By Lindsey Gapen, Jermaine Pigee, Chris Linden & Anna Girgenti
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.
Kelly Clayton had a crush on her older brother’s best friend, Cody Klingberg. She was attracted to his sense of humor and kindness toward others.
“We always just hung out together as friends,” Kelly says. “It wasn’t until a couple of years after college that we decided to begin our relationship.”
Cody found himself attracted to Kelly’s work ethic. “She’s dedicated to anything she puts her mind to,” Cody says.
After a year of dating, Cody planned an elaborate scavenger hunt on a chilly day in February 2015. From morning until night, Kelly opened envelopes that determined what activity the couple did next. After enjoying a romantic dinner followed by frozen yogurt, the couple went for a walk around the neighborhood with their dog, Harleigh.
When they got home, Cody said he had to get something from his truck.
“He came back with a wrapped gift, which was a picture of Harleigh and I turned into a magazine cover,” Kelly says. “It was really special. At the bottom, it said, ‘Kelly, will you marry me?’ I didn’t realize it at first, but once I did, Cody was already down on one knee. It was the best night because I wasn’t expecting it.”
Within weeks, the couple had booked their wedding reception at Acquaviva Winery, in Maple Park. They had been there before for a wine tasting and loved the property, as well as the wine. Neither Kelly nor Cody wanted a typical banquet setting, so they loved the unique vineyard atmosphere and outdoor patios, which gave the wedding a destination-style feel.
Kelly loved taking pictures at the winery and around the vineyard.
“Have your photographer scope out the area,” Kelly advises. “There is just so much culture inside Acquaviva that makes for great pictures.”
Meeting with Joe and Shelly Brandonisio of Acquaviva Winery helped to make the planning process less stressful for the couple. Though Acquaviva Winery hosts up to 100 weddings per year, Joe and Shelly made themselves available to help the couple plan their special day, which happened on June 25, 2016.
“They were so down-to-earth about everything,” Kelly says. “Joe was very thorough with his answers when he gave us a tour of the venue. Any questions I had about my vision, Acquaviva made a reality. We met with Joe in person a couple of times to go over things, and I was in constant communication with Shelly.”
Shelly takes pride in having attention to detail, whether the wedding is casual, elegant or a combination.
“We’re a family-run business, and we care about every one of our customers,” Shelly says. “We want their day to go beautifully.”
Kelly and Cody were pleased to find how much their 230 guests enjoyed Acquaviva. Kelly wishes she could relive the experience.
“It was a blast – I’d do it every weekend if I could,” Kelly says. “For anyone thinking about Acquaviva – do it. Nothing else compares.”
One of the St. Charles area’s newest social events spaces is really more of an old friend with a new face.
Built in 1926, the Baker Community Center, in St. Charles, re-opened this spring after extensive renovations that make it more accessible, more comfortable, and more beautiful than ever before.
“It’s really beautifully renovated, and the character of the building remains,” says Connie Kurr, rental contact.
The newly renovated venue now boasts air conditioning, elevators, handicap-accessible bathrooms and a modernized kitchen for caterers and event chefs. Located just off Illinois Route 31 is a ramp to help visitors more easily reach the elevator that rises to the main level.
Brides can rent two spaces at Baker Community Center: The Collins Auditorium and The Peterson Lounge. The auditorium seats up to 150 people and is ideal for gatherings of all kinds, with its high ceilings, a raised stage and ample daylight spilling in from several banks of windows. The lounge, complete with a fireplace, seats about 40 people for small receptions, business meetings and gatherings, but it can also be arranged to host intimate wedding ceremonies.
Facility rentals come with custodial services including set up and take-down, in addition to equipment like tables, chairs and a sound system. The kitchen and a piano and are available upon request, with a small one-time fee.
The Baker Community Center has long been popular for get-togethers of all kinds, including wedding receptions, graduations, business meetings, anniversary parties and birthday parties.
Conveniently, the facility has no restrictions on food and catering, leaving families to choose the most optimal meal options for their event.
Dates fill up fast at Baker Community Center, so Kurr recommends booking at least six months in advance. Spring and fall are often the most popular times for bookings of all kinds.
The attractive Tudor-style architecture outside the Baker Community Center offers just a hint of what’s inside. Dark wood tones and classic 1920s-era architectural detailing create a classic, formal backdrop for weddings. Recent facility improvements have preserved and enhanced those classic features while adapting to modern needs. The scenic terrace, for example, is now more readily accessible from the lobby, which also received an update and now combines classic architectural detailing and fixtures with a more modern touch.
“The entire entranceway is open and inviting to our guests,” says Kurr. “The transformation is perfectly fitting to the era, in keeping with the architectural structure and focal points of the Baker Community Center.”
The building was dedicated in May 1926 as a memorial to veterans of World War I and Henry Rockwell Baker, son of local businessman Edward J. Baker and his wife. For almost a century now, the building has hosted civic events, programming and social gatherings.
“A lot of people remark on the warmth of the building, how it’s friendly and welcoming to guests,” says Kerr. “Some people have connections to Baker Community Center, and they tell us this is where they had a dance recital as a child, had their high school dances, and had a baby shower – and now they’re returning for their babies’ first birthday party.” - CL
The Baltic Mill’s unique, natural setting welcomes couples who want an outdoor celebration for their wedding day. The historic area, owned by the Belvidere Park District, provides a backdrop of calming greenery for ceremonies.
The venue currently focuses on holding ceremonies in an outdoor setting – perfect for any couple looking for a beautiful setting on a budget.
The Baltic Mill offers four wedding packages for brides and grooms to choose from. Each package includes a three-hour time block for ceremonies to commence in an area with a stage and hillside seating for guests. Larger packages include a conference room and rehearsal time for the night before. An on-site wedding coordinator is available for all packages.
Reservations are taken on a first come, first paid basis, with various times available on weekends and throughout the week. The Belvidere Park District requests that couples book the Baltic Mill at least 90 days prior to the event. However, the Belvidere Park District is willing to accommodate couples with any last minute requests if dates are available.
The venue has anywhere from 20-40 weddings per year – a significant amount considering that the season is only from April to October. The space can hold 300 guests, all on natural limestone seating. Those interested in seeing the facility can call and schedule a tour.
When it comes to rubber meeting the road, Chelsey and Randy Simpson know what to do.
Chelsey, a Stillman Valley native, grew up around drag racing and the Byron Dragway, which her family owns. Streator native Randy was a general manager for Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis when he spied Chelsey and her signature blue Camaro at an Indy race in September 2015.
Soon into their first date, the pair found they had a surprising amount in common.
“Our joke was that we realized we were both left-handed drag racers who drive Camaros,” Chelsey says.
When Randy eventually moved back to Illinois, their romance charged ahead. Just before Easter 2016, Randy had a surprise waiting for Chelsey on a romantic getaway to Shawnee National Forest, in southern Illinois.
“He had this backpack with him all day, and I had no idea why, because we’re not serious hikers,” Chelsey recalls. “I kept asking him, ‘Why do you have that backpack?’ And he just said we were having a picnic.”
At the top of a rocky outcrop, Randy pulled something from the bag and turned to Chelsey.
“He said to put on this blindfold and put in these earplugs. I’ll be right back,” she says.
What she couldn’t see or hear was Randy removing from his backpack a tripod, a camera and a velvety box. As the blindfold and earplugs came off, Chelsey saw him down on one knee.
“It was a total surprise,” she says.
Soon, the couple were looking for wedding venues close to home. They admired the rustic barn look and quickly discovered Barnacopia, in Polo. The barn-like building is part bed-and-breakfast, part museum and part social gathering space. Its three floors include displays of antique tractors and old cars, in addition to several settings that are ideal for wedding receptions and ceremonies. One look inside was all it took to sell Chelsey and Randy.
“We just said, ‘This is the place,’” Chelsey recalls. “Both of our families are really into hot rods, and we felt right at home.”
The venue is owned and operated by a family who farms the surrounding land, so the couple were treated like family throughout the planning process. Any time Chelsey had a question, she received quick responses from events planner Rachel Davis. Owner Gary Bocker welcomed the couple any time they visited – including the day before the wedding, as the family arrived to decorate.
“Gary might be working the farm, and so he’d see us and stop in to talk,” says Chelsey. “It just made us feel like we were at home, like it was our barn, too.”
Chelsey and Randy were married April 1, 2017, at a nearby Catholic church. Before they arrived at Barnacopia for the reception, their guests strolled the displays inside.
