Dream Destinations

For Your Big Day

By Lindsey Gapen, Sarah Soenke, Jermaine Pigee, & 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.

Acquaviva Winery Barnacopia Beloit Club
Byron Forest Preserve Creek Bend Nature Center DC Estate Winery
The Edgewater Fishermen's Inn Franchesco's Ristorante
Giovanni's Restaurant Geneva National Resort Goldmoor Inn
Hickory Knolls Discovery Center Hilton Garden Inn Ironworks Hotel
Josef Barbados Kilbuck Creek Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens Oscar Swan Country Inn Pinecrest Community Center
Prairie Street Brewhouse Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre

Engaged on Ice

Fishermen’s Inn, Elburn
(Timothy Whaley & Associates photo)

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.”

Learn more at fishermensinnelburn.com.

Vendors

Fishermen's Inn,
Elburn, Ill.
Moeller Music, Chicago Area
Kio Kreations, Naperville
David and Stephanie Weddings, Lee, Ill.
Martellen’s Bridal, Lemont

Fishermen's Inn

43W901 Main Street Road
Elburn, IL
(630) 365-9697
fishermensinnelburn.com

In Perfect Taste

The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates
stonegate
(Noelle Adams Photography)

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.”

Learn more at thestonegate.com.

Vendors

Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church, Arlington Heights
The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre,
Hoffman Estates
Big Al Wetzel Band
Aga Galus, Park Ridge
Noelle Adams Photography
Doris Bridal, Highwood

The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre

2401 W. Higgins Road
Hoffman Estates, IL
(847) 884-7000
thestonegate.com

Cruisin’ into Love

Beloit Club, Beloit
(Beloit Club photos)

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.”

Learn more at ccbeloit.com.

Vendors

First Congregational Church, Beloit, Wis.
Beloit Club, Beloit, Wis.
Paul Siksna with G.K. Jams
Beloit Floral, Beloit, Wis.
TLC Photography, South Beloit, Ill.
Veils and Tails, Clinton, Wis.





Beloit Club

2327 S Riverside Dr.
Beloit, WI
(608) 364-9000
ccbeloit.com

My Secret Crush

Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park
acquaviva
(Pulse Photography & Design photos)

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.”

Learn more at acquavivawinery.com

Vendors

Salem Lutheran Church, Sandwich
Acquaviva Winery,
Maple Park
Sweet Dreams Desserts, Sycamore
True Sounds Entertainment, Aurora
Pulse Photography & Design, Yorkville
The Crystal Bride, Geneva

Acquaviva Winery

47W614 IL Route 38
Maple Park, IL
(630) 365-0333
acquavivawinery.com

Wet & Wild Romance

The Edgewater, Madison, Wis.
Edgewater
(Chelsea Matson Photography)

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.”

Learn more at theedgewater.com

Vendors

The Edgewater, Madison, Wis., Madison, Wis.
Chocolaterian, Madison, Wis.
DJ Magic: Andrew Accola, Madison, Wis.
KP Designs: Kirstie Pence, Madison, Wis.
Chelsea Matson Photography, Milwaukee

The Edgewater

1001 Wisconsin Place
Madison, WI
(608) 535-8200
theedgewater.com

A Mother’s Touch

Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Rockford
(Kane Photography photos)

Sydney Cassel’s stubborn nature caused a snag in Peter Holmgren’s original proposal plan.

One night in late February 2014, he had organized an elaborate dinner out, but Sydney was steadfast on staying home and ordering in. Only her father knew of Peter’s plan, as he had found out a few weeks prior when Peter sought his blessing. Because Sydney is notoriously hard to surprise, Peter scrambled to keep his secret. He decided instead to propose in their apartment that night.

“Needless to say, I was more than willing to go out to a nice dinner after the proposal,” says Sydney.

As if to make up for that skipped meal out, the couple’s search for a reception venue brought them right to Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center in Rockford, which is home to a fine dining restaurant and the more casual Alchemy and Big Al’s Bar. With stunning ballrooms and a dedicated banquet staff, Giovanni’s could more than accommodate the couple’s 443 guests while offering close proximity to area hotels, modern decor, and, of course, handmade meals cooked in-house. The venue typically hosts 75 to 100 weddings each year and can accommodate up to 1,000 guests for receptions, rehearsals and showers.

Through Giovanni’s preferred vendors, Sydney and Peter easily chose the finishing details for their big day. For the most part, the couple followed staff suggestions for everything from the florist to the cake.

