By Lindsey Gapen, Jermaine Pigee, Chris Linden, Paul Anthony Arco
She’s dreamed of her wedding day since she was a little girl. The flowers, the gown, the location - every detail is important and requires months of planning. Of all the components that comprise a wedding ceremony and reception, few are as important - or as challenging to schedule - as the venue. Whether you dream of a Midwest destination wedding or a hometown setting, our area offers some spectacular options.
Ashlyn Erickson and Tim LaBud had an instant friendship when they met in college. They studied together, walked to class together and slowly got to know each other better.
“The first thing I noticed about Ashlyn was her beautiful curly hair and genuine smile and laugh,” Tim says. “I was amazed at how outgoing and personable she was, and I knew right away that she would be a great friend.”
Ashlyn was drawn to Tim’s genuine kindness. After two years of friendship, it was time to acknowledge the truth.
“We denied for months that we were actually dating,” Ashlyn says. But when they finally admitted their feelings, it only took one date for the couple to know that they would someday get married.
The proposal took place during a weekend visit to Milwaukee. After a day of touring the city and visiting various breweries, Tim led Ashlyn down a pier by Lake Michigan at sunset.
“It was cold and we couldn’t quite make it to the end, but she cried – a lot – and said yes,” Tim says. “We celebrated the rest of the weekend with friends and family.”
Choosing Acquaviva Winery for their wedding reception was a no-brainer. The couple wanted an outdoor ceremony, and Acquaviva’s vineyard near Maple Park was a breathtaking scene.
“We wanted a unique venue with class and character, and Acquaviva’s winery and restaurant provided just that,” Tim says. “We also loved the fact that this incredible vineyard exists in Illinois. We felt like we were in Italy.”
After they booked the venue, the couple dined in Acquaviva’s restaurant many times and were consistently impressed with the delicious food and warm, welcoming atmosphere. They could tell by the staff’s energy and enthusiasm that it was a family-owned establishment.
“Furthermore, the wedding coordinator, Suzanne, was so accommodating and welcoming,” Ashlyn says. “From the first day we met her and through our wedding day, she was so incredibly helpful and made our experience so delightful.”
Suzanne Read, Acquaviva’s wedding coordinator, says the venue can accommodate up to 230 people. Ceremonies can be held in the vineyard, on a patio or inside the winery under an atrium with hand-painted frescos.
“When we have a wedding, we completely close down the restaurant and winery for the entire day,” Suzanne says. “The timeline of the day is up to each couple.”
Ashlyn and Tim booked their wedding 13 months in advance. Already, Acquaviva is booking weddings into 2020.
“We have heard from so many of our friends and family what an amazing time they had and what a beautiful venue Acquaviva was,” Tim says. “People raved about the scenic ceremony, the incredible food and wine, and kept asking how we found this place.”
The LaBuds recommend that couples visit Acquaviva a few times in advance of their wedding to day to become familiar with the space, try all the food and wine, and scout out the best spots for photos. There’s a tranquil pond with weeping willow trees, a beautiful wooded area, an estate house, an apple orchard and, of course, the vineyard itself.
“It was everything we could have hoped for and more,” Tim says.” - LG
The Burpee Museum of Natural History means a lot to Rachel Seger. While growing up in Rockford, she went to the museum often, especially for special events like Paleofest and the Burpee for Animal Hours. She was even there for the unveiling of the new location when the museum moved to Riverfront Museum Park.
“It was like a second home to me,” Rachel says.
So when she got engaged to Marc Ruiz – a Streamwood, Ill., native who she met through mutual friends – it was a no-brainer that they’d choose the Burpee for their wedding ceremony and reception.
The proposal was simple, but sweet.
“We were at our home getting ready to run a few errands, and he just knelt down and proposed,” Rachel recalls. “He said he felt it was the right time.”
The couple were married on Nov. 17, 2018. They booked the venue a year in advance.
Rachel appreciated the way Burpee provided unique entertainment for wedding guests.
“They were able to roam the museum while enjoying the wedding festivities,” she says. “Everyone had a wonderful time.”
The couple included some special dinosaur-themed touches in the decor in honor of the location.
Throughout the wedding planning process, Rachel relied on the Burpee staff to help with “anything and everything.”
“They went above and beyond to help our day go off without a hitch,” she says. “The staff was very friendly and available to answer all the questions we had before and during the big day.”
The museum has a variety of rooms to utilize, depending on the total number of wedding guests. Rachel and Marc decided to host their festivities in the Mahlburg Auditorium, which impresses with high ceilings and large windows. The space, located right off the front entrance, is ideal for about 150 guests.
Smaller rooms are available for more intimate weddings, while The Riverview Room & Terrace, located on the riverfront, can accommodate up to 250 guests.
Now that the Barnes Mansion has been restored to its Victorian glory, couples can use the space for photo shoots and/or pre-ceremony preparations.
“I feel like most venues don’t offer those kinds of options,” Rachel says.