By the end of the night, the new couple were headed to a private suite inside the barn’s silo, where they planned to stay the night. They awoke the next morning to find breakfast prepared downstairs – just another of many family-like touches.
“It was so nice that you get your first breakfast together as husband and wife in the dining room on the first floor of the silo,” says Chelsey. “We came down to see pancakes, bacon and a plate of fruit waiting for us. It just makes you feel like you’re right at home.” - CL
Dustin Gronau’s proposal to Meghan Donnelly didn’t go as planned.
In fact, Meghan actually found the ring.
“We went on a cruise in November 2014, and at the airport on the way down to Florida, Meghan went to put something away in my bag,” Dustin says. “She went into a pocket and found something that felt like a ring box.”
Meghan was suspicious, but decided not to open the box. The decision led to a wonderful surprise on the second night of their cruise.
After enjoying a formal dinner, Meghan and Dustin went back to their room to relax on the balcony, drink champagne and enjoy their vacation time. That’s when Dustin proposed a toast.
“He told me that I needed more champagne and when I turned around, there he was, down on one knee,” Meghan says. “I’m so glad I let the proposal be a surprise.”
The Beloit natives had been dating since high school. Dustin initially was attracted to Meghan’s intelligence, stunning looks and dynamite personality. He knew after senior prom that he wanted to get married.
Meghan took a bit longer to arrive at the same realization.
“I didn’t know until right after college graduation,” Meghan says. “But I was always attracted to his handsome looks and great sense of humor.”
Choosing a wedding venue was a piece of cake for the couple. Meghan’s father has been a member of Beloit Club for about 20 years, so the bride knew right away that she wanted to have her reception there. She booked her May 7, 2016, reception a year in advance.
The hilltop clubhouse looks out onto an 18-hole golf course where Meghan and Dustin took photos after their wedding. Spanning the top floor of the clubhouse, their reception treated guests to the luxuries of a full bar and expansive balcony facing the back of the property.
“Beloit Club is one of the nicest places in town,” Meghan says. “It meant a lot to my dad to have the reception there. I really appreciate how the staff took care of everything that we needed – they even stayed late after a Friday-night event to take care of our decorations. They did an excellent job.”
The couple have received many compliments from their 250 guests about the venue and the food. The grilled cheese sandwiches served at 10:30 p.m. were especially a hit after a few hours of dancing.
The Gronaus left for their honeymoon the day after their wedding: a TransAtlantic cruise to London, Paris, Venice and Rome.
“We chose to do a cruise since we got engaged on a cruise,” Meghan says. “I’ll never forget how perfect everything went. My wedding was a magical day; not one thing went wrong. The best part, though, was I got to marry my best friend.”
Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, Hoffman Estates
Dave and Kaitlyn Kaczmarek may have known each other in high school, but in those days romance wasn’t top-of-mind.
The Bloomingdale and Itasca natives floated around the same social circles at Lake Park High School, in Roselle, and followed those same friends through their college years. By the time Dave was finishing school, his friends suggested that he could have some chemistry with Kaitlyn.
“I didn’t think I was ready to get into a relationship, but at the same time, I realized it was an opportunity that could pass me by,” Dave says.
Pretty quickly, the pair realized they’d found their matches. They found they had much in common, including their casual, get-along personalities.
“She’s a genuine person, and truly a sweet soul,” Dave says.
By summer 2015, Dave began plotting the elaborate steps for his simple proposal. It began with getting their families together at her family’s northern Michigan lake home.
“Every July, her family goes up for this Venetian festival, so we used that as an excuse to have everyone visit,” Dave recalls. “Her mom had this story made up about how the newspaper was doing a story and wanted to take pictures of us. Right around sunset, we were on this balcony overlooking the lake, and that’s where I proposed.”
Kaitlyn didn’t see it coming.
Once back in the suburbs, the pair discovered that finding the right wedding venue can be challenging. They loved the idea of an outdoor wedding, but they questioned whether it would work with a springtime date. They decided fall was a better option, but still they struggled.
“A lot of hotels had nice banquet spaces, but outside they didn’t have much of a view,” he says.
That’s when the pair found Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, in Hoffman Estates. The public golf course delivers 18 scenic holes of champion golf and boasts event accommodations for up to 250 guests both indoors and out.
“It had everything,” Dave says. “There’s a nice ballroom, and it feels slightly private. It’s off the beaten trail, but it’s still really close to I-90 and everything else we need. We found a lot of hotels nearby, too.”
Working with catering supervisor Jennifer Fuller and director of golf Brian Bechtold, the Kaczmareks arranged for an outdoor ceremony at the club’s gazebo, located adjacent to the clubhouse but secluded from the course by a grove of trees.
Following the ceremony on Sept. 17, 2016, a line of golf carts stood ready for the wedding party to disembark on their photo shoot.
“It’s the Bridges of Poplar Creek, so of course they have lots of nice bridges,” says Dave. “We took lots of photos on the bridges.”
Meanwhile, guests headed to cocktail hour at an outdoor bar that offered just a glimpse of the course’s scenic terrain. Upstairs in the main ballroom, those guests could enjoy full, sweeping vistas.
Looking back, Dave credits Fuller, Bechtold and their team for helping to create a flawless wedding.
“Having those two helping us out made everything so much easier,” Dave says. “Jen helped with everything and met us multiple times, on her own time, just to help us out. And the food – the food was excellent. It’s the best food I’ve ever had, and was the best wedding food.”
The couple’s first anniversary present will arrive a little late this year. They’re expecting their first child in December. - CL
They may have met while on the cast of ‘Annie’ at Jefferson High School in Rockford, but Lisa Holliday and Andrew Robinson’s love for each other is not an act.
Even after losing connection for nine years, their relationship blossomed into a wonderful marriage.
“Her smile and outgoing personality is what drew me to her initially,” Andrew says. “Lisa says it was my sense of humor and playfulness that she loved.”
Once Andrew graduated from high school, he moved to Michigan and the two lost touch.
That’s when a simple photo on Facebook lit some old flames.
“We reconnected after her younger sister posted a picture of the two of them,” Andrew says. “The connection was undeniable from our first phone conversation as adults, even after a nine-year absence. She then invited me back to Rockford to a wedding for one of her childhood friends and we fell in love over the next five days.”
Andrew says the proposal was spontaneous. It happened while he was visiting Lisa in Rockford over Labor Day Weekend in 2009.
“While sitting on the couch in her parents’ basement saying goodbye to her, I told her I loved her and I wanted to marry her,” Andrew says. “I got off the couch, got on my knee and told her ‘Let’s make it official. We know what we need and that’s each other’. I didn’t have a ring yet, but that didn’t matter to her.”
When it came time to pick a wedding venue, the couple wanted a place to entertain a wide range of ages and a place that would display Rockford in a positive light for their out-of-town guests.
They found all of that at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford.
The museum provides several scenic locations for weddings, from the Riverview Room and Terrace that overlooks the Rock River, to the 400-seat outdoor amphitheater near a riverwalk.
The couple had their August 8, 2015, ceremony in the amphitheater and the reception in the Riverview Room in front of 165 guests. They booked their wedding venue about a year in advance.
“We chose Burpee Museum for our ceremony and reception because of all the amenities Burpee had to offer,” Andrew says. “We really liked our backdrop of the Rock River for our ceremony. And because we had a baseball themed wedding, the fact that the amphitheater resembled the shape of a baseball field tied everything together.”
Their love for baseball was on display during the wedding. The couple used a catcher’s mitt for a ring bearer’s pillow. Andrew’s cufflinks were made from a seat from the old Comiskey Park. In addition, the couple’s sand ceremony was more like a dirt ceremony. They combined real dirt from Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field, since Lisa is a Chicago Cubs fan and Andrew is a Chicago White Sox fan. Real ivy was placed on the tables as part of the centerpieces.
Nicolette Pumilia, Burpee’s marketing coordinator, helped to facilitate everything.
“From trimming shrubs on the walkway to helping us load our things in our vehicles at the end of the night, our day wouldn’t have been as smooth without Nicolette’s help,” Andrew says.
Max Gersh developed a passion for photography as a child in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. More than 300 miles away in Rockford, Erin Gersh grew up with the same passion.
Max’s photojournalism career brought him to Rockford, where he met Erin at a going-away party for a colleague in September 2011. The pair quickly realized how much they had in common and dated for three years before Max arranged a picture-perfect proposal.