“The people at Giovanni’s were really what sold us on their venue,” she says. “They were happy to work with us and were just as excited as we were to be a part of our big day.”

The couple were married this past Valentine’s Day, on a day when temperatures with wind chill were in the negative double digits. But inside Giovanni’s grand ballroom, the weather couldn’t stop a perfect reception.

“All of our vendors were not only amazing by themselves, but they really were a cohesive group,” says Sydney. “They worked together beautifully and took care of everything. I honestly had absolutely no worries or concerns leading up to the event. Then the day of the wedding, of course, is one big, beautiful blur.”

But what made their wedding special was the important role of family. Many loved ones traveled to share the day with them, and the couple received many compliments.

“I credit most of the planning and ideas to my mom,” says Sydney. “We have eerily similar tastes, which made it easy for us to work together to make decisions. My mom is quite the party planner, and she really made the day what it was. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

In fact, it was their mothers, good friends themselves, who first introduced Peter and Sydney when they were children. But because they’re six years apart in age, the Rockford natives didn’t form a romantic connection until they were adults.

At the ceremony, Peter’s mother also played a significant role. As a judge, she pronounced them as man and wife. It made the ceremony truly special, says Sydney.

Vendors

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rockford
Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Rockford
By the Dozen, Machesney Park, Ill.
Luxe Productions, Loves Park, Ill.
Event Floral, Loves Park, Ill.
Kane Photography, Rockford

Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center

610 N Bell School Rd.
Rockford, IL
(815) 398-6411
giodine.com

A Friendship Foundation

Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.
(Maison Meredith Photography photos)

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.”

Learn more at ironworkshotel.com

Vendors

Central Christian Church, Beloit, Wis.
Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.
Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Beloit, Wis.
Amy’s Cakes, Janesville, Wis.
Dennis Seeley, Roscoe
Nyrie’s Flower Shop, South Beloit
Julie and Jim Barker, Caledonia
Great Hang-Ups, Rockford

Ironworks Hotel

500 Pleasant St.
Beloit, WI
(608) 362-5500
ironworkshotel.com

Come Rain or Shine

Franchesco’s Ristorante, Rockford
Franchesco's
(Jodi Flynn Photography photos)

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.”

Learn more at franchescos.com

Vendors

Franchesco’s Ristorante, Rockford
Crimson Ridge, Rockford
Paul Singh
Annie Steele Photography, Chicago

Franchesco's Ristorante

7128 Spring Creek Rd.
Rockford, IL
(815) 229-0800
franchescos.com

Reconnection

Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford
(FotoEnvy photos)

Kari and Ricky Johnson met in German class during their sophomore year at Harlem High School, in Machesney Park, Ill. They developed a friendship and began dating their senior year, but broke it off after graduation. As it turns out, the heartbreak that followed was what just what they needed.

“I was about to convert to Catholicism when we reunited three years later,” Kari says. “And Ricky made his way from no faith background to the Catholic faith himself. The rest is history.”

About six months after their reunion, Ricky knew he wanted to plan a special marriage proposal for Kari. He planned to travel with her to a camp in southwestern Minnesota, where Kari had spent many a summer.

“Kari has been going to a Danish family camp every August since she was born, so I planned to make it even more important,” Ricky says. “I had a few close friends and family members in on it, so we could capture the moment on camera.”

Although Ricky intended to wait until the end of the week, he popped the question on Monday night, in front of about 100 people.

“The ring must have been burning a hole in his suitcase,” Kari says.

Through happy tears, Kari said yes and the entire camp sang a celebratory Danish song.

When it came time to pick a wedding venue, the Rockford-area residents knew they wanted a place that had character and style. They found everything they wanted at Prairie Street Brewhouse, in Rockford, a riverside restaurant and brewery with three rooms available for wedding receptions.

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. Kari and Ricky chose the Barrel Room, which accommodates up to 300 people and includes natural light, custom ironwork and more than 80 dimmable paper lanterns that hang from the ceiling.

The Brewhouse can adapt to any style or theme, a trait that worked out perfectly with Kari’s incorporation of her Danish heritage.

“My mom made a Kransekage Danish cake and the Brewhouse ordered us a few bottles of Akvavit, a Danish liquor,” Kari says. “We were also able to have folk dancing since the room was so spacious.”

Kari recommends booking the Brewhouse promptly, because it hosts more than 100 weddings per year. She managed to secure her Nov. 1, 2014, wedding date 15 months in advance, and even then the choices were slim.

“They provide such a great atmosphere, so this is a place to book early,” Kari says. “We agree our wedding day was perfect.”