The couple continued the magic of their wedding day with a honeymoon in Disney World. They’ll certainly be back to the Burpee Museum to make even more memories together. - LG
After 2.5 years of dating, Seth McCammond was ready to propose Marta.
The couple had met while working at a pet store.
“We clicked right away,” Marta says. “Talking to each other was easy – we had similar interests and the same sense of humor.”
On March 12, 2016, Seth organized a family game night at his parents’ house. His siblings and grandparents were there, in addition to Marta’s family. During a game of Pictionary, it was Seth’s turn to draw and Marta’s turn to guess.
“I wasn’t able to figure it out,” Marta recalls. “I happened to look up and everyone’s phones were out – weird – but I started to guess again. He drew a hand, a circle, a ring… ‘Oh! It’s a ring!’”
The guess was correct, and both families cheered.
“I looked back to Seth and he was down on one knee, with a box in his hand and a gorgeous sapphire ring inside it,” Marta says. They both teared up as she accepted his proposal.
The couple were married on Sept. 23, 2017, at Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill. Their ceremony was held under two trees that formed a natural arch on the front lawn of Byron Forest Preserve, and their reception was held at the Jarrett Prairie Center in the newly renovated museum and on the 2,600-square-foot wrap-around deck that overlooks 400 acres of prairie.
“The Jarrett Prairie Center was great for the reception because it offered indoor and outdoor spaces,” Marta says. “Our guests could go inside to cool down and get drinks, while the deck offered fresh air and picturesque views of the prairie.”
To make things even better, the sun was setting during their first dance as a married couple.
“The Byron Forest Preserve staff were always available to answer questions and go over all of the details,” Marta says. “Just step outside on the deck and take in that wonderful view. You’ll be sold right away.” - LG
Alanna Cieslek knew what she wanted, so she went after it.
Instead of waiting for John Kveton of Berwyn, Ill., to ask her out, Alanna, of Palatine, Ill., took the bull by the horns and asked John out when they were both students at the University of Illinois Springfield.
“We met through the dodgeball club and through mutual friends,” Alanna says. “John was president of the club, which caught my eye and we’re both very athletic. I’m so glad I listened to my intuition because once we started dating, all the pieces seemed to fall into place.”
After the couple dated for four years, Alanna knew she was ready to marry John. But, it took John an additional three years to pop the question. He proposed when the couple visited Portland, Ore., in the summer of 2017.
The couple rented a house and in the backyard was a garden with a beautiful archway. The first night in town, John asked
Alanna if she wanted to get some snacks at the store. She agreed and John walked out of the room and into the backyard. Alanna went to the car thinking he was there. Once Alanna saw an empty car, she went looking for him.
“I saw a glimpse of him in the garden and I went over there thinking ‘what the heck is he doing?’” she says. “He took my hand and we went over to the bridge and he proposed. After saying ‘Oh my God’ several times in pure shock, I said ‘yes.’”
When it came time to select a wedding venue, the couple knew Cliffbreakers was the right place for the reception.
“Cliffbreakers oversees the scenic Rock River has an outside porch so guests can go outside if they want to, and mingle,” Alanna says. “It also has a ton of new renovations.”
Cliffbreakers allows couples to get married in an elegant setting without breaking the bank. All-inclusive wedding packages start at $59 per person and include hors d’oeuvres, meals and an open bar, says Andy Bridwell, general manager.
Last year, Cliffbreakers went through an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation, which included updated guest rooms along with refreshed ballrooms and corridors.
Bridwell says dates for 2020 are filling up fast.
Cliffbreakers can accommodate two weddings on the same day or host a large wedding for up to 800 people.
The stunning venue overlooks the Rock River, which makes for some beautiful wedding photos.
“We have some picturesque views of the Rock River, so it’s a natural setting,” Bridwell says. “This outdoor setting definitely sets us apart from other venues.”
Alanna and John married on June 23, 2018. They were the first couple to get married in the updated Cliffbreakers and the couple received rave reviews for their choice.
“Our guests enjoyed the food, drinks and atmosphere,” Alanna says. “People came up to me several times near the end of our reception telling me this was one of the best weddings they’ve been to.”
The staff at Cliffbreakers turned Alanna’s wedding dreams into a reality that ran smoothly and problem-free.
For Jacki and Ryan Cope, July 4 has always been special.
“One summer, when we were younger, we went to the Chicago fireworks together,” Jacki says. “That was the first time he told me he loved me.”
Last year, sparks flew again when the couple revisited Chicago on July 4 and watched the fireworks from Buckingham Fountain with some family and close friends. Under the glowing lights, Ryan proposed.
Jacki and Ryan wanted a venue as romantic as their engagement, and they found it when they came across Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. Nestled in the LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, the property includes a spacious outdoor setting and a 1930s renovated house, which hosts a variety of events year-round. The couple booked their July wedding nine months out.