“Erin’s an artist, and I’m always trying to get her to draw more,” says Max. So on New Year’s Day, 2015, during an impromptu doodling session, Max suggested they each draw their plans for the next year in 10 minutes.
“I’m a terrible artist,” he laughs, “but at the end I drew a stick figure down on one knee holding up a big ring. Then I got out the ring and proposed. It was totally a surprise.”
Erin and Max chose Byron Forest Preserve for their ceremony and reception. They wed on Aug. 29, 2015, surrounded by 75 guests and the forest preserve’s lush outdoor scenery.
“We knew we wanted a smaller wedding in a natural setting. We wanted something peaceful and scenic,” Max says. “It’s definitely great for people who love the outdoors.”
The reception was held inside the Jarrett Prairie Center, overlooking 450 acres of restored prairie. The venue hosts 15 to 20 weddings each year and can hold up to 200 people.
“The land made for fantastic pictures,” Max says. “We were so happy with how everything turned out. There’s nothing we’d do differently.”
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.
A night out at a Schaumburg bar changed the lives of Kevin and Ashley Schwartz. A mutual friend introduced the two during a night out.
“We were attracted to each other by catching each other’s eyes, and I was really into the music he was listening to at the time,” Ashley says. “We just clicked.”
After six years of dating, Kevin proposed to Ashley on Christmas morning in 2014, in front of his immediate family. Ashley says she was a little suspicious that day, since Kevin was acting nervous, but she never expected he would propose to her on a holiday.
“I was really surprised and happy, and he could barely get all the words out before I said yes,” Ashley recalls.
In January 2016, Ashley attended a bridal show at D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, in Crystal Lake. The spacious and elegant venue boasts granite dance floors, crystal lighting and chandeliers, and elegant decorations. D’Andrea has an on-site wedding planner who helps to plan and execute weddings from conception to cleanup.
With plenty of wedding packages to choose from, the venue can host a special wedding that fits within any budget.
While Ashley attended the bridal show, luck was on her side. She won $1,000 in a door prize giveaway. It was just one more confirmation that she’d found the right venue.
Kevin and Ashley were married on June 16, 2017, and celebrated their reception at D’Andrea.
“Out guests loved it,” Ashley says. “We received many compliments for days after the wedding. People are still talking about it.”
D’Andrea offers flexible reception options, which gives couples the chance to customize their wedding experience. But planning ahead is encouraged.
“We booked our venue almost two years in advance, since we really wanted the room that included the atrium,” Ashley says.
The facility was also able to accommodate Ashley’s love for great food, thanks to expert chefs who take pride in presenting creative and delicious menu options, such as shrimp scampi, lobster tail and filet mignon.
“They really accommodated all of my needs,” Ashley says. “They held food for a late-arriving table, and I made sure I took the time to eat on my busy day.”
If the day wasn’t already special, the die-hard Chicago Blackhawks fans also ran into Pat Foley, the team’s play-by-play television announcer.
“He was at the country club when we were there for the ceremony,” Ashley says. “Our guestbooks at D’Andrea were Blackhawks jerseys for people to sign.”
The couple are still flying high, thanks to their wedding at D’Andrea, and they know the staff played a large role in making their dreams become a reality.
“It was the best day ever,” Ashley says. “Lynnette [Kaszuba, event planner], was great from the first day. Enjoy the moment, because when the day comes, it flies by.” - JP
When Mary McGuire saw Mike in a Speedo, it was all over. She knew she would marry him someday.
At least, that’s how Mike thinks it happened.
“It’s really because I found him funny,” Mary says. “We were both on the water polo team at University of Wisconsin-Madison, so we knew of each other for a few years prior to dating. He always made me laugh, and we had a lot of fun together.”
During 13 years of dating, the couple developed a tradition of having a nice dinner every year for each other’s birthdays. After Mary’s birthday dinner in 2015, she received an unexpected surprise.
“We went home from dinner, and I had changed into sweatpants and a Packers hoodie,” Mary says. “I was opening birthday cards when Mike came out with a card. There was some order of me reading his card, him saying nice things, getting down on one knee and pulling out a gorgeous ring. I’m still not sure what he said or how it all went – I just know that I started crying.”
The personal, private proposal was everything Mary wanted.
After looking at a dozen venues in the Madison area, the couple fell in love with The Edgewater for its floor-to-ceiling windows and its ideal location on Lake Mendota. The recently renovated and expanded Edgewater hotel boasts more than 200 guest rooms, a community plaza and pier, in-house restaurants and close proximity to the University and the state capitol.
With a guest list that included elderly relatives, new mothers and a few young nieces and nephews, the couple found it convenient to have the ceremony, cocktail hour and reception all in one location, with overnight accommodations in the same complex.
“Our guests loved the Edgewater,” Mary says. “Many of them have told us that they want to plan trips to go back.”
Mike and Mary were initially concerned that getting married at a hotel would be less personal, but found The Edgewater’s views and outdoor patio overlooking the lake were unique from other venues they toured. In addition, it was convenient to have a full spa with a variety of services available, including hair, makeup, nails, facials, massages and more. Mary, Mike and their entire wedding party were able to get ready for their big day right on site.
Working with The Edgewater’s wedding concierge, Michael Stapleton, also helped to make the planning process less stressful. He provided vendor suggestions, helped to execute the rehearsal and ceremony, worked with the couple on room blocks and menu choices, and offered assistance whenever possible.
“Michael was fantastic,” Mary says. “We’d explain what we’d want, and he’d offer suggestions and advice on what he thought would work best. We met with him a few times and had a lot of fun each and every time. I genuinely miss him.”
While most couples book The Edgewater 12 to 18 months in advance, Mary and Mike were able to book their June 4, 2016, wedding just sixth months prior. They held their reception in the Edgewater’s largest event space, which can comfortably accommodate up to 350 guests with a dance floor and bar.
“Ask a lot of questions when you’re planning your wedding,” Mary advises. “Because the space is so versatile and there’s so much you can do, it’s helpful to know your options.”
Ever since they opened Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery, in Freeport, Ken and Pam Rosmann have been asked about hosting weddings on their beautiful, rolling property in northwest Illinois. For the longest time, it just wasn’t possible to accommodate such a gathering.
But things are changing with the introduction of The Crib at Famous Fossil, a social events space housed inside the winery’s beautifully restored 1930s-era corn crib. The Crib and its adjoining shelter draw together the elegance of wine country with quintessential rustic elements – rusted steel, aged wood, antique equipment, and plenty of Midwestern character.
“It’s got beautiful woodwork and steel siding, which is unusual,” says Pam. “And, we left the elevator and pulley systems that were used to move grain around the crib. The bar is made from these beautiful planks that had been upstairs.”
Families that choose to host a wedding at Famous Fossil can celebrate intimate ceremonies and receptions inside The Crib, which seats about 130 theater-style and about 80 at tables. The area overlooks a bridge and the gently rolling slopes where cornstalks and nearly 2,100 grapevines reach skyward.
Rustic decor around The Crib and the winery leaves brides with little need for extra ornamentation. Pam offers props like candelabras and steel or wicker arches, but she finds that little else is usually needed.
“People come in when hosting showers or corporate events, and they’ll say, ‘I don’t need to do decorating at all,’” says Pam. “We want to minimize your stress and worry, and provide a space that’s ready for you when you arrive.”
To that end, set-up and cleanup services are provided with every space rental. Families that rent The Crib also receive access to wedding coordinator Sarah Thies, tables and chairs, and a customizable menu sourced as locally as possible. Playing on the winery’s nine-year tradition of serving small dishes or fruit and cheese plates, this menu offers several choices for families. Grilling for these buffet-style meals is provided by a local caterer who serves choice cuts of meat, often sourced from local farms.
This being a winery, Famous Fossil wines and local craft beers round out the bar options. Famous Fossil is best known for its wine blends, which mix varietals of cold-weather grapes – names such as LaCrescent, Marquette, and Frontenac that are well suited for the Illinois climate and fossil-rich limestone deposits feeding Famous Fossil’s grapes.
“You come to our winery and you’re going to taste what’s grown and produced right here,” says Pam. “And, it’s a taste of the true climate and character of the northwestern Illinois landscape.”
Famous Fossil hosts its very first weddings late this summer – the perfect time to capitalize on the rich colors of the vineyard.
“It’s a beautiful setting,” says Pam. “Many people look out at, and even walk through, the vineyard. It’s a way for them to understand what we do here at our winery and to feel closer to nature.” - CL
Their love for Chicago sports teams brought together Orland Park native Kim Janozik and Lake Zurich native Matt Brumley.