The Johnsons were happy to wave away agendas and expectations and allow the Brewhouse staff to make their day special.

“Everyone was very helpful and the night went great,” Kari says. “We’re still getting compliments on how gorgeous and spacious the Brewhouse was.”

Vendors

St. Bridget Catholic Church, Loves Park, Ill.
Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford
Cake Creations, Rockford
Sound Productions Inc., Rockford
FotoEnvy, Rockford

Prairie Street Brewhouse

200 Prairie St.
Rockford, IL
(815) 277-9427
psbrewhouse.com

Sparks Fly

Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles
Creek-Bend-Nature-Center

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.”

Learn more at kaneforest.com

Vendors

Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles
Porkchop, Chicago; La Cocinita, Evanston; Grill Chasers, Schaumburg
Junkyard Groove, Naperville
Sweet Dreams Desserts, Sycamore
Wolsfelt’s Bridal, Aurora

Creek Bend Nature Center

37W700 Dean St.
St Charles, IL
(630) 444-3064
kaneforest.com

Hitting a Home Run

DC Estate Winery, South Beloit
(Peer Canvas photos)

Matthew Warren and Erin Trapp are both die-hard Cubs fans, and when they met through a mutual friend in October 2008, their team was in the playoffs. They discovered neither of them could pass up a cold beer and a game of postseason baseball. But the quirky sense of humor they shared and love of laughing dominated the conversation the night they met.

“The Cubs went on to lose that game, but we both feel that we won,” says Erin.

More than five years later, the two Chicago residents were searching for wedding venues. They didn’t have to search long, though. DC Estate Winery’s outdoor ceremony site and ballroom created the beautiful, Tuscan atmosphere they were hoping for, and the vineyard set behind the reception hall promised scenic photos. Hosting about 40 weddings a year, the winery accommodates up to 270 guests at each event. Plus, the Warrens had a personal connection to the location: Matthew’s father Larry did all the stonework for the venue.

“It meant a lot to Matt and me to stand in front of the ceremonial arch that his dad built,” says Erin. “After viewing the venue and meeting the staff, it was the first and only venue we considered.”

Matt and Erin were not disappointed with their quickly made decision. Working with the venue’s certified wedding planner, Tia Lasswell, they began planning for their big day a year out and found that vendors were eager to work with them.

“Every time we booked a new vendor and told them where our venue was, they were all super excited to be working with the staff again and at such a beautiful place,” says Erin. “Tia Lasswell was absolutely amazing. From Day One, she worked with me to make sure my vision was met.”

DC Estate Winery provided a list of approved catering vendors and supplied the tables and chairs, but the couple otherwise had the freedom to make the day their own. Erin and Matt were especially appreciative of the staff’s attention to detail and commitment to their schedule that ensured their wedding went smoothly. They were impressed enough to book their rehearsal dinner there, too.

On June 6, they were pronounced husband and wife in front of 125 guests under sunny skies. During the reception, a photo booth provided by Face Nook Fotos was a hit among the guests and helped to spread the newlyweds’ love of laughter throughout the evening.

“Making each other laugh is the highlight of both our days,” says Matt.

As the sun descended against the vineyard, they were reminded of their engagement on Jan. 13, 2014, while on vacation in Key West, Florida. Matt had carried the ring in his pocket all day to wait for the perfect moment to pop the question on Sunset Pier. Now, the newlyweds don’t have to travel as far to enjoy a romantic escape.

“I love that we get to go hang out and enjoy a glass of wine at the very place we said our ‘I do’s,” says Erin.

Vendors

DC Estate Winery, South Beloit
Thunder Bay, Rockford
The Sweetery, Rockford
Luxe Production, Loves Park
Broadway Florist, Rockford
Peer Canvas, Rockford

DC Estate Winery

8877 State Line Rd.
South Beloit, IL
(608) 481-1565
dcestatewinery.com

Retreat to Nature

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, Utica
Starved-Rock-Lodge
(Kathy Casstevens and Stephanie Casstevens, Starved Rock Lodge photos)

Liz Schmidt met Drew at San Francisco International Airport in 2009. They were seniors from Miami University, in Ohio, on their way to Dharamsala, India, for a semester abroad.

“I was famished and craving some airport-grade clam chowder,” Liz says. “Drew offered to help me find some, and the rest was history.”

After returning to the U.S. and graduating from college, the couple maintained a long-distance relationship until 2011 when they together moved to Santiago, Chile, to teach English for a year. When they returned in 2012, they began living together in Chicago.