Jacki was surprised to find the scenic outdoor venue so close to her hometown of Wheaton. “I knew I wanted a backyard reception, but a little more elegant,” says Jacki. “I actually searched a lot of places, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of Creek Bend sooner.”
Ryan grew up in Crestline, Ohio, and met Jacki when he moved to Chicago in 2003 to attend Universal Technical Institute. After graduation, Ryan moved to Florida to work for Mercedes Benz of Sarasota. Jacki graduated from Illinois State University and moved to Florida to be with Ryan. She moved back to Wheaton in 2011; Ryan followed about two years later.
During their time apart, the couple remained optimistic. “We’re kind of the same person,” Jacki says. “We always knew we were going to be together, but we were always in different places.”
The time and location were just right when the two were wed this past Fourth of July weekend. On July 2, Jacki and Ryan said “I do” under a spacious clear-top tent next to the Nature Center, surrounded by 140 guests and the forest scenery.
"The guests all really enjoyed it,” Jacki says. “Most told me they felt like they were in the middle of nowhere, but close to home at the same time.”
The couple customized the venue to fit their elegant, vintage style. The two were in total control of their wedding day, from catering to tent services. Taking advantage of their freedom, Jacki and Ryan brought in food trucks to cater the reception and add to its fun, relaxed atmosphere.
The large circle driveway accommodated food trucks from Porkchop in Chicago, La Cocinita in Evanston and Grill Chasers in Schaumberg. Violet and Pearl Vintage Rentals decorated the elegant house and complemented its furnishings with stylish seating for guests who wanted an escape from the outdoors. “I highly recommend using a rental company to stage the whole interior for you,” Jacki says.
The combination of good food, outdoor scenery and backyard atmosphere created an unforgettable experience. Of course, the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect.
“The theme of the wedding was ‘love story’,” Jacki says with a smile. She realizes Creek Bend played an important role in that story. “Not many venues were able to book a wedding on a holiday weekend. The place itself was beautiful. I loved every second.”
D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, Crystal Lake, Ill.
March 10 is a special day for Alex and Megan Diakoumis. It’s the day they met in 2017, the day they were engaged in 2018, and the day after their marriage this spring.
Things have a way of clicking for this couple, who met by chance through a phone app.
“She replied to my original message with a waving kitten that says, ‘Checking in and saying hello,’” Alex recalls, noting that the message is now framed on the living room wall. He quickly responded and arranged a date. “I surprised her with flowers, and she told me no one ever gave her flowers before.”
A year later, Alex arranged a proposal at the same bar they’d enjoyed a year earlier. “And I had no clue,” Megan laughs.
When it came time to pick a wedding venue, there was no question where they’d go: D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, in Crystal Lake. The spacious and elegant venue boasts several options and a wedding planner who can execute an event from conception to cleanup.
Megan, a Crystal Lake native, had attended other events there. She knew the owners were Greek, just like Alex. She also appreciated on-site wedding planner Lynnette, who was always organized and kept things on track through the year-long engagement, accommodating Alex’s work schedule as a night-shift police officer in west-suburban Chicago.
“She made it so easy for us,” Megan says. “We procrastinated a little bit, but she just made us feel so comfortable with everything.”
Megan and Alex recently returned to D’Andrea for another family party and reconnected with their favorite bartender, Ken. “He said, ‘You guys still have had the best, most fun wedding,’” Megan recalls. “It’s good to know they felt like we did – that it was perfect.” - CL
Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront, Rockford
Rockford’s newest wedding venue is sure to be a gem, and a destination unlike anything else around. Set just off the Rock River in the former Amerock/Ziock building, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront & Rockford Conference Center taps into beautiful views of the riverfront and downtown Rockford, in a location that’s hard to beat.
When it opens in April 2020 along the Rock River, the Embassy Suites will be the only upscale lodging option within 3 miles of downtown – and it’s expected to be the largest full-service branded hotel in the area.
Boasting 160 two-room suites, the Embassy Suites is set inside a fully renovated 13-story, 233,000-square-foot factory built in the early 1900s along South Main Street. It’s located just blocks from Rockford’s premier dining establishments, The Main Street District, the BMO Harris Bank Center, the Coronado Performing Arts Center, the UW Health Sports Factory, the outdoor festival park at Davis Park, and much more.
Attached to Embassy Suites is the 13,000-square-foot Rockford Conference Center, a brand-new venue that can accommodate a wide variety of gatherings from beautiful weddings to conferences, meetings, symposiums and social events.
When it comes to nuptials, Embassy Suites can accommodate parties up to 550 with unique spaces for ceremonies, receptions and rehearsal dinners. Bookings are currently being accepted for 2020, and they’re filling up fast.
Additional amenities include two restaurants, a full-service salon and spa, a large fitness room, an indoor pool and whirlpool, and a golf simulator.
While the views along the Embassy Suites’ patio will be stunning enough, they’re even better on the rooftop, where you’ll find a cocktail lounge with two-tiered deck, a dining area and panoramic views of Rockford’s cityscape and riverfront – from 12 stories up.