In March 2013, a mutual friend introduced the two at a bar just outside Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
Their first official date was watching the Chicago Blackhawks as they defeated the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup in 2013.
“As a couple of hardcore fans, we like to say it was fate,” Matt recalls. “Our personalities, sense of humor and, of course, good looks are what initially attracted us to one another.”
As time went on, it was clear to family and friends that they were meant to be together forever.
“Pretty early on in the relationship, we could both sense that was the route we were heading in,” Kim says.
Matt knew he wanted to propose to Kim, but he had two obstacles: he didn’t know how he’d do it, and he wanted it to be a surprise.
When the couple went ice skating in Chicago in February 2015, Matt saw his chance. He had the wedding ring in his possession for just two hours before making his move.
“After we ice skated, I had my cousin meet us to say hello,” Matt says. “In actuality, he was really there to take pictures and a video of me proposing.”
After the couple smiled and looked at the camera, Matt turned and dropped to one knee.
“It couldn’t have gone smoother than it did,” Matt says. “She was in shock.”
The hunt was on for a place where the couple could celebrate their wedding. When the couple stepped inside Fishermen’s Inn, in Elburn, they knew they had found the right place.
Couples who book the barn-style Fishermen’s Inn are given exclusive use of the facility and grounds, including its several social event rooms. The Loft and Great Room feature 30-foot barn wood beams, stone columns and reclaimed barn wood.
“We were going for more of a rustic feel for our wedding,” Kim says. “We felt comfortable as soon as we stepped through the doors of Fishermen’s Inn. We loved having the entire venue to ourselves, knowing our guests could experience and enjoy every inch of the grounds and venue.”
Fishermen’s Inn features breathtaking views of the 20-acre landscape, seven spring-fed ponds and beautiful gardens. The uniquely rustic, elegant venue offers outdoor wedding sites and an indoor space that holds up to 300 people.
Patti Southern, co-owner of Fishermen’s Inn, says many couples now book their weddings at least a year in advance, so the callendar fills up quickly. The venue hosts about 85 weddings each year, year-round.
“We still have availability for 2017, but we are also scheduling weddings into 2018,” Southern says.
Kim and Matt booked the venue about 15 months before their June 10, 2016, wedding.
“We immediately fell in love with the venue, and we didn’t want to risk it becoming unavailable,” Kim says.
“We have been told by many people that this was the best wedding they have ever attended, which is both flattering to us and also a great representation of the venue itself,” Kim adds. “We have heard many different compliments regarding the diligent customer service, the delicious food options and how beautiful both the craftsmanship of the building and the surrounding grounds are.”
On a rainy afternoon in downtown Chicago, Kara McKinney and Aaron Villacorta were walking their dog along the shores of Lake Michigan. They’d been dating for three years, having met through a mutual friend.
Aaron stopped walking and looked very seriously at Kara. “You’ll be OK with it if we don’t get engaged for another three or four years, right?”
Kara hid her disappointment. “Sure I will,” she answered. “We both have a lot going on in our work lives right now.”
Then Aaron smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t be OK with it, so let’s get engaged right now, today,” he said.
Kara laughs when she recalls that magical rainy afternoon. Today, the happily married couple lives in Buffalo Grove, where Aaron works as a logistics broker, Kara as an early childhood specialist. They’re not far from the things that matter most to them – her family in Rockford, his family in Mundelein and downtown Chicago, where they met.
Aaron and Kara complement each others’ strengths and “just get each other,” says Kara. “He’s more of a perfectionist, I’m more laid back. What drew us together is that we laugh at the same things, share the same sense of humor. That’s important. And, for both of us, family is very important.”
In fact, it was at a birthday party for Kara’s mother that the couple first thought about booking their wedding at Franchesco’s Ristorante, in Rockford.
“They did such a great job with that family birthday party,” Kara recalls. “We had the best time. We loved the atmosphere, the food was terrific, and the staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more attentive.”
The same held true at their May wedding and reception at Franchesco’s. “We couldn’t have been any happier with the way it went,” says Kara. “They treated us as if we were part of their family.”
The couple’s pastor officiated the ceremony in a decorated banquet room arranged with an aisle for the bridal party to walk down. Lavender, grey and white were the starring colors. “My late Grandpa had always given lilacs to my Mom, so I wanted the lilacs to be part of the decor, in his honor,” she says.
After the ceremony, the 275 guests enjoyed a cocktail hour.
“Then, the staff opened up another banquet room for a sit-down dinner reception with the kind of classic Italian dishes our families just love – there was Mediterranean chicken, lots of good pasta, and a beautiful wedding cake made by Kim Salamone, one of the restaurant’s owners.”
One of Kara’s favorite touches was a digital montage of family photos that Aaron put together himself, easily accommodated by Franchesco’s AV department. “It’s something we can keep forever,” she says.
One of the keys to a great event is employing a high ratio of servers per guest, says Franchesco’s owner Benny Salamone, who hosts 50 to 60 weddings each year.
“To serve hot, fresh food, from kitchen to table, you need an adequate number of servers,” says Salamone. “We have at least one server per three tables, compared to most facilities, which have one server per 50 to 60 guests.”
Franchesco’s also supplies linens and centerpieces, if requested by the bride, making her job a bit easier.
“The best advice I would give a bride-to-be is to work with reliable people, stay calm and just enjoy your day,” says Kara. “It’s kind of like marriage itself. You have to overlook little imperfections and believe everything will work out just fine – come rain or shine.”
Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Rockford
Miami has always been a special place for Daniel and Claudia Stevens.
Daniel attended his first year of college at Florida International University in Miami.
Claudia, who is from Krakow, Poland, says that one of the ways she learned English, when she was a child, was by watching “The Little Mermaid.” Because of that Disney film, the beach and Florida have always held special meaning for her.
“Miami has significance in both of our lives,” says Daniel, who is from Chicago.
So, when it came time for Daniel to propose to Claudia, he knew exactly where to go.
He proposed to his longtime girlfriend inside a pretty hotel room in Miami that was strewn with rose petals leading to the balcony.
“Of course, the hotel didn’t do it as planned, as they ‘forgot’ to set the room up initially,” Daniel says. “I had to stall as they re-prepared the room. After that, the proposal was filled with tears of joy.”
When it came time for the lovebirds to find a wedding venue, Daniel knew just the place. The couple married at Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center in Rockford, which is owned by Daniel’s friend, Al Castrogiovanni, and his family.
“He is a dear friend and it only made sense to have our special day at his venue,” says Daniel.
Claudia and Daniel originally met more than 10 years ago. As a professional model, Claudia was working at a car show that Daniel attended. Daniel connected with her on MySpace and they stayed in touch over the years.
Without ever formally meeting, Daniel asked Claudia if she would be part of a photo shoot for his business, Premier Fitness, in Rockford.
“The rest is history,” Daniel says. “After our photo shoot together, it was love at first sight.”
Daniel and Claudia wanted to incorporate Miami into the wedding plans. Instead of traveling to south Florida, the couple decided to have a Miami nightclub-themed wedding with a dessert and champagne bar.
“No dinner was served,” Daniel says. “We wanted more of a party than a conventional, boring, wedding.”
With stunning ballrooms and a dedicated banquet staff, Giovanni’s could more than accommodate the couple’s 110 guests while offering close proximity to area hotels and modern décor.
The couple booked their wedding three months before their wedding day of July 11, 2015, but Jaymie Nelson, administrator at Giovanni’s, recommends booking eight to 12 months in advance.
“Our venue is newly remodeled, with new carpet, paint, wallpaper, chairs and a new dance floor,” Nelson says. “Our décor is a neutral color pallet to allow guests the freedom to choose any color scheme.”
The venue hosts roughly 75 weddings each year. Giovanni’s can host up to three smaller wedding parties at a time, or accommodate one large wedding of up to 850 people.
Daniel says guests definitely had a great time the wedding. The very creative staff at Giovanni’s knows how to throw a party and take the pressure off the couples’ shoulders.
“Al and his staff made sure every detail was accounted for,” Daniel says. “Let them showcase their creativity. You won’t be disappointed.”
Wade Russell was nervous for his first date with Megan Bartchlett. It had been a couple of years since they’d seen each other.
“We went to high school together in Findlay, Ohio, but we were just friends,” Wade says. “I was worried we wouldn’t have anything in common.”