In August 2015, Drew and Liz were strolling on the beach, enjoying the end of summer, when Drew felt an urge to be spontaneous.

“We sat on the beach for a long time, watching the sky change colors and stars come out,” Liz says. “When it was getting close to when we needed to head back home, he proposed. He didn’t do it with an engagement ring or down on one knee, but it was spontaneous and genuine, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The couple began searching for a wedding venue in Chicago, but faced difficulty in finding the “perfect space” within their budget. When they started looking outside the city, Starved Rock Lodge quickly became their top choice. The venue inside Starved Rock State Park, near Utica, meshed well with their adventurous personalities.

The couple were lucky to book the venue seven months in advance. Starved Rock Lodge has about 135 weddings per year, and reservations are often scheduled two years ahead of time.

Although the Lodge offers overnight accommodations for wedding parties, the couple opted to camp throughout their wedding weekend.

"We stayed in a tent,” Liz says. “Drew and I thought it would be fun to camp on our wedding weekend in the Starved Rock campground. We had reserved rooms at Starved Rock Lodge for our wedding party and were able to shower and get ready there. Most people thought we were crazy to camp, but for us it was a nice retreat from the wedding busyness.”

About 100 guests attended the couple’s outdoor ceremony overlooking Starved Rock. Although the May 7, 2016, wedding day had gorgeous weather, venue staff had prepared a back-up location in case of rain. The reception took place in the Great Hall with a cocktail hour in the adjacent Starved Rock Room.

Lodge staff offered a host of wedding services for the couple, including a rehearsal dinner and rehearsal breakfast, trolley transportation to take photos at the canyons and seasonal waterfalls, gifts for the bridal party, therapeutic massages for the wedding party, brunch the morning after the wedding, and wedding favors including Starved Rock wine and bubbly, freshly made fudge and popcorn, and souvenir T-shirts. The Lodge has several preferred vendors to help make wedding planning easy.

The Lodge additionally helped to accommodate personal touches to Liz and Drew’s wedding, such as a DIY trail mix bar.

The most memorable part of the wedding day for Liz was simply feeling others’ generosity and love.

“I’ll never forget how loved and supported we felt by our friends and family,” Liz says. “Though we spent many months in anticipation, worry and excitement for our wedding day, everything went pretty smoothly, thanks to the amazing people around us, including our friends, family and the Starved Rock team.”

Learn more at starvedrocklodge.com

Vendors

Starved Rock Lodge, Utica
Equipment from Starved Rock Lodge
Kathy Casstevens and Stephanie Casstevens, Starved Rock Lodge
House of Brides, Schaumburg

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center

2668 E. 873rd Road
North Utica, IL
(815) 667-4211
starvedrocklodge.com

A Fairy Tale Wedding

Goldmoor Inn, Galena
Goldmoor
(Fallon’s Portraits | Design)

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.”

Learn more at goldmoor.com

Vendors

Goldmoor Inn, Galena
Fallon’s Portraits | Design, Galena

Goldmoor Inn

9001 N. Sand Hill Road
Galena, IL
(815) 777-3925
goldmoor.com

A Whole New World

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, St. Charles
Hickory-Knolls
(Ashley Biess - Artistrie Co. photos)

Meagan Wheeler was expecting a proposal from Mike Wizceb, her boyfriend of six years.

Whenever she walked into her St. Charles home, she hoped to see flowers, candles – something that resembled a proposal. But she didn’t.

“So, I didn’t think he would ever really surprise me,” Meagan says.

She got the surprise of her life on Dec. 21, 2012 – the supposed end of the world, according to the Mayan calendar.

That night, Mike and Meagan, former classmates at St. Charles North High School, attended an “End of the World Party.” One of Meagan’s friends suggested the couple take pictures, since Meagan is an avid scrapbooker.

“When Mike and I were up taking photos, he whispered something along the lines of ‘If today really were the end of the world, I’d want to spend it with you,’” Meagan recalls. “Then, he got on one knee and proposed.”

It was a whole new beginning, on a day the world was supposed to end. The man who originally swept Meagan off her feet while they were classmates at Illinois State University had asked her to be his wife.

“I freaked out,” Meagan says. “I was not expecting it at all, and my friends were able to get it all on camera.”

While she was looking for a place to host her wedding reception, Meagan followed some advice from her mother.

“My mom actually suggested that I check out Hickory Knolls Discovery Center because it was right down the road from her house,” Meagan says. “I did, and it was perfect from the beginning.”