To find out more about this brand-new Hotel & Conference Center, call (815) 668-7878 or go online to esrockford.com.
Hannah Plickebaum knew her boyfriend, Jason, would propose to her, but she didn’t know when or where.
So, when Jason got on one knee and proposed to the girl he met at the University of Iowa in front of her entire family at Christmas, she was blown away.
“I thought he was going to do it in private, because he’s shy and a very private person,” Hannah says. “I also called him a butthead before answering.”
As she searched for a wedding venue, Hannah came across some photos of The Goldmoor Inn. She was hooked from that moment on.
“I saw the pictures online and I fell in love almost immediately,” she says. “After meeting [Birgit Radin, co-owner of The Goldmoor], I didn’t even want to look at other venues. She was amazing and the property was amazing. I was practically signing on the car ride home because I was so excited.”
To make sure they got the date they wanted, Hannah says the couple booked their wedding date about 18 months early.
“We set the date for June 22, 2019, since it was close to my late aunt’s birthday,” Hannah says. “It’s also my sister’s birthday, but she graciously let us share.”
The Goldmoor grounds can accommodate intimate weddings and elopements. The pavilion can hold up to 175 guests, and if it rains, protective sliding can be added. A roomy patio situated behind The Goldmoor overlooks a wooded area and the Mississippi River, which creates a perfect gathering space for cocktail hour.
A smaller gazebo that can fit up to 10 people can be used for elopements, and during the cooler months, The Goldmoor can host up to 50 guests for an indoor wedding.
Each spot on the property showcases sunning Galena landscaping that makes for a perfect wedding day backdrop.
Hannah says the guests who attended her wedding loved everything about The Goldmoor, especially the food.
“They were seriously amazed,” she says. “The property was gorgeous and the food was a hit. Every guest I spoke to was in awe of how perfect the food was.”
One of those guests who also gave rave reviews of the facility was Hannah’s mother, Sharon Murray.
“Everything was just as my daughter and her husband wanted,” Murray says. “I would highly recommend The Goldmoor Inn to any bride who’s looking for a perfect wedding venue.”
Hannah gives Radin and the staff at The Goldmoor a lot of praise because they made sure the day went according to plan.
“The entire staff asked what we needed and how they could make things better,” Hannah says. “I don’t think they let me worry about a single thing. When I mentioned to Birgit that I was scared of rain, she said, ‘Don’t be,’ in such a way that I was convinced that she’d keep the rain away herself.”
Hannah says getting married at The Goldmoor was worth every penny.
“They provide everything – it’s completely worth it,” she says. – JP
Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, St. Charles, Ill.
Daisy Gonzalez of Crystal Lake still chuckles when she recalls the story of how she met her husband, Luis.
She was a junior and he was a sophomore at South Elgin High School. At lunch one day, Daisy brought a shirt to the cafeteria that she had just made in fashion design class. Luis happened to be sitting behind her at another table.
“I didn’t know who he was,” she says. “I was showing my friend the shirt; Luis saw it and offered to model it. He took off his shirt and got up in front of everyone to wear the shirt I made. He was pretty annoying.”
Luis doesn’t disagree. “I was a goofy kid, and I had a little crush on her. I never thought at the time we’d end up together. But after we started talking more, I really fell for her.”
The couple dated for seven years before they were married on June 16, 2017, at the pergola located at Mt. St. Mary Park, a St. Charles Park District facility. The happy couple was surrounded by family, friends and even Luna, their Siberian husky.
“She’s like our baby,” says Luis, a groundskeeper. “There was no way we weren’t going to have her there. That was one of the highlights of the day.”
Unfortunately, rain poured during the ceremony. “It looked like I took a shower,” says Daisy, a legal translator for an attorney’s office. “We all got soaked.”
Despite the rough beginning, the skies cleared in time for the reception, which was held at another park district facility, the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a 10,500 square-foot building featuring a spacious lobby that’s 20 feet tall, and floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of the oak savanna, wetlands and prairie located just outside the front doors.
Daisy’s advice to other couples is to remain calm. “Things are going to go wrong,” she says. “We forgot to bring our plates and silverware for the reception. But you deal with it, move on and enjoy the day. Just go with the flow.”
“We looked at other places, but Hickory Knolls was the right fit for what we needed,” she adds. “I wanted something with a vintage look, along with neutral colors and a woodsy feel. We found that in Hickory Knolls. It was spacious and surrounded by nature. Other places didn’t have that same feel.”
Another appealing feature at Hickory Knolls is the indoors wildlife exhibit that includes turtles, snakes, spiders and other creatures. It captured the attention of the couple’s younger guests. “The staff was very friendly, and everything was beautiful,” says Luis. “As long as we were with our family, we were happy.” - PAA
Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Rockford, Ill.
It was love at first sight when Megan Rush and Michael Buchman met.
“The person who actually introduced us is the same person who married us – our officiate Kyle Arwood,” Meg says.