Megan remembers being a high school freshman the same year Wade was a senior. At the time, she figured Wade was out of her league.
“I had a crush on him since middle school,” Megan says. “He was just so cute. I was so excited whenever he got on the bus.”
After years of doting, Megan decided to be brave. She texted Wade when she was a freshman in college, with no expectations of his replying.
When Wade did, she was elated.
Wade didn’t wait long before asking Megan on a date. His fears of not having anything in common immediately washed away.
“Once we were on that first date, her personality was perfect,” Wade says. “We just clicked instantly.”
They ended their date with a walk around their college campus at Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio. Years later, Wade proposed after walking the same grounds.
Megan cherishes the memory of Wade getting down on one knee by the campus clock tower.
“There were beautiful flowers everywhere, and it was the first sunny day all week,” Megan says. “I don’t even remember what he said. I was just so happy.”
The couple envisioned having a small, simple destination wedding with close family. While scrolling through Pinterest, Megan discovered her storybook dream in Galena’s Goldmoor Inn. Set in the countryside overlooking the Mississippi River and rolling hills of Galena, Goldmoor Inn’s “castle” feel invoked a feeling of romance, privacy and a special retreat for Megan and Wade.
When Megan realized Goldmoor Inn could accommodate weddings from two to 150 people, she knew it was the perfect venue. Eight months in advance, she and Wade booked Goldmoor Inn for their wedding on June 25, 2016. The bed-and-breakfast hosts about 60 weddings each year. Goldmoor’s simple, yet elegant setting proved to be a perfect size for the couple’s small party of close family and friends.
“We invited our parents, grandparents and siblings,” says Megan. “My sisters-in-law, ages 9 and 13, were my bridesmaids. My brother and Wade’s brother, ages 18 and 11, were the groomsmen. Everything was so intimate, and we didn’t go into debt. I got my perfect wedding without all the money.”
The wedding coordinator at Goldmoor Inn, Angele DeVere, “magically” arranged everything for the Bowling Green residents, from the flowers, catering and photography to the cake and decor. Not having to stress over the small details allowed the couple to enjoy their wedding even more.
“All I had to do was tell them my vision and show up,” Megan says. “Wade and I got there two days in advance and just enjoyed each other, rather than stressing over details.
“This was truly my fairy tale wedding,” Megan adds. “I had my prince charming, my perfect ceremony, a mouthwatering dinner – everything was perfect.”
Ally Lenz has a beautiful smile. Steve Whittaker has a charming personality. When the two met through mutual friends, it was clear they were compatible.
“There wasn’t a specific moment when we realized we were in love,” Ally says. “But about eight months into the relationship, after we matured as a couple, we both realized marriage was in our future.”
Ally and Steve threw a New Year’s Eve party at their residence in Rockford on Dec. 31, 2015. Surrounded by their friends and families, the couple couldn’t have been happier.
That is, until Steve got down on one knee.
“He proposed at midnight when the ball dropped,” Ally says. “We were so happy that our loved ones were able to be there.”
Ally thought she wanted a destination wedding, but changed her mind after touring Hilton Garden Inn, in Rockford. The newly renovated location had a warm atmosphere that fit what Ally and Steve were looking for. Plus, its 3,600 square feet of banquet space could accommodate the couple’s 200 guests for both the ceremony and reception.
“The staff was able to transform the room during the cocktail hour,” Ally says. “We’re very impressed by everybody who helped make that happen. Our guests still rave about how beautiful it was.”
Ally and Steve booked Hilton Garden Inn just five months in advance of their July 2, 2016 wedding day. Though she recommends booking a year in advance, the Hilton’s wedding coordinator, Kelly Plath, has planned receptions with as little as two months notice.
Working with Plath helped Ally and Steve to enjoy the planning process.
“She was so easy to talk to and she answered all of our questions,” Ally says. “All you really need to know is your date – Kelly will help take care of everything else.”
Plath loved showing off Hilton Garden Inn to Ally and Steve.
“It was great to help them envision their wedding,” Plath says. “One of the best things about hosting your wedding here is being able to use the hotel for overnight accommodations, which the Whittakers did. Not only do we include a complimentary whirlpool suite for the bride and groom, but all wedding guests are eligible for a discount at the hotel for the night of the wedding. That way, at the end of the night everyone can safely travel up the elevator to their room and not have to worry about driving anywhere.”
Plath walked the couple through the Hilton’s many dining options. Ally and
Steve had a difficult, yet fun time choosing from the variety of entrees. They also were grateful that the Hilton’s culinary staff could cut and serve their cake at no additional charge.
“Our guests still tell us how muc
h they loved the food,” Ally says. “Food is an important aspect of any event. We also made s’mores boxes as gifts for our guests. Overall, everything about the day went smoothly and we couldn’t be happier with our experience.”
Wesley Groom was cute, nice and impressive at line dancing. He instantly caught Courtney Kjell’s eye at Shooters Bar & Grill, in Rockford.
“We were there for country night with a group of mutual friends,” Courtney says. “We instantly realized that we had a lot in common.”
Wesley and Courtney became best friends over the next two years. They volunteered together at church, motivated each other at the gym and continued to go out dancing.
On Dec. 20, 2015, the couple went with friends and family to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Courtney wondered why Wesley appeared to be so nervous.
“We were waiting in line to get a picture in this giant lit-up display,” Courtney says. “When it was our turn, Wesley started telling me how much he loved me. I felt bad because I didn’t realize what was going on and there was a line of people behind us. As soon as I figured out he was proposing, he was already on one knee. It definitely came as a surprise, and of course I said yes. Everyone around us cheered.”
Only six weeks later, on Feb. 20, 2016, Courtney and Wesley walked down the aisle at Central Christian Church in Beloit, Wis.
Courtney knew she wanted to have her reception at Ironworks Hotel the moment she walked in the lobby. Since it was the wedding off-season, she was able to book the industrial-chic venue on the Rock River just one month in advance of her wedding day. Guests were able to stay overnight in Ironworks’ recently renovated luxury boutique rooms, featuring 18 traditional rooms and 36 suites.
“The hotel had a rustic-meets-modern-day feel to it, and I instantly fell in love with it,” Courtney says. “I especially loved the giant sliding wood door where my guests would enter. I cancelled my viewings at other venues since I had already made up my mind.”
Courtney recommends utilizing Ironworks’ event planning team. She loved their suggestions of having a separate head table for the wedding party and using giant wooden chairs for the bride and groom.
From appetizers to entrees, the food from the on-site caterer, Merrill and Houston’s Steak Joint, proved a huge success. When the ceremony and wedding pictures went faster than anticipated, Ironworks staff accommodated the couple’s request to serve dinner earlier in order to keep guests from waiting.
Courtney and Wesley are thankful their wedding went smoothly under last-minute conditions.
“The Ironworks staff went above and beyond to accommodate my short timeframe,” Courtney says. “They had so many helpful tips and ideas, and they were always available when I had questions. I was also seven months pregnant at the time, adding a lot more challenges, such as alterations on the wedding gown. Even with all of those challenges, my wedding turned out beautifully and I couldn’t be happier.”
Ali Brearley has always loved to cook. She knew she finally found her match when she met Brandon Brumback, a professional chef from Kansas City, Mo. The couple met through mutual friends in the restaurant industry on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, 2013. “We instantly liked each other, and the rest is history,” says Ali.
They dated for more than a year, and in November, 2014, Brandon bought a ring. “I wanted it to be a surprise, but the night I brought the ring home, she knew something was up. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I proposed right in our walk-in closet in our apartment.”
On Sept. 26, 2015, the couple wed in Ali’s hometown of Rockford in her uncle’s scenic backyard, known by family and friends as Weis Gardens. Ali and Brandon chose Josef Barbados Steak House & Oyster Bar for their reception.
The restaurant’s owners, Josef and Cherri, have been friends of Ali’s family for years. “Josef always delivers such an amazing product,” says Ali.
“Josef and Cherri were so helpful in making our vision a reality. They went above and beyond our wants and needs,” adds Brandon.
This award-winning Caribbean restaurant doubles as an elegant wedding venue with an intimate indoor space and an outdoor patio perfect for cocktail hour. To accommodate Ali and Brandon’s 140 guests, the restaurant closed to the public and set up buffet-style dining stations. The family-owned restaurant is decorated with beautiful glass chandeliers and artwork. Little to no decorating was needed, so Ali and Brandon could focus on creating their own custom wedding menu.
