FARGO — When Spc. Jake Schobinger was mobilized to Somalia with his Army Reserve unit in 2019, he worked as a carpenter. But his commanders obviously missed a huge opportunity to assign him to covert military operations.
“You should contact my higher-ups and tell them that. I might get a promotion,” he says with a laugh.
In July, Schobinger pulled off a complicated, detailed plan that would have left Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself impressed. More importantly, it left his wife, Madi, grinning from ear to ear.
Over the past year, the Schobingers had to cancel their wedding three different times after a roller-coaster year that included not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also a military deployment, a new career, a new baby, and selling and buying a home.
“There were a lot of emotions each time we had to cancel,” Jake says. “More than anything, I wanted to be able to do this for Madi.”
So the take-charge Army reservist and independent contractor decided to make giving Madi a dream wedding his next big project. The catch? She couldn’t know a thing about it.
A roller-coaster ride to the altar
Jake and Madi met while they were both students at Minnesota State University Moorhead. After a short courtship, Jake popped the question in July 2018, and they started planning a ceremony for October 2019. But fate stepped in.
The next month, they found out Madi was pregnant and due in April 2019. Still not a deal breaker for an October wedding. They’d just have one extra little guest in attendance.
But then word came that Jake’s Army Reserve unit, the 461st Engineer Company out of Fargo, would report for a yearlong assignment in Africa starting in August 2019. Cross out wedding date No. 1.
They wanted to be officially married before Jake went overseas, so they decided to hold a very small ceremony — just family and close friends — in the backyard on July 20, 2019.
“Her father got ordained to marry us, so that was super cool,” Jake says.
While they were technically married, they still wanted to have a bigger ceremony at the Sanctuary Events Center in Fargo.
“We’d been planning it pretty much the whole time he was deployed,” Madi says.
That meant Jake would get up at 5 a.m. (Somalia time) to call Madi when it was 9 p.m. in Fargo after she had a full day caring for their son, Easton, and starting a new career in law enforcement.
The new wedding date — a big ceremony and reception with all the bells and whistles — was set for Oct. 17, 2020. Like so many others, the Schobingers carefully watched the number of COVID cases, as well as the subsequent restrictions and requirements, rise. By summer 2020, hopes were fading.
“The numbers were going up and up and up and we decided this is not a good idea,” Jake says.
Second wedding date canceled.
“Poor Madi. I felt so bad because I just wanted her to have a wedding,” Jake says.
But they weren’t going to give up. They opted for a much smaller wedding at a smaller venue on Oct. 31. Perhaps a Halloween ceremony was fitting because Jake and Madi’s wedding journey was about to get scary.
“About two weeks before the wedding, things were looking good. Then pretty much the entirety of Madi’s immediate and close family came down with COVID, all at the same time,” Jake says.
“My dad actually got really sick. The whole family was so sick,” Madi says.
Fortunately, everyone recovered, but the third wedding was canceled.
“At this point, I was done! I was so overwhelmed with planning weddings. I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Madi says.
Jake apparently could.
The plan in action
“I think it was about March and I contacted Brenda, Madi’s mother, and I said, ‘I have a crazy idea. I want to have a surprise wedding for Madi.’ I think she thought I was bonkers,” Jake recalls.
"Bonkers" or not, Brenda was on board and started helping Jake work out the details. Invitations were sent with strict instructions for guests to keep their mouths shut and not say a word to Madi.
“We invited 150 people to this thing, so anyone could have blown it. I was worried the whole time,” Jake says.
But a big question remained: How could he get Madi in her wedding gown with hair and makeup done the way any bride would like it done — without her knowing something was up?
Simple. Jake says he and Madi had talked about wanting to have nice wedding photos done, no matter what happened with the ceremony.
He told his mother-in-law that he thought he could get Madi to Olivet Lutheran Church in Fargo, in her dress, without her realizing she was attending her own wedding. "I still think she thought I was crazy.”
So they set “the wedding photo shoot” for July 17, and the intricate choreography of throwing a wedding behind the bride’s back began with the help of photographers, pastors and family members. Madi says she was caught totally off guard.
“I think I can get Madi to the church in her dress without knowing she’s attending her own wedding. I still think she thought I was crazy.”
-Groom Jake Schobinger telling his wife's mother about his plan to surprise Madi with the wedding of her dreams.
“I had no idea. He kept a good secret. But him and my family were acting just kind of odd that day in particular,” Madi says. “Jake just seemed more stressed out than usual.”
Who wouldn’t be? After he made sure all the guests parked on the opposite side of the church from where Madi and Jake pulled in — and ensuring they wouldn't get there too early and run into anyone — the couple walked into the church, ready to take their photos. Or so Madi thought.
“At this point, I looked back and she was oblivious,” Jake says.
He says when he opened the door to the sanctuary of the church, 2-year-old son Easton, clad in his little tuxedo, strolled right in, “no holds barred.”
But Madi was a little more hesitant.
“I thought I was walking in on someone else’s wedding,” she says. ”Then I recognized a couple of people in the crowd and I realized that Jake was being persistent about me going inside, so I realized this is for me!”
Madi says after being initially overwhelmed from seeing her entire wedding party at the front of the church and so many loved ones looking at her, she was really excited after the shock settled in.
“I thought I was walking in on someone else’s wedding."
- Surprised bride Madi Schobinger on what she thought when she walked into the church for what she thought was just a photo session, but was her own wedding.
“I mean I couldn't have picked a better guy. Obviously it's a huge, huge surprise. It was a huge undertaking for him and my family to do all this, especially do it behind my back. They got everything just perfect. I couldn't have asked for a better surprise honestly. It was just awesome!” Madi says.
The surprises weren’t quite over — but this time, Madi got to be in on it.
“Later, I thanked everyone for being there, but I asked them not to hand Madi any alcoholic beverages because we were expecting again. The whole crowd went crazy,” Jake says. “Everyone thought we were just getting Madi, but we got them too.”
Now that the wedding of their dreams finally happened, the Schobingers say they’ll eventually take a honeymoon, maybe after the new baby is born.
For now, Jake and his now-enlightened bride are glad to have everything out in the open.
“At this point," Jake says, "I think I could become a professional secret keeper.”