During a trip to Colorado, Mike was able to pull off a big surprise.
“We set off to hike through the park with a couple of our close friends. Toward the end of the hike, when the sun was setting, Mike dropped on one knee and proposed,” Meg recalls.
The rest of the trip was full of celebration.
The Illinois natives looked for a wedding and reception venue close to home. They toured several places before deciding on
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Rockford.
“The main thing that drew us to this venue was the beautiful setting and privacy it provided,” Meg says. “We wanted it to feel like we weren’t even in Rockford during the wedding. We got married on June 15 and the grounds were absolutely amazing at that time.”
A flowing water fountain added a nice touch during the couple’s ceremony, which took place right on the grounds. Guests mingled indoors and out during the reception.
“The patio was a pure delight for so many people,” Meg says. “If our guests got too warm outside, they just came back in to cool down.”
Meg encourages future brides to “just ask” if they have any questions while planning a wedding at Klehm Arboretum.
“They’re eager to help with whatever you need,” she says. - LG
Emily and Brian Webb’s love story began online in 2014. Through the first 10 months of their relationship, it was clear the conversations and humor they shared had sparked something more.
“Brian and I agreed from early on that we were dating more seriously, and both of us thought this could lead to marriage,” says Emily of LaGrange Park. “Within that first year, both of us, along with our friends and family, knew the bond we shared was something special.”
By December 2017, Elmhurst native Brian knew it was time to pop the question. The couple had just finished a weekend of exciting Christmas activities with their 2-year-old daughter, Eleanor.
“Brian said I should get an early Christmas gift, and then he asked me to marry him,” Emily says. “Our daughter was there, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect moment.”
The newly engaged couple visited plenty of wedding venues, but couldn’t find anything that suited them – until they paid a visit to Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park. Better known as an autumn destination, this family-owned apple orchard is a hot new destination for nuptials, too.
“We had never been to Kuipers before, so we decided to check it out, and we instantly fell in love,” Emily says. “Between the unique offerings, the themed space, the layout and the staff, we were more than sold. We also liked the fact that we could go there year after year as a family, during the fall, and reminisce about our wedding day.”
Couples who choose to tie the knot at Kuipers have access to all of the farm’s public spaces, including a dedicated outdoor ceremony area that overlooks the orchard, an indoor space that holds up to 200 people and a complimentary day-of event coordinator.
Kuipers holds between 40 and 50 weddings each year, always scheduled for the offseason between November and mid-August.
Couples typically book their weddings at least a year in advance. Dates for 2020 are already filling up.
Since their June 8 wedding, Emily has heard rave reviews about her unique wedding location.
“The majority of our guests had never been there, and so many have said they plan on going back for the fall activities,” Emily says. “People loved the fireplace and outdoor space, which allowed guests to catch up or take in the scenery. People are also still raving about the apple cider donuts we had for dessert, which were provided by the farm.”
Emily recommends booking the train ride for cocktail hour, as she and Brian did. The ride allows wedding guests to take a trip around the farm.
“Kuipers has their own train that your guests can go on during the cocktail hour, and it was such a fun and special activity that our guests loved,” Emily says. “Our wedding was so unique from other weddings, with everything from the train at cocktail hour to the Kuipers wine, to the donut bar to the venue itself.”
In the end, it was exactly what Emily and Brian were looking for.
“We didn’t want an overly formal or casual wedding,” she says. “We wanted something our guests would remember, and Kuipers definitely achieved all of this and much more.” - JP
Sabrina Schlupp never imagined herself a Midwestern girl. Born and raised near Daytona Beach, Fla., she was always a sun-and-summer kind of girl. And besides, she was looking for a serious relationship. But her friend Justin was so persistent about setting her up with his friend that, in 2015, she finally caved in and agreed to meet “the golfer.”
That golfer was Andrew, a PGA pro from the Rockford area and a wintertime transplant in Jacksonville, Fla. Though he’d been working for Rockford’s The Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Club in the summers, his ultimate ambition was to stay in Florida.
Something clicked at Andrew and Sabrina’s first meeting. “It just worked,” says Sabrina, who was drawn in by his outgoing attitude and their shared sense of humor.
“I remember one of the first times we talked on the phone, after he went back to Illinois, the first thing I heard was him singing Adele,” she recalls. “It was hilarious. I was like, ‘I kinda like it.’”
Three years later, Andrew was working as a golf pro at a Florida course when Sabrina, a school teacher, suggested they take advantage of her three-day weekend. They quickly arranged a trip to Savannah, Ga., where they could take a helicopter tour they’d gotten for Christmas.
But Andrew had a little more in mind. For almost a year, he’d been hiding a precious little box in his house.
The pair were preparing to board the chopper when a couple of photographers started taking pictures. Andrew got down on one knee. “It was just the way I wanted it,” says Sabrina.
Andrew comes from a large family, so it seemed natural to get married in Rockford. The pair searched a number of popular venues, but nothing seemed like the right fit. For fun, they stopped by Mauh-Nah-Tee-See.