Incorporating the pair’s German heritage, the menu included sauerkraut and savory meats. “Everyone loved it. Josef makes a mean sauerkraut,” laughs Ali. “We got so many great reviews. People said it was the best wedding food they ever had.”
Throughout their friendship, Mike has always been able to make Emma laugh. She’s admired his honesty, kindness and high moral standards for the past 10 years.
“But it wasn’t until last year that I suddenly realized he’s everything I want in a husband,” Emma says. “It was only a few weeks after we were dating that I realized he was the reliable, hard-working man I knew all along.”
Emma assumed Mike would propose during a weekend trip to Chicago, so she planned to get her hair cut and nails done ahead of time for engagement photos.
Mike had a better idea.
“The weekend before the alleged ‘special day,’ we went for a hike in a beautiful forest preserve we frequented,” Emma says. “He proposed at a special spot overlooking the park. Of course, my hair was a mess and I was covered in mud, but it was so much more romantic that way.”
Emma and Mike couldn’t resist booking Klehm Arboretum for their wedding reception. Their guests still gush about the beautiful atmosphere.
“The garden setting really sold the deal for us,” Emma says. “Plus, the reception room was already nicely decorated. This made for less work and preparation, and it was at an amazingly affordable price.”
Two outdoor ceremony locations are available for rent, including a fountain garden area that can fit up to 300 guests and an intimate bridge and pond area for 50 guests. Indoor reception space can accommodate up to 225, and in 2017, a new outdoor pavilion will be able to fit 400.
Close communication with Chris Sarna, the arboretum’s rentals manager, helped everything to run smoothly on Emma and Mike’s wedding day.
“She helped us become familiar with the sound setup and floor plans well in advance,” Emma says. “Overall, the whole experience with Klehm Arboretum was everything I hoped for.”
A weekend that started with celebrating a friend’s wedding ended with Maryjo Pirages Reynolds and Nathan Reynolds planning the rest of their lives together.
The couple, who originally met on a dating website, celebrated a friend’s wedding on Oct. 31, 2015, in Chicago. The next night, Nate surprised Maryjo with a large box.
Inside the box were wedding pictures of his parents, Maryjo’s parents and all four sets of their grandparents, who have a combined 316 years of marriage between them. The box also contained a small ring box.
Nate took out the ring, got down on one knee and told Maryjo that there was one picture that was needed to complete the wall of wedding photos that Maryjo dreamed of having in her home – their own wedding photo.
“It was such a heartfelt, thoughtful proposal and it was representative of one of the things I quickly recognized and love about Nate, his appreciation for and love of family,” says Maryjo, a Rockford native.
The couple quickly began to make wedding plans and were married April 30, 2016, six months after Nate proposed.
“We were thrilled that my grandparents’ pastor could come down from Wisconsin to marry us, as he has become a friend of our family over the years and has played an important role in developing my faith,” Maryjo says.
The couple was delighted to be the third generation in Maryjo’s family to be married at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Rockford.They were also happy to know Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Club was available for their wedding reception.
Among the reasons why they liked Mauh-Nah-Tee-See was the beauty of the facility and the venue’s ability to accommodate the couple’s 300 guests.
The venue could additionally work within the couple’s six-month window.
“It could accommodate my very large, extended family and it was well located,” Maryjo says. “We also liked that it had lots of windows and was very open and elegant.”
Mauh-Nah-Tee-See offers a flexible reception venue, which allows guests to make the space their own, says Rachael Pennell, food and beverage manager at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See. The venue hosts between 25 and 30 weddings each year.
“We tried to see to it that our wedding had small, unique touches that represented our backgrounds and families,” Maryjo says. “For example, the cannolis for dessert were a hat tip to my Italian heritage and the quilted cake design was inspired by Nate’s grandmas – both of whom have been avid quilters.”
Maryjo and Nate also said the venue was very flexible when it came time to set up.
“They facilitated a meeting with our florist and linen vendor and allowed us to stop in to visualize the space,” Maryjo says. “They were also flexible in scheduling a tasting and reliable in follow-up conference calls with us to finalize a menu and a day of timeline.”
The couple’s guests had positive reviews of the venue.
“Everyone really enjoyed the food and the dance party,” Maryjo says. “The service was excellent. We had a wonderful day at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See.”
Samm Hinrichs developed a master plan when she met Ken Dawson, through mutual friends, at a haunted house.
“She pretended to ‘lose’ her phone so I could get her number to help find it,” Ken says. “I was attracted to her eyes, amazing looks and personality. She’s very easygoing and fun to be around. We hit it off right away.”
After a year of dating, the couple acknowledged they had a serious connection and hoped eventually to get married. Ken bought a ring, but the ‘right moment’ to propose never seemed to arrive.
Five months passed as Ken waited for a special, romantic opportunity. Finally, he crafted a master plan of his own.
“The proposal was quite an ordeal,” says Ken. “I ran through idea after idea, but they never worked out. Something always came up to make me cancel. Finally, I secretly booked a private wine room at Franchesco’s Ristorante, in Rockford. I played it off like it was a mistake on the restaurant’s end. I had the ring tucked in the side of my sock, and after ordering food and drinks, I took a knee next to her and proposed. She said yes, obviously, and that she knew something was up.”
The No. 1 priority when searching for a wedding venue was finding a location with a waterfront view.
The couple was thrilled to find Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, in Oregon, for their June 25, 2016, wedding. A longtime favorite for casual dining, banquets and dinner cruises on the Rock River, Maxson had the beautiful views the couple hoped for. And, it was close to Polo, where Ken grew up and where the couple now live.
“We booked about nine or 10 months in advance, just because we knew it was the place and we wanted to have it,” Ken says.
The venue can accommodate 110 people on its paddleboat, 250 on the sprawling pavilion and gazebo, and 280 in the restaurant.
Ken especially enjoyed that the whole wedding party could arrive at the reception by boat.
“Samm and I love being on the water, and arriving by boat made our wedding more unique,” Ken sa
ys. “Don’t be afraid to ask the owners any questions you have – they are willing to work with you to make everything just as you want.”
The couple also got the pizza and pasta bar they wanted, even though pizza isn’t offered on the menu. Everything was made in house. The Maxson’s staff also ordered specific alcohol that the couple requested, provided containers for leftover cupcakes and kept leftover wedding cake overnight in the fridge.
“They went above and beyond what we could have asked for,” Ken says. “All of the guests said the venue was beautiful and that the food was amazing. We couldn’t have been happier with the service and how the whole process went.”
Brittney Kulisek was impressed with Tom Chambers when she met him on a blind date. He was cute and chivalrous, and his great sense of humor kept her laughing for hours.
Tom was similarly smitten at first sight.
“Brittney was beautiful,” he says. “When we met, I loved that she spent most of the time talking, so I didn’t have to. She drank good beer, and not only insisted on paying for herself, but did so with a Chicago Bears card.”
Though Brittney lived in DeKalb and Tom lived in Rockford, Tom knew after only a week that he wanted to someday marry Brittney. He proposed a couple of months later when the couple were on vacation in San Antonio, Texas.
“We met my best friend, Courtnie, for dinner on the river walk,” Brittney says. “Courtnie insisted on taking photos, so we proceeded to walk up and down the river walk trying to find the perfect place. Eventually, Tom found a bridge and got down on one knee while I was turned away. When I turned around, I couldn’t hold back the yes.”
The couple began searching for a wedding venue immediately. Tom’s sister recommended Oak Lane in Oregon – a unique 1800s dairy barn remodeled into a chic reception hall. Set on 16 acres,
Oak Lane offers five outdoor ceremony locations as well as an indoor space that can accommodate up to 180 guests. Receptions are held in the barn’s hayloft upstairs.
Adding character to the venue are two potbelly pigs, Baconette and Hambone; two llamas, Dilly Dally and Tessa; a Belted Hampshire sheep named Lucy and a lamb named Lambchop.
Oak Lane was the first and last venue the couple looked at.
“We loved the space, the barn and the ambience that it all had,” Brittney says. “We knew it was the one. We literally booked it a week after we got engaged.”
Brittney and Tom were married on May 13, 2017. Oak Lane’s owner, Jodi Horner, was always quick to respond whenever the couple emailed with questions. She even provided intentionally mismatched wooden chairs, tables, linens, bartenders and decor items. Guests could dance the night away upstairs, hang out at the bar downstairs, or venture outside to enjoy a “bride’s cigar bar” set up by Brittney’s dad.
