GILLETTE — For four months, Clarice Grekoff kept an important secret from her fiancé.
To keep him in the dark, she told him lie on top of lie on top of lie.
But she had a good reason. For those four months, Grekoff had been planning a surprise wedding for Nick Stolp, who had asked her to marry him nearly three years ago.
It was going to be completely unexpected and beautiful, and Grekoff was going to get the satisfaction of seeing that look on his face when he found out.
And she almost pulled it off.
June 26 was a day that many in Grekoff’s and Stolp’s families had been anticipating for a long time.
The couple has been together off and on for the last 14 years. They had two daughters together, then separated. They co-parented for a while and then got back together and had another girl.
They’d been engaged for close to three years. They just never got around to doing the whole wedding thing. At the beginning of 2020, they started to plan a wedding, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and put everything on hold.
Then, on Valentine’s Day this year, Grekoff had a crazy idea. What if she planned her own wedding, keeping her fiancé in the dark the entire time, and surprised him on the day of their nuptials?
“We always try to outdo each other for surprises,” she said. “I was trying to think of a way to beat him at his own game.”
She was trying to top Stolp’s biggest surprise, which was the proposal three years ago. He had her two older daughters make signs that read, “Will you marry Dad?” and surprised her as she came out of the bathroom.
“The girls were bawling already, they couldn’t even say anything. He came around and asked me to marry him,” Grekoff said.
How do you top a proposal like that?
With a surprise wedding, of course.
She didn’t have any doubts, but she had some doubters, which is to be expected with a surprise wedding. Some people worried that he’d say no. Others called it “a horrible idea,” Grekoff said, while someone even said it felt like she was trapping her fiancé into saying yes.
But she was confident.
“If I felt anything was going to go wrong with this, do you think I would’ve done all of this and paid for all of this myself? I’m pretty sure that he’s going to be OK with this happening,” she said before the big day.
After all, he was the one who initially popped the question.
“That’s a pretty big step,” she said.
To pull off a big surprise, you have to get used to lying, or at least stretching the truth just enough, Grekoff said.
“I knew she could pull it off,” said her mom, Brandy McKee. “She can be sneaky.”
While she may be sneaky, she’s not a natural-born liar.
“The crazy thing is, I’m not even a liar,” she said. “I hate lying.”
“Usually she tattles on herself,” Stolp added.
It’s stressful having to “snowball into bigger lies,” Grekoff said, and McKee could tell it was bothering her daughter.
“She said, ‘Mom, this is driving me crazy.’ I said, ‘You’ve got this, Clarice,’” McKee said.
But for someone who calls herself “a horrible liar,” Grekoff adapted quite nicely.
She had it all planned out. On the day of the wedding, Stolp’s friend Mike Summers was going to propose to his girlfriend. Stolp had to chauffeur Summers’ girlfriend around town on a scavenger hunt. To look the part of a chauffeur, Summers took Stolp to YTT Bridal & Formal Wear and got him fitted for a suit.
“I felt bad about having to con Nick a little bit, but it was for a good cause,” Summers said.
The store’s owner played his part well, Summers said, shaking his hand and congratulating Summers.
“He was giving me advice on the proposal. He really sold it,” he said.
In hindsight, Stolp said he thought it “odd,” since he and Summers aren’t super close friends. But in that moment, he didn’t suspect anything.
After Stolp was done chauffeuring Summers’ girlfriend, they were going to go to Good Times, where Grekoff and Stolp’s groomsmen would be waiting, and that was where Stolp was going to learn about the surprise.
Getting Stolp’s ring size was tricky, Grekoff said, but she figured it out.
Stolp’s grandfather, who passed away not too long ago, was a jeweler. Stolp’s mom called him, saying she was going through his grandfather’s belongings. She asked him for his ring size, just in case she came across anything that fit.
That didn’t set off any alarms in Stolp’s mind.
“That could not have been any more stealthy,” he said.
On the other end, a simple question would conjure up thoughts of, “Does he know?”