Opened in 1926, the club provides a scenic backdrop for weddings, with a banquet hall that seats up to 300 people and overlooks the rolling hills of northeast Rockford. It’s available to members and nonmembers alike.
“You can see all of the golf course from there,” says Sabrina. “There was fresh snow on the ground, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s so pretty.’ And I wasn’t used to snow. I just loved it.”
Picking the right ceremony space was a little trickier. Andrew wasn’t so sure they could do it at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See. So, Sabrina grabbed a friend and asked anyway. “They said they’d talked about it, but had never done it before. And they’d never had anyone who was so adamant about doing it,” she laughs.
Andrew and Sabrina were married on June 15, 2019, just off the 10th green at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See, beneath a tree the grounds crew trimmed just for the occasion. Following the ceremony, the wedding party hopped aboard a caravan of golf carts.
Sabrina sings the praises of events coordinator Dana Bauerlein, whose rapid responses during the planning phases put the long-distance bride-to-be at ease. It was also those little touches – chair covers, delicious food, planning for rain – that made the day a dream.
“I could go on forever,” Sabrina says. “It was such a beautiful day.” – CL
Oscar Swan Country Inn, Geneva, Ill., & Galena, Ill.
Jenn and Steve Fernandes grew up only a mile apart in West Chicago. The high school sweethearts developed an attraction over time.
“I knew Steve since middle school, but we never had much interaction,” Jenn says. “Once I got to know him better in high school, I saw his awesome character and genuine kindness. There are very few people like Stephen in this world.”
Steve orchestrated an elaborate proposal for Jenn during a concert at the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, Mich. Jenn was “randomly” called to the stage where Steve, in front of nearly 1,000 people, dropped to one knee. After Jenn said yes, her entire family ran from the crowd to celebrate.
“Everything went according to plan,” Steve says. “She was completely surprised.”
Jenn quickly got to work in searching for a wedding venue. After touring Oscar Swan Country Inn in Geneva, she knew immediately it was what she wanted. The 8-acre estate with a cozy bed-and-breakfast reminded her of her grandmother’s home. The backyard and garden space accommodated all 150 of the couple’s guests for the June 4, 2016, wedding.
“We had a huge dance party, and all the children were able to run around in the yard,” Steve says. “Our guests loved the space. They also enjoyed the food – Oscar Swan catered in a buffet-style fashion and many of our guests said it was the best wedding food they ever had.”
Jenn appreciated how flexible the venue was in allowing her to bring in outside vendors. Not having to stick to a pre-planned package was important to her.
“We wanted our wedding to be relaxing and fun, and that’s exactly what it was,” Jenn says.
Chelsea Garrett and some friends from her church had a girl’s night in May 2016. The more her friends started talking about how great Tyrone, a fellow church member, was, the more curious Chelsea became.
“I made a comment and said, ‘If he needs a wife, let him know I’m available,’” she says.
What started as a playful joke slowly became a reality. Three months after that night with her friends, Chelsea was lending a hand at Auburn High School when she crossed paths with her future husband. Tyrone, who came to Rockford 12 years ago from El Paso, Texas, started a conversation with Chelsea, a Rockford native.
“What attracted me to him was his outgoing personality, and he was always kind to everyone,” Chelsea says.
Soon after that first conversation, the couple started dating.
“I never got bored and the conversations that we had were real,” Chelsea says. “I realized pretty early on that this was something special and he was something special.”
The couple went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with some friends in July 2017. That’s when Tyrone made his move.
“When we were settled on the beach, my friends wanted to take pictures,” Chelsea says. “Everyone was talking about a boat behind me, so I turned around to look. When I turned around, he was right there in the sand down on one knee.”
When it came time to find a wedding venue, Chelsea decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps and get married at the Rockford Woman’s Club. Her parents, Ann and Terry Gulley, exchanged their wedding vows at the same historic venue more than 30 years ago on Feb. 13, 1988. They’re still married to this day.
“I knew about the venue, but I’ve never been inside,” Chelsea says. “My mom suggested we go check it out, and I felt in love.”
Chelsea and Tyrone tied the knot on Oct. 6, 2018. The couple locked down the venue a year in advance.
The Rockford Woman’s Club boasts 100 years of architectural beauty. It has a large space upstairs for dancing and music in the Belle Keith Art Gallery. There’s a sunroom positioned just off the gallery, which could be used for photos or a quiet place to catch your breath. Right outside the gallery is a balcony, perfect for a bouquet or garter toss.
“The venue is gorgeous and needed very little decorating,” Chelsea says. “You don’t need to add a lot of decor because the venue has so many beautiful details already.”
Head down a grand staircase and you’ll find an elegant banquet hall that’s large enough to accommodate 175 people.
Chelsea credits the staff at the Rockford Woman’s Club for making their wedding day extra special.