“We feel like we got way more than we paid for,” Brittney says. “We loved that we had the outdoor ceremony followed by the reception in the barn. We feel like this was unique among our friends and family. The animals at the farm were a fun part, too. Truly, the day was more amazing than we could have even dreamed of.”
The couple made their wedding unique by setting up lawn games and by catering woodfire brick oven pizza. Brittney’s advice is to trust Jodi to make your day perfect.
“She’s even the one who recommended our DJ,” Brittney says. “She definitely knows what she is doing.” - LG
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.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, Corey Young told Chrissy Feltes he didn’t want to be her boyfriend anymore in the new year.
“That sounded bad for a moment,” Chrissy says.
Standing in the living room of their recently purchased first home, Corey explained he wanted a fiancee instead.
“He reached into his pocket, and for a moment he couldn’t find the ring,” Chrissy says. “I was completely surprised and said yes through some tears.”
The couple had met a few years prior in Steeleville, Ill., at a pool party. Corey’s charm and outgoing personality won Chrissy over. Not to mention, his guitar skills.
“She was sweet and cute, and she was googly-eyed when I played the guitar,” Corey remembers.
There were a few reasons why the couple decided on Pheasant Run for their wedding day. For one, both Corey and Chrissy’s families had connections to the St. Charles resort. Chrissy’s family often stayed at Pheasant Run for getaways, and Cory’s father had once stayed at the resort for a billiards tournament.
“The fact that we each had a little connection was pretty neat,” Chrissy says.
But more than that, the couple wanted their guests to enjoy Pheasant Run’s amenities. The countryside property is complete with apartment-style suites, a theater, live comedy, diverse dining options, 18 holes of golf, a full-service spa, tennis and swimming. Pheasant
Run provided the majority of the Youngs’ wedding services and had recommendations for all outside vendors, Chrissy says.
The resort additionally offers lakeside ceremonies, a rain backup location, four distinct ballrooms that accommodate 5 to 1,000 guests, custom catering, professional planning and discounts with local vendors.
“Our guests absolutely loved Pheasant Run,” Chrissy says. “We received many compliments on the rehearsal dinner, the cocktail hour on Bourbon Street and the reception in the New Orleans Ballroom. The presentation, as well as the quality of the food, was outstanding. Pheasant Run accommodated more than 120 of our guests for the weekend and we heard nothing but praise.”
Chrissy was mentally prepared for something to go wrong, but the Youngs enjoyed their wedding day without any stress or mishaps. The couple is looking forward to their complimentary 1-year anniversary stay.
“My uncle said it best to my father: ‘You have set a new standard for family weddings,” Chrissy recalls. “My dad replied, ‘I didn’t. The staff at Pheasant Run did.’” - LG
After only a month of dating, Kyle Groenhagen and Faith Glendenning knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
“Kyle claims that, after our second date, he knew I was the girl he was going to marry,” Glendenning says. “I knew after I took him to meet my entire family at a bowling fundraiser for my grandpa that we were likely going to get married.”
The couple both came from large families that knew each other. Kyle, an Oregon native, and Faith, of Stillman Valley, were acquainted, but they didn’t officially meet until October 2014.
“Kyle was feeling cocky because he had sold his calf crop at a sale barn in Iowa for a really good price, so on his way home, he worked up the courage to come into my work office and introduce himself to me,” Faith says. “What attracted me to Kyle was that we shared the same interests and dreams for our future.”
Kyle was not secretive about his interest in marrying Faith. One night, the couple went looking for wedding rings. She fell in love with one particular ring, so he purchased it on the spot.
On Jan. 13, 2015, Kyle went to Faith’s parents’ home to ask her father, George, for his blessing.
“I was expecting our engagement to come in February when Kyle and I were going to San Antonio, Texas, for the National Cattleman’s conference,” Faith says. “He couldn’t wait to be engaged to me, so right before he left to go back home for the evening, he plopped down on one knee in my parents front entryway and asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes.”
When it came time to pick a wedding venue, the couple knew they wanted a place that had character and style. They found everything they wanted at Prairie Street Brewing Co., in Rockford, a riverside restaurant and brewery with three rooms available for wedding receptions. They married on July 9, 2016, as 215 people watched.
The Malt Room boasts large timber posts and beams and can comfortably fit up to 150 people. The lower-level Ice Cellar is reminiscent of the nearly 160-year-old building’s earlier life, with a copper bar that resembles the blocks of ice once stored for brewing. The Barrel Room accommodates up to 300 people and includes natural light, custom ironwork and more than 80 dimmable paper lanterns that hang from the ceiling.
“I used all the rooms for our wedding,” Faith says. “But, the primary room we used was the Barrel Room for guest seating and dancing.”
Prairie Street can adapt to any style or theme. Kyle and Faith love cattle and are very passionate about their cow and calf herds. Faith also lived in Arizona for two years, so she’s a fan of Southwestern Style.
“One of my decorations was a saddle I still use on my horse when I get time to ride her,” Faith says. “The box centerpieces have the Groenhagens old family brand, which is a plain G, burned into the wood, and I had a lot of copper and barbed wire. Our table numbers were cattle ear tags.”
The venue hosts 80 weddings a year, says Nicole Blough, assistant events manager.
Blough recommends booking a wedding space a year to a year-and-a-half in advance.
Faith credits the Prairie Street staff for making the day run so smoothly.
“I seriously can’t say enough good things about the team at Prairie Street Brewhouse,” she says. “I wasn’t stressed at all on my wedding day. It was seriously better than I could have even dreamed of.”
From their first visit to Rocky Waters Vineyard and Winery in 2013, Andrew Richmond and Erinn Strauch fell in love with it.
“We went to the winery and had a nice time with Kyle Spahn, the son of the owners,” says Andy. “Once we saw the place, we thought it was beautiful and knew we wanted to have our wedding there.”
Through their next several visits, the couple learned more about the winemaking process, sampled more of Rocky Waters’ bottles and started to brainstorm ideas for their big day. It became an exciting process for the couple, who hadn’t previously known much about wine.
In fact, Andy and Erinn, from Morrison, Ill., and Chadwick, Ill., were first drawn to each because of their mutual interests in hunting and enjoying time outdoors, when they met in 2008 through friends. The picturesque vineyard, rolling hills and lush site next to the property’s lake was the perfect setting for two nature lovers to be wed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Rocky Waters also made what became one of Andy’s favorite wines, the award-winning Cedar Lake Blush.
“After having a little too much wine, I told Erinn that I figured out what makes it so good – that it’s sunshine in a bottle,” says Andy. “She makes jokes about that still.”
They worked closely with Spahn over the next six months to plan out the rest of their ceremony set for Aug.16, 2014. By renting the venue’s fisherman’s cabin alongside the lake, they were able to schedule an entire weekend to relax and enjoy with their nearly 100 guests. Andy says photos of the cabin don’t do it justice.
“Kyle was awesome to work with,” says Erinn. “One of my favorite parts was using the fisherman’s cabin. We had the rehearsal dinner there, which was really accommodating for everyone. And after the wedding, the preacher announced that everyone was welcome inside for wine samplings and hors d’ oeuvres. That was super nice to have everyone at the wedding stick around for a few minutes and enjoy it.”
The relaxed atmosphere seemed to carry over from their engagement, when the couple spent a leisurely, private day at home, after Andy proposed in 2012.
“I had worked the night shift and had gone home to take a nap. When I woke up, he was there and proposed! I don’t even think I was awake enough,” laughs Erinn. “I remember asking him ‘What?’ several times.”
Spahn also set up a tractor-pulled wagon to transport guests conveniently from the parking lot to the wedding site and back, touring through the vineyard’s charming views. The reception was later held at Gil’s Ballroom, in Clinton, Iowa, with close to 200 additional family members and friends.
“Everything went perfectly,” says Andy. “Our guests loved it, too. A whole bunch of them didn’t even know that there was something like that in the area where they could go.”
Nearly a year after their ceremony, Andy and Erinn still visit the winery to enjoy a glass of wine and take it all in.
Rockford native Libby Leatherby’s wedding was a happy occasion for many reasons, especially because her son, Noah, was there to see his mom get married.
Just two months after Mitch Leatherby proposed to Libby on Mother’s Day, in 2015, Noah was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that forms in muscle tissue. The couple cancelled their wedding plans to take care of Noah.
“We decided to put the wedding on the back-burner and get our son through treatment,” Libby says. “Our son’s health was our first priority and always will be.”