Set at the edge of a public park, the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, in St. Charles, is an environmental education center that doubles as a social events venue. It has space for indoor and outdoor wedding ceremonies and accommodates receptions with 175 to 200 guests.

“We chose to only invite family members to the ceremony, which was about 100 people,” Meagan says. “Then, for the cocktails and reception, we invited friends as well. We invited about 170 people total.”

A relatively new venue on the wedding scene, Hickory Knolls is flexible with dates. Tricia Claypool, rental and event coordinator, says the venue only hosts eight to 10 weddings each year.

Meagan and Mike were married on Oct. 11, 2014, almost two years after their epic proposal.

The couple booked their wedding venue well over a year in advance, which was plenty of time, Meagan says.

Hickory Knolls is ideal for a couple who love the outdoors. Live reptiles and other small critters are on display throughout the facility, where wide banks of windows offer a supreme view of prairie surroundings and an oak savanna.

“They let us rent out the entire facility, they gave us ample time to set up the day before and it is set with the most beautiful background,” Meagan says.

Meagan suggests renting out the entire facility, especially if holding a wedding ceremony on site. “It really spreads everything out,” she says. “Make sure you thank Tricia. She did a ton of behind-the-scenes work you don’t even know about.”

Learn more at stcnature.org

Vendors

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, St. Charles
Sweet Dreams Desserts, Sycamore
A Class Act DJ Service
Ashley Biess - Artistrie Co., Chicago
The Crystal Bride, Geneva

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center

3795 Campton Hills Road
St. Charles, IL
(630) 513-4399
stcnature.org

Inside Connection

Kilbuck Creek, Monroe Center
(Ryan Davis Photography photos)

Sara and Mark Henderson are accustomed to having an inside connection in their work, their romance and especially their wedding planning.

As chief meteorologist of a Rockford television station, Mark has spent the past 10 years going inside some exciting stories. As a wedding planner at a local venue, Sara has helped many brides to accomplish a picture-perfect event.

Naturally, Sara had the inside scoop on planning her own wedding, held on June 21, 2014. She knew she wanted an outdoor ceremony at Anderson Japanese Gardens, but it was her personal connections that pointed Sara toward a reception at Kilbuck Creek, a quiet retreat near Monroe Center.

“We saw it and loved it right away,” she says. “We were amazed by how much they were there for us.”

Just opened in 2013 as a wedding, vacation and corporate retreat, Kilbuck sits on 200 wooded acres, and includes a guest house, a new wedding pergola and a banquet hall that seats about 250. About 30 weddings are scheduled this year. The retreat-like setting proved the perfect stage for Mark and Sara’s relaxed reception.

“We’re in our 30s, so we’ve seen lots of weddings, and I had worked with lots of weddings in my job,” says Sara. “We turned the experience upside down. We wanted something traditional, but we wanted people to have fun, too.”

Couples who book their wedding at Kilbuck have full access to the grounds all weekend, so Sara and Mark took full advantage. On Friday evening, they used the Kilbuck lodge for a rustic rehearsal dinner. For their Saturday reception, wedding coordinator Branigan Theden arranged for lawn games to be spread around the property, including a life-sized game of Jenga on the deck. She even helped Mark to plan a special fireworks show, put on by one of his friends.

“They had never done fireworks on the property, so Branigan worked everything out with the owner, and it proved to be a great setting,” says Sara.

The couple met in 2012, about the time Sara returned to Rockford after living in Cincinnati.

“We both went to Valparaiso University, and it turns out we had a lot of the same mutual friends,” she says. “Mark posted something on Facebook, I liked it, and then I noticed we had a lot of the same friends. We started talking, and we haven’t stopped.”

Sara was especially smitten with Mark’s supportiveness of her young daughter, Juliana.

“From day one, he was very cordial, polite and understanding,” says Sara. “He was very different from anybody I’ve ever known.”

About a year later, Mark proposed, during the fireworks show at an outdoor concert. Mark’s television camera crew captured the special moment.

Sara had just about a year of planning, which she says was just the right amount of time to arrange a perfect event and a generous multi-station buffet, which was catered by the owner of Costa’s Pizza & Ristorante, in Byron.

“He just took our ideas and ran with them,” says Sara. “He actually brought pizzas over late in the evening for our guests. I know Branigan has him slated for exclusive catering in 2015 for a good reason.”

Vendors

Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford
Kilbuck Creek, Monroe Center
Costa’s Ristorante, Byron
Ryan Davis Photography, Rockford
Sara Grace, Rockford
Event Floral, Rockford
Pablo & the Rhythmix

Kilbuck Creek

6752 N Kilbuck Road
Monroe Center, IL
(815) 393-3247
kilbuckcreek.com

Master Planners

Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat, Oregon
Maxson-Riverboat
(C+S Wedding & Event Photography photos)

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.”