“On the day of the wedding, we were their No. 1 focus and they made sure everything ran smoothly,” Chelsea says. “[Nancy Whitlock, president of the Rockford Woman’s Club] was truly the biggest blessing to us, and she made sure everything went smoothly. I was so happy she was a part of the day.” – JP
From the moment Danae Savitski first met her husband Sonny, she knew the two would create lifelong memories together.
“I wanted to marry him almost as soon as I met him,” says Danae, of Stillman Valley, Ill. “He says he had this feeling from the start as well, but the process of getting to know each other over the next couple years confirmed everything we felt from the beginning.”
The couple initially met at City First Church in Rockford and through mutual friends more than four years ago, but their relationship took off when Sonny, of Rockford, visited Danae when she worked at Tavern on Clark in Rockford in November of 2015.
“I heard of his reputation and I knew he was humble and genuine, and when I got to know him, he had a great sense of humor and he was so easy to talk to,” Danae says. “He was also easy on the eyes.”
After they dated for just under two years, Sonny made his move on March 29, 2018. He asked one of Danae’s friends to plan a girl’s trip to Chicago. When Danae arrived in the city, she was surprised to discover Sonny waiting for her outside of Adler Planetarium, a breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline behind him.
“That’s where he proposed,” Danae says. “I was shocked. He says everything went exactly according to plan, except it was much colder than he anticipated, so he felt like he had to say what he was going to say quickly.”
The couple started searching for wedding venues, but at first didn’t find anything that spoke to them. Then they discovered the Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion.
“We loved it because it’s in Rockford, we had the reception and ceremony in the same location and it checked off all of our other boxes,” Danae says. “The staff was so great to us from the start and they really worked with us on pricing. We knew it was the right spot.”
The Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion features 5,500-square-feet of elegant space with a large stone fireplace, giant glass windows that overlook Aldeen Golf Club and an outdoor pergola.
It holds about 250 people for weddings and 300 for social events. The venue hosts 50 to 70 weddings each year, says Taneel Fraley, director of operations. Fraley suggests booking 10 to 14 months in advance. Danae booked about one year in advance.
The couple got married on June 8, 2019. Guests raved about the wonderful venue, Danae says.
“They loved it. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful the space was, inside and out,” she says. “It was convenient, it’s a great part of town and everything was easily accessible. It was an incredible experience for everyone, and most people had not been there before, so they were very impressed.”
Looking back, Danae says she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Our wedding was honestly a dream come true and the best day of our lives,” she says. “We wanted to enjoy every moment with each other and with our family members and best friends and that’s what we did. Everyone we worked with was incredible and we would recommend their services to anyone.” - JP
Four years ago, Rockford native Bretta (Grumley) Hutchinson packed her belongings, leaving Chicago for a new life in Boston.
That bold move led to the 2007 Boylan High graduate meeting the man of her dreams.
“I lived in Chicago for six years and wanted a big change,” says Bretta, a museum educator for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “I was looking for a smaller city to live in. I roomed with three other women, including Kate, who became one of my best friends. After about six months, the first night we went out in South Boston I met John.”
John is a manager of commercial sales engineering for a Boston company. The pair first met at a local bar and hit it off. A week later, Bretta and John went on their first date: dinner at a Scottish restaurant/tavern called The Haven.
When John finally popped the question, the couple decided to get married back in the Midwest. They looked in Chicago but found most venues to be too costly. Instead, they opted for Bretta’s hometown of Rockford, where they got married on the rooftop patio at The Standard, in downtown Rockford, on June 10, 2017.
“We went to the first wedding there in October 2016, but the rooftop wasn’t open yet,” Bretta says. “We knew Brent Hughes and his wife, Betsy, who were building The Standard, but we didn’t know if it would be completed in time. Fortunately, it was.”
Bretta and John appreciated the aesthetics The Standard offered for both the wedding ceremony and the reception. After the nuptials were finished, the 130 guests headed to the second floor where a spacious dining hall is located. The food is prepared by Chef Paul Sletten, who owns several downtown restaurants.
“The Standard has space you can do anything with,” says Bretta. “It has an industrial look with exposed brick and open windows that let plenty of light in. The rooftop was great, but it was the light, space and blank canvas that did it for me.
And the skyline and the river also created a pretty background atmosphere.”
The couple hired the Brian Kinney Band, from Minneapolis, who just happened to play at her brother’s wedding 11 years before. But Bretta says she couldn’t have done all the planning without help. “My advice to couples is to hire an event planner who can stay all night,” she says. “It’s nice to have someone who can organize the event and help make things go smoothly.”
These days, the couple is home in Boston. They stay busy with their new dog, Squirt, a German Shepard/Corgi mix, and also explore new restaurants, hike and attend an occasional Red Sox or Bruins game.
“I knew it was a little risky moving to Boston, where I didn’t know anyone,” she says. “But it all worked out better than I could imagine.” - PAA
Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, Oglesby, Ill.
