning and executing each detail.”

Marquez credited her time at DCTC as crucial to her success. She noted that Lee, who has more than 30 years of event management experience, got her on the right track immediately, ensuring that she didn’t waste time “reinventing the wheel.”

“The Meeting and Event Management program fills you in on what’s going on now,”said Marquez. “You also gain access to invaluable resources. I didn’t like networking at first, but now I love it. I’ve gotten very good at connecting people with just the right person. The program also teaches you things you didn’t know you didn’t know.”

As for newcomers to her industry, Marquez recommends that they take all the relevant courses and land an internship. “Finding success means doing your homework,” she said. “Read industry publications, join a professional event planning organization, obtain a mentor and network. You must become a lifelong learner.”

Marquez keeps busy when she’s not planning events for clients. She volunteers for an ESL class, chairs the Learning Services Committee of the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce and serves on the DCTC Tourism and Hospitality Advisory Group. She is also a member of Meeting Professionals International, or MPI, an association for professionals in her industry.

“Starting my own event planning service has been a journey,” Marquez said, “one that I’m really enjoying. It goes to show that you’re never too old to change careers.”

The Meeting, Event and Tourism Management program prepares students to enter a truly exciting industry. Individuals already employed as meeting planners or in tourism, hotel, and convention service positions will expand their career opportunities with the program’s comprehensive curriculum.

The program serves as the missing ingredient for individuals who want to offer premier services and guest satisfaction to many different types of customers in a variety of industry businesses:

  • convention and visitor bureaus
  • travel agencies
  • meeting, conference and event management businesses
  • marketing and public relations firms
  • for-profit and nonprofit corporations
  • golf and country clubs
  • zoos
  • resorts
  • guest-centered attractions that offer food, lodging, or convention and meeting spaces

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for meeting and convention planners is expected to grow 20 percent through 2016, which is faster than the national average. Job openings will result from employment growth and the need to replace workers who leave the workforce or transfer to other occupations. reports that a typical meeting/event planner working in the U.S. earns a median base salary of $51,205 a year.

In 2007, CNN/ ranked event planner eighth on the Web site’s list of “Top 20 Jobs” for “people who want more money, more upside and more control over where they’re going.”