As the months progressed, Noah’s health started to improve. The more his health improved, the more his parents planned that wedding they’d left behind.
In the spring of 2016, when it came time to search for a wedding venue, the couple learned of The Standard, a wedding venue that was then still in the works. It’s owned by Brent Hughes and his wife, Betsy – both personal friends of Libby’s. Their new venue, which opened late in 2016, takes advantage of the decades-old building by putting on full display its beautiful concrete and red brick skeleton.
“When we booked The Standard, it was pretty much a construction site,” Libby says. “We were able to see their vision through photos on an iPad, and we used our imagination to envision what the end result would look like. Knowing Betsy for so many years, I knew she had an eye for art and style, and I knew it would be beautiful.”
Libby says their May 20, 2017, wedding couldn’t have gone better.
“Our wedding happened at a venue we didn’t even know about when we were engaged,” she says. “It’s the most beautiful venue I’ve ever been to. Even the bathrooms are beautiful.”
Whether it’s weddings or another social occastion, The Standard’s crew helps to eliminate many of the hassles and stresses of a wedding day. The rooftop patio is equipped for outdoor weddings, and it provides a sweeping overlook of downtown Rockford’s rooftops and riverscape. An adjacent conservatory and full bar provide a great location for cocktail hour.
Down on the second floor is a 260-guest dining hall with all of the amenities for dinner and dancing. Food is provided by Chef Paul Sletten, who owns several downtown Rockford staples.
London Avenue Designs, which specializes in interior decorating, wedding planning and event design, is stationed on the building’s first-floor retail area.
Libby, her bridesmaids, her mother and mother-in-law had their hair and makeup done at Arch, a beauty boutique also located on the first floor of The Standard.
“Everything that we needed was taken care of inside one building, which was extremely convenient,” Libby says.
The Standard’s many amenities proved helpful when it rained on the day of the wedding. The ceremony was easily relocated to the conservatory
“A lot of brides who have an outdoor wedding would panic if it rains, but there was never that feeling because we had a solid backup plan,” Libby says. “We got married in The Standard’s conservatory, and it wound up being just as beautiful."
Noah, who has now been in remission for nine months, served as the ring bearer.
“He was definitely the star of the show at the wedding,” Libby says. “This was so emotional, for more reasons than marrying my husband. It was just so great having Noah there.” - JP
Things really clicked for Karen Ramos and Matt Kiep – in more ways than one.
The busy young professionals each decided to test their luck by finding love online. Near the end of 2013, they’d made a connection.
By February 2014, they decided to meet for a casual lunch at Colonial Café, in St. Charles.
“When we met, things just seemed to click,” says Karen, who was born and raised in the Philippines. “It’s like we’ve known each other forever, and we were so comfortable with each other. I think that effortless connection is what really attracted us to each other.”
In August 2015, Matt, originally from Batavia, arranged for a photographer to do a photoshoot of Karen in Wheaton’s Cantigny Park. She had always wanted professional portraits of herself.
What Karen didn’t know, but Matt and the photographer did, was that a spot had been arranged for Matt to propose. When he did, Karen said yes, without hesitation.
“Both families knew it was happening that day, and had been waiting for the good news,” Karen says.
When it came time to find a wedding venue, the couple knew they wanted to get married outdoors, in a place surrounded by nature. With hiking trails, large canyons and many outdoor activities, Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, in Utica, seemed an ideal location for a wedding. Starved Rock also has several preferred vendors who help to make wedding planning easy.
“We came and visited, and it was love at first sight,” Karen says. “The same day of our visit, we put a hold on our wedding date and started the process.”
The site was booked in November 2015 for a wedding on June 2, 2017.
Since Starved Rock is a destination location, lodge staff offered a host of wedding services for the couple, including a rehearsal dinner, rehearsal breakfast and trolley transportation to take photos at the park’s 18 canyons. Typically, space is reserved inside the lodge in case it rains.
During the outdoor ceremony, the couple paid their respects to loved ones who’ve passed away. Matt wore a photo locket of his late mother on his lapel. Karen attached something similar on her bouquet, to commemorate her own loved ones who’ve passed away.
Also celebrating their pregnancy, the couple took a moment during the reception to share a gender reveal with their guests. Stationed in the center of the dance floor was a large yellow box shaped like a large toy block. When Matt and Karen opened the box, a balloon popped out, reading “Baby girl.”
Karen says having their wedding at Starved Rock was everything they expected and more.
“Our guests thoroughly enjoyed our wedding at Starved Rock,” Karen says. “I kept getting compliments about the venue and especially the food and the cupcakes. I was extremely happy and appreciative of the team I worked with.” - JP
The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates
It was a high school romance of a different sort that blossomed when Robert and Francesca Murphy met in 2014 at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. Like two teens in love, the pair instantly fell head over heels.
There was only one difference: Robert and Francesca weren’t students. They were teachers for Township High School District 214 when they met at work through a mutual friend. The couple knew they were meant for each other after their first date in June 2014. “It was pretty much a done deal,” says Robert.
After they’d been together for almost a year, the pair traveled to New Buffalo, Mich., for a romantic getaway. “It’s a very romantic lakeside town,” says Robert. “We spent the whole day doing a 20-mile bike ride around the lake and through all the wineries. Later that night, on a scenic beach by the lake, I proposed.”
Robert and Francesca were married on July 16, 2016, at Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Arlington Heights. The pair had grown up just minutes from each other in Cook County. Francesca, whose parents were born in Italy, had one request when selecting a wedding venue. “For an Italian family, food is really important,” says Robert.
The couple found what they sought in The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Center in Hoffman Estates, which could accommodate the couple’s 330 guests and their culinary expectations. The Stonegate served dishes that were made entirely from scratch, including crab and seafood appetizers.
“The food exceeded all our expectations,” says Robert. “With so many guests, it baffles my mind that everybody was so ecstatic about it.”
The Stonegate hosts nearly 150 weddings each year and offers flexible reception options, allowing couples to customize their wedding experience. Francesca and Robert started the night with a cocktail hour in The Stonegate’s foyer and lakeside pavilion. There, guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and live music by Big Al Wetzel Band. “Everybody there who wasn’t married said they wanted to use that band for their wedding,” Robert says.
After cocktail hour, the party moved to the Ballroom, a large, elegant banquet hall attached to the pavilion tent. Around 11 p.m., the remaining guests moved back to the tent for a late-night after-party with an open bar and snacks.
“We wanted a really cool after-party,” says Robert. “Moving from the big space to a smaller space kept the intimate atmosphere going.”
The couple received plenty of remarks about the friendly service and professionalism. They know The Stonegate played a large role in their wedding day’s success.
“There are a lot of places to have a nice wedding, but Stonegate’s flexibility was amazing,” Robert says. “They are a family-owned business, and they were able to meet all our requests right away. I’m a laid-back guy, but like most people, we were pretty particular about our wedding. The last few weeks before the wedding day can be stressful, but The Stonegate was so patient and accommodating with us. Our guests were blown away by the ambiance, attention to detail and presentation of everything.”
In the fall of 2013, the Grafft family purchased an abandoned building in downtown Janesville with grand visions of turning it into an event facility. After a year of hard work and remodeling, Britten Langfoss, daughter of the developer and current general manager, was able to be the first bride to walk down the aisle at The Venue in June 2015.
“The building is extremely unique,” Langfoss says. “It was built as a Methodist Church in 1870 and so many of the original features remain intact, such as the ornate woodwork, hardwood floors and tin ceilings. Because we have such beautiful features, the decor budget can typically be reduced.”
The Venue can host wedding ceremonies, receptions, rehearsal dinners, bridal showers and engagement parties. Couples can invite up to 200 guests for a sit-down reception and up to 300 people for a ceremony. An on-site coordinator helps to keep everything running smoothly.
The Venue is hosting about 25 weddings this year, but Langfoss anticipates that number to grow in the future. Wedding dates are being reserved as far ahead as 2018, so Langfoss recommends booking The Venue at least a year in advance, but also noted there are still dates available for 2017.
Couples can choose any licensed and insured caterer for their special day. Guests can take advantage of free parking and modern amenities, such as beautifully decorated bathrooms and an elevator.
“Start to plan early by scheduling a tour,” Langfoss says. “If you are able, plan to attend our Bridal Open House on February 26, 2017 to see how some of our favorite vendors to see our beautiful space and some of our favorite vendors.”