Aubrey Marks grew up in California, but was familiar with the small town of Paw Paw, Ill., where her dad lived.
“We’d come back every Labor Day,” she recalls. During one of these annual visits, she met Kevin Johnson, a Paw Paw native. For him, it was love at first sight. The two developed a friendship, even though they lived far apart.
When her dad fell ill in April 2017, Aubrey moved across the country to help take care of him.
“It was such a difficult time, but Kevin was there for me every step of the way,” Aubrey says. “My dad completely recovered and Kevin and I fell in love, so it turned out to be such a blessing. We got engaged that September.”
Aubrey remembers the proposal being “magical and perfect.” During a beautiful fall day, the couple explored Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park, before going out to dinner. Meanwhile, Aubrey’s sister, Amanda, was busy with setting up decorations.
“We got back to my dad’s house and Kevin said my sister had a surprise for me,” Aubrey recalls. “He led me into the backyard – where there’s cornfields as far as the eye can see – and when I opened my eyes there were twinkly lights and candles everywhere, and the prettiest pink sunset.”
Kevin got down on one knee, and Aubrey cried as she accepted his proposal.
Initially, Aubrey booked a large cabin in Tennessee with the idea of making her wedding a full weekend event. But after having lunch at Starved Rock Lodge, in Oglesby, Ill., she revised her plans.
“The second I walked in I just knew that this was the perfect place to have the wedding,” she says.
That very day, she booked the venue for Dec. 15, 2018.
Once the wedding arrived, Aubrey was pleasantly surprised that her wish for a whole weekend event panned out. On Friday night, the guests gathered at the Lodge’s Back Door Lounge to enjoy live music, drinks and dinner.
“It was so amazing to see all of my favorite people combined in one place,” Aubrey says.
Guests stayed up late, enjoying the Lodge’s comfy couches in front of a large fireplace.
The wedding day was a long and happy occasion, from mimosas in the morning to an afternoon ceremony at Saint Mary’s Parish to dancing the night away at the Lodge.
“The whole experience was magical,” Aubrey says. “We had an open bar all night and it was so reasonably priced I couldn’t believe it. Once the reception ended, we all headed right back to the Back Door Lounge for another hour of fun, laughter and love.”
On Sunday, the newlyweds hosted a brunch for their guests.
“My whole dream of having everyone in one central place for a whole weekend perfectly came true at Starved Rock Lodge,” Aubrey says. “My husband and I stayed for a couple more days, and it was such a special way to start our new life together.” - LG
Ben Blair tried finding love online, but he wasn’t having any luck. So, he went to a friend and co-worker for some help.
“She said I should talk to her friend Julia,” says Ben, a Stockton native. “I initiated a conversation with Julia and we went on a couple of double dates with my co-worker.”
A month into the relationship, Ben knew Julia, also of Stockton, was “the one.”
“The first month into dating, I knew I loved her,” he says. “I know it’s crazy to say that, but we hit it off early on and things were going really well. She has a great smile, she’s a genuinely nice person and she’s beautiful.”
In September 2016, Ben knew it was time to propose. The couple had recently bought a house, and in the kitchen was a brand-new countertop.
“Someone had set a glass on the countertop and it left a water ring on the counter,” Ben says. “Julia was not happy about that.”
One day, Julia left to run a casual errand. Once she was out the door, Ben set his great-grandmother’s wedding ring on the counter – right on top of the blemish.
“She came back from the store, and I told her there was another huge ring on the counter,” he says. “She came in upset, thinking there would be another ring of water on the counter, and when she looked down, she saw the actual ring. I asked her if she would marry me and she said yes.”
When it came time to select a wedding venue, Ben knew he wanted to use Woodbine Bend Golf Course in Stockton. It offers several outdoor spaces, including decks and event areas on the course, making it an ideal venue for weddings and receptions year-round.
To make sure they secured the location, the couple booked the venue about eight months in advance.
“It’s inexpensive, I know owner Sam Stoddard pretty well and the venue is in Stockton,” Ben says. “We also got married there, so we were able to do everything in one location.”
The couple were married on Dec. 9, 2017, in front of 180 people, the capacity of the banquet hall.
Ben says the staff at Woodbine was very flexible, so the couple could truly customize their experience.
Since the wedding happened a little more than two weeks before Christmas, their decor took on a Christmas theme.
The cake had red and green Christmas decorations, Julia wore a red dress and Ben wore a red vest. The maid of honor wore a green dress and the best man wore a green vest. The ceremony was held in front of a fireplace surrounded by decorated Christmas trees.
“I think everyone had a good time,” Ben says. “There was a dance floor on one end of the room and a bar at the other end. If people wanted to dance, they could do that, and if people wanted to hang out and enjoy a few drinks, they could do that as well.”
Looking back, Ben says his wedding at Woodbine couldn’t have gone better.
“The wedding was pretty relaxed, and we tried to keep everything simple,” he says. “We wanted to enjoy ourselves, and we did. Everything was perfect.” – JP