One day Grekoff straightened her hair, much to Stolp’s surprise. He asked her what she was doing. Unsure of whether he suspected anything, she told him she had an interview.
Another time, she got her makeup done for “a little practice run” before the wedding.
“It didn’t turn out good on his end. He hated it,” she said.
But she told him her friend was going through beauty school and that this could count toward her credit, which “technically wasn’t a lie.”
Grekoff said she wasn’t worried about spilling the secret herself. But she was concerned about the 10 to 12 people who were in on it.
“There’s been no drinking, because then it could slip out,” said Missi Suchor, Grekoff’s friend and wedding planner.
Grekoff said some friends refused to hang out with them because they feared they’d let it out.
But the surprise ultimately was given up by Grekoff’s herself, and the secret didn’t slip out by accident.
With events snowballing to the big day, Grekoff said she had a feeling that she had to tell Stolp the truth.
For Father’s Day, Grekoff gave him a card with a fake marriage license in it. She planned to take him to the Campbell County Clerk’s office a few days before the wedding to sign a real marriage license.
But after months of stealth planning and just five days before the wedding, she couldn’t keep the secret anymore. Stolp was going to be out of town the rest of the week for work. But she also needed him to sign the marriage license that week. As they were driving to Moorcroft, she finally let it out.
“It was a pretty good surprise, to be honest,” Stolp said. “I did not see any of it coming. She’s very sneaky.”
Perhaps the most surprising part of it all was that she and the dozen or so people who knew about the surprise wedding were able to keep the secret from Stolp for that long.
“I was nervous about his reaction for sure, but I was glad that it could finally be out,” Grekoff said.
Four months of stress, walking on eggshells and covering her tracks were finally over. Now, she could focus on the wedding without hiding it from the man she was going to marry.
The evening of the wedding, people worked quickly to set up a reception in the couple’s garage. The downpour the past two days brought more than a half-inch of rain on Campbell County, turning the hard, dry dirt into mud.
Dark clouds loomed to the west and thunder rumbled as centerpieces and tablecloths were set up next to garden tools and camping chairs.
Suchor and McKee were “freaking out all day about the rain.”
But the bride was calm, cool and collected. After spending the last four months planning a surprise wedding, a little downpour wasn’t going to rain on her parade.
“I was like, ‘I’ve made it. This is it. We’re here. Regardless of where we’re getting married, it’s still happening,’” Grekoff said.
And instead of holding the ceremony outside, dozens of people were crammed into a basement, where lights and candles hung from wooden beams.
Like everything else about the wedding, Grekoff put a unique touch on it. Dressed in black, and with heavy makeup on her face, she stood in front of the photo booth that had been set up for guests. Replicas of human skulls adorned tables set up against the wall, while the skull of a buck hung on a wall to Grekoff’s right.
She smiled as her two oldest daughters, Lilly and Teagan, walked in, followed by Stolp, who carried their youngest, Lydia.
“Are we ready to get these people hitched finally?” wedding officiant Tisha Short asked the crowd.
Stolp said he proposed to Grekoff because she completes him.
“She’s the yin to my yang, she’s the jelly to my peanut butter,” he said. “She’s got qualities I don’t have, and she makes me more whole.”
In February, soon after she began planning the surprise, Grekoff got extremely sick. She made multiple trips to the emergency room, often only three to four days apart. Her liver almost shut down and her skin turned yellow.
When she was at her sickest, when she couldn’t fend for herself, she realized “how much he cared for me.”
“Seeing how much he was there for me and how much just me even being sick affected him and his feelings, just seeing it made me look at it in a different light,” she said. “If he loved me when I was yellow, he’s going to love me no matter what.”
Grekoff said she would do it all over again and has no regrets. Besides getting to spend the rest of her life with her best friend, she’s looking forward to not having to lie anymore.
“No more lies,” she said. “Unless there’s another surprise that I might come up with later.
“I’m pregnant,” she abruptly added.
That hung in the air, and Stolp and McKee looked at Grekoff, unsure if this was still part of her big ruse.
“I’m joking,” she said quickly. “I’m joking.”