Learn more at maxsons.net

Vendors

Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat, Oregon
Mark Charvat from Q98.5, Rockford
C+S Wedding & Event Photography, Byron
Merlin’s Greenhouse & Flowers, Oregon
Isabella’s Bridal, Taunton, Mass.

Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat

1469 IL-2
Oregon, IL
(800) 468-4222
maxsons.net

Barn Beginnings

Barnacopia, Polo
(Kat/Eye Studios photo)

Katie and Tyler Oberhelman knew it was love after only two weeks of dating.

“He blurted out ‘God, I love you” on accident, and everything is history from there,” Katie says.

The couple met in April 2012 in Tyler’s hometown of Naperville, just before they began working together at Navistar, an international truck manufacturer. Katie, originally from Geneva, asked him to watch the Chicago Blackhawks game at a nearby bar after work one night. They talked until the bar closed, and continued their conversation in the parking lot until 5 a.m.

“We had so many things in common, it was almost freaky,” Katie says. “Our conversations sparked a mutual interest.”

By 2013, Tyler knew he wanted to propose to Katie, and had many ideas how he’d do it. But in a fit of impatience, he popped the question in Katie’s driveway.

“We were about to leave for a weekend trip to Michigan, and Tyler jumped out of the truck,” Katie says. “He said he forgot to do something. I thought something was wrong with the truck, but next thing I know, he’s down on one knee with a ring in his hand.”

Since the couple had so much in common, it was easy to select Barnacopia, in Polo, for their wedding ceremony and reception. The barn-like building is part bed-and-breakfast, part museum and part social gathering space. Its three floors include antique tractor displays, old cars and several settings that are ideal for wedding celebrations. Katie, a photographer, especially loved taking photos around the place.

Every corner of the unique farm appealed to Katie and Tyler, who didn’t want a “normal” wedding.

“We’re both quirky people who like to wear cowboy boots, so for us to have a ‘normal’ wedding didn’t seem right,” Katie says. “Barnacopia is one-of-a-kind. Once you see the barn – better yet, once you meet [owners] Judy and Gary Bocker – your wedding is guaranteed to be amazing.”

The Bockers began renting the building for weddings in 2013. Since then, they’ve booked about 20 to 25 weddings each year. Katie and Tyler were happy to be among the first.

Despite a little rain, the sun shone down on Katie while she walked down the aisle on June 21, 2014. The cornfields glistened in the background and a rainbow appeared in the sky just in time for the saying of vows.

“There are things outside your control, but if you stay focused on what the day is really about, everything is totally worth it,” Katie says.

To this day, the couple still visit Barnacopia and keep in touch with the Bockers. They appreciate how accommodating and hard-working the Bockers were and how promptly they responded to every request. “I can’t tell who loved it more: us or our guests,” Katie says. “When you say you’re getting married in a barn and will be wearing cowboy boots, people seem puzzled. But once they get there, no further explanation is needed.”

Vendors

Barnacopia, Polo
Oregon Powerhouse BBQ, Oregon
Katie Claire Photography, Fowlerville, Mich., and Kat/Eye Studios, Chicago
Alexis Kay Designs Inc., DeKalb
Country Floral, Polo
Michelle Zinky, Freeport

Barnacopia

2570 NW Branch Road
Polo, IL
(815) 946-2500
barnacopia.com

Simple & Sweet

Pinecrest Grove Community Center, Mt. Morris, Ill.
(Nae’s Photography photos)

Garrett and Kristin Mitchell knew right away that they were compatible.

“We met in March 2011 and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t met before. We had a ton of mutual friends,” Kristin says.

Garrett always thought he’d eventually marry Kristin, and on July 4, 2013, he popped the question at the Byron Dragway.

“He proposed rafter the fireworks were over,” Kristin says.

The couple spontaneously booked Pinecrest Grove Community Center for their ceremony and reception just three months before their April 11, 2015, wedding day. Located in Garrett’s hometown of Mt. Morris, Ill., the facility has high ceilings, exposed beams and a 3,000-square-foot auditorium that can comfortably seat up to 154 people.

“I wanted a very simple, DIY wedding, and the staff went above and beyond to help with everything,” Kristin says.

The day was especially emotional for Kristin, who was fortunate enough to have both her parents present.

“My dad walked me down the aisle, which may not have happened had he not survived his liver transplant,” Kristin says. “My mom was also able to be there, and she is a breast cancer survivor. It was great knowing God let them attend my special day, whereas some people are not that lucky.”

The couple intend to host many more events at Pinecrest Grove Community Center.

“It was an incredible experience,” Kristin says.

Vendors

Pinecrest Grove Community Center, Mt. Morris
Jeti Entertainment, Rockford
Nae’s Photography, Oregon, Ill.
David’s Bridal, Rockford

Pinecrest Grove Community Center

414 S Wesley Ave.
Mt Morris, IL
(815) 734-4103
pinecrestcommunity.org

A Tropical Escape

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford
(Heidi Corby photo)

Christina and Corey Neese hadn’t planned on getting married right away after their engagement in December 2013.

“It wasn’t until one of our good friends passed away at work in fall 2014 that we were convinced life was too short,” says Christina. “I started thinking maybe it’s time to finalize our plans – the sooner, the better.”

Fellow employees at transportation specialist Landstar, the couple were drawn to the intimate setting of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens in Rockford, Corey’s hometown.

“I knew what I wanted,” says Christina, a Byron native. “The scenery indoors made it perfect for a wedding in January. You have beautiful decorations, and it’s very peaceful and laid back. I didn’t have to decorate hardly at all.”

Working with Leslie Campos, operations manager at the Conservatory, the couple booked their Jan. 2, 2015, wedding and reception about three months in advance. Armed with a list of the venue’s accepted vendors, the couple hired Sam’s Ristorante, in Rockford, to cater.

After the ceremony, the tropical grounds were open for exploration to the couple’s 35 guests, including Christina’s 16-year-old son, Logan. He walked his mother down the aisle and gave his blessings before Corey proposed after a family Christmas Eve party.

“I couldn’t have done it without his permission,” says Christina. “Things went so smoothly. I would recommend the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens to anyone.”

Vendors

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford
Sam’s Ristorante, Rockford
Big Day DJ Service, Rockford
Garden Arts, Winnebago

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens

1354 N 2nd St
Rockford, IL
(815) 987-8858
nicholasconservatory.com

Special Attention

Josef Barbados Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, Rockford

Despite their opposing characteristics, Antonia and Christian Benitez have a lot in common.

“He’s more reserved, whereas I’m more outgoing,” Antonia says. “But family and faith are both very important to us.”

The two met in college through mutual friends, and Antonia soon became smitten with Christian’s charm and great smile. She was especially touched by his acceptance of her son, Abrahm.

“Christian loves my son as his own,” Antonia says. “We decided we were totally committed to one another and wanted to raise a family together.”

The couple were already close friends with Josef and Cherri Schwaiger, the owners of Josef Barbados Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, so choosing it for their wedding reception was effortless. As one of Rockford’s finest dining venues, the facility is known for its delectable food and elegant features, such as a granite oyster bar, fireplace, Waterford Crystal and fine art. But the restaurant closes to the public when it’s accommodating a wedding for up to 175 guests.

“They give you special attention,” Antonia says. “They have great generosity and attention to detail. Knowing how they love to take care of people made it an easy choice.”

There’s no fee for renting the restaurant, except for the cost of food and drinks.

“Our guests loved the food, and to this day they rave about how our wedding was the most beautiful wedding they ever attended,” Antonia says.

Vendors

The Cathedral of St. Peter, Rockford
Josef Barbados Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
Steve Ditzell & Blue Lightning Band, Rockford
Event Floral, Loves Park, Ill.

Josef Barbados Steakhouse & Oyster Bar

6860 Spring Creek Road
Rockford, IL
(815) 282-3400
josefbarbados.com

Love Takes Center Stage

Byron Forest Preserve
(Captured by Christina for His Glory photos)

Jaimie Saylor thought it would be a typical dinner with Michael Swartz, her boyfriend of three months, But on Feb. 1, 2014, when their waiter walked out with what they thought was the bill, he instead presented a piece of pie. An engagement ring sat atop it.

“Around the plate, it said, ‘Will you marry me?’” says Jaimie. “I obviously said yes.”

The two were set on having an August wedding that same year and wasted no time preparing.

“We had a few places in mind, but nothing was hitting us with a ‘wow,’” she says. “When my uncle told us to check out Byron Forest Preserve, we fell in love with it.”

Located just across the river from downtown Byron, the 2,000-acre preserve reveals natural landscapes in every direction.

“The people working there were nothing but helpful,” says Jaimie. “Not having to work with a list of approved vendors was a huge part in choosing them.”

On August 9, 2014, Michael and Jaimie were married on stage in front of their 120 guests.

“The weather was perfect, and the venue was so beautiful,” says Jaimie.

A love of family was what first attracted Michael and Jaimie in November 2013, when they first met through website eHarmony. Beyond their admitted physical attraction to one another, their shared Christian beliefs and well-matched personalities solidified love at first sight.

“We definitely knew we were right for each other right away,” says Jaimie.

Vendors

Byron Forest Preserve, Byron
Anna’s Pizza & Pasta, Winnebago, Ill.
Luxe Productions, Loves Park, Ill.
Captured by Christina for His Glory, Rockford

Byron Forest Preserve

7993 N River Road
Byron, IL
(815) 234-8535
byronforestpreserve.com

A Par-fect Match

Geneva National Resort, Lake Geneva
(Matt Mason Photography photo)

Sarah Hertel was mortified when her friend yelled at a stranger to get out of their picture – until she realized who that stranger was.

“I was on a girls’ day in Chicago and suddenly my handsome boyfriend was there in a snazzy tux,” Sarah says. “I couldn’t believe he was with me and not at his station in Japan. Right then, I started to bawl.”

Andrew, a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, flew from Okinawa and whisked Sarah off to dinner on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center, followed by a carriage ride around the city and fireworks at Navy Pier. The day ended with a proposal.

“I hope this fits,” Andrew joked as he got down on one knee.

The couple met during high school in Grayslake, through their church youth group.

“I was attracted to her quietness and passion for God,” Andrew says. Sarah’s mom, Ursula Ahern, thought Andrew’s “craziness” and marvelous heart captivated her daughter.

“They’re a wonderful match,” Ursula says.

Sarah and Andrew were married on June 7, 2015, at Geneva National Resort, in Lake Geneva, Wis., inside the newly renovated, 4,900-square-foot Legends Room, which has a refined-rustic aesthetic. The resort hosts 70 to 95 weddings each year in three indoor banquet spaces and two outdoor ceremony locations, all with lake views.

Andrew and Sarah experienced a stress-free wedding day, thanks to the hard-working staff.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for something – they can accommodate your requests,” Sarah says. “We had a perfect day.”

Vendors

Geneva National Resort, Lake Geneva
Pam Zaccagnini
Matt Mason Photography, Lake Geneva
Kimberose, McHenry
Mori Lee

Geneva National Resort

1221 Geneva National Ave S
Lake Geneva, WI
(262) 245-7000
genevanationalresort.com

A Touch of Sweetness

Hilton Garden Inn, Rockford
(BKM Photography photos)

The Hilton Garden Inn of Rockford offered lovely renovated reception spaces, a full catering service and a convenient location for her guests, but Brianna Monaghan was sold on the venue when she confirmed she could have a candy station set up for guests.

“I have such a sweet tooth, and that was our thank-you gift to our guests, so it was important to me to make sure it was perfect,” says Brianna, who married Cody Palomaki on June 13. Wedding planning began in March 2014, a month after a Valentine’s Day proposal. The two met in 2008 when they were both in college and working at a Pizza Hut.

Although Brianna later relocated for a job in Sioux Falls, it was important to both of them to have their wedding centrally located in Rockford for the convenience of family and friends.

Brianna’s mother, grandmother and sisters first scoped out the Hilton as she planned from two states away. With the help of the Hilton’s event planner, Kelly Plath, distance was no problem.

“The Hilton Garden Inn did the catering, set up all my decorations and the candy bar, and provided cake-cutting service,” says Brianna. The cake was a four-flavor custom creation topped with Minnie and Mickey Mouse figures. A photo booth and lively DJ kept everyone entertained during the reception.

Brianna and Cody say their wedding day couldn’t have gone any better. “The Hilton Garden Inn did a fantastic job,” says Brianna. “It was exactly how I envisioned it!”

Vendors

St. James Catholic Church, Belvidere
Cakes by Audrey, Rockford
Hits DJ Service, Rockford
BKM Photography, Chicago
The Flower Bin, Belvidere

Hilton Garden Inn

7675 Walton St.
Rockford, IL
(815) 229-3322
hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com

A Big Celebration

Oscar Swan Country Inn, Geneva & Galena
oscar-swan
(CAM Photoz photo)

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.

Learn more at oscarswan.com/

Vendors

Oscar Swan Country Inn, Geneva/Galena

Oscar Swan Country Inn

1800 W. State St.
Geneva, IL
(630) 232-0173
oscarswan.com/