Northwest Woman

Dreamy Wedding Destinations

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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 spectacular options. Here, we highlight some of our favorites, and share the experiences of couples who recently said “I do.”

(Laura Hamp photo)

Hearts On Fryer

GIOVANNI’S RESTAURANT & CONVENTION CENTER • ROCKFORD, IL

Melissa Klotz never imagined that a fast-food job in high school would lead her to the man of her dreams.

But that’s what happened when Melissa, who grew up in Rockford, worked at Culver’s with Kyle. Although they worked at separate locations, Melissa noticed Kyle almost immediately. “I didn’t know anything about him, but I found him extremely attractive,” she says.

A year later, when a Culver’s colleague was married, Melissa and Kyle attended, each with separate dates. They both got “ditched,” and spent the night getting to know each other. Not long after, in 2006, they started dating, and ended up attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee together.

In October 2011, Kyle surprised Melissa during the couple’s annual trip to Chicago, where they visited Navy Pier with family and friends. Much to Melissa’s chagrin, Kyle insisted on having a caricature of the couple drawn.

“People who know me know I’m a cheapskate,” she says. “I thought it was a big waste of money.” But Kyle had other plans. He had arranged to have the illustrator create a drawing showing Kyle on one knee, proposing to Melissa, and asking, “Will you marry me?”

Melissa was stunned when the illustrator revealed his work.

“I had zero clue of what was going on,” she says. “I wondered why there were so many people standing around watching us.”

After 1.5 years of planning, the happy couple married on June 1, 2013, at Melissa’s hometown church, St. James Catholic in Belvidere. To accommodate their more than 300 guests, the couple needed a large reception venue. Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center in Rockford, which hosts about 50 weddings a year, was a natural choice.

“I went with Giovanni’s because Kyle’s sister had her reception there a few years ago,” Melissa says. “I knew they could accommodate our large number of guests.”

Giovanni’s has three spaces – two in the ballroom and one dining room – that are roomy enough for receptions and rehearsal dinners. The staff can assist the couple with specialty lights, décor, custom menus and other services, including the use of a photo booth.

The venue is now even more memorable, following extensive renovations and updates, including new chairs, dance floor and wallpaper; vivid artwork; and neutral color schemes.

While planning the wedding, Melissa met several times with the staff, to review details and sample the chef’s one-of-a-kind banquet menu. She selected a meal that included chicken and tenderloin, mashed potatoes and a jubilee of carrots and squash. “The food was amazing,” she says. “It was perfect.”

Melissa handled her own decorations, which included purple table linens. “They let me create the ballroom the way I envisioned it,” says Melissa, who lives and works in Milwaukee, where she’s employed as a nanny. Kyle works as a human resource generalist for Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee.

“It made it more welcoming for my guests,” she says. “The night went smoothly. The wait staff was excellent, and the bartenders were fun. Everything just fell into place. I would recommend Giovanni’s to anyone.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she adds. “It was everything I dreamed about.”

VENDORS

Ceremony: St. James Catholic Church, Belvidere, Ill.
Reception/Catering: Giovanni’s, Rockford, Ill.
Cake: Cakes by Dea, Marengo, Ill.
Photography: Laura Hamp Photography
Gown: The Crystal Bride, Geneva, Ill.
Floral: Event Floral, Rockford, Ill.

Luck of the Draw

KILBUCK CREEK • MONROE CENTER, IL

Karyn McDonald never wins contests, so she quickly forgot the entry she made for a wedding giveaway at Kilbuck Creek, a private resort and wedding venue located south of Rockford, near Monroe Center, Ill. As it turns out, winning that contest six months before her wedding came in pretty handy.

“My husband’s family lives on a farm outside of Durand,” she says. “He wanted to host our wedding out there, for sentimental reasons, but we were looking at logistics, and it would have been too difficult.”

Set on more than 200 quiet, wooded acres, Kilbuck Creek proved the perfect alternative, with its laid-back atmosphere and the guest accommodations that Karyn and David wanted. On June 22, 2013, the couple were married in the backyard of the guesthouse, on a patio that comfortably fit their nearly 220 guests.

“We had the groomsmen walk down the stairs, and the bridesmaids walk in from the other side, and they met up and walked down the aisle,” Karyn says. “And then I walked out of the French doors.”

Following the ceremony, the couple and their guests enjoyed lawn games in the yard and a reception inside Kilbuck’s barn-like banquet hall, which seats about 250. Stationed just outside the hall, a crew from Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza, which is popular at Rockford’s City Market, baked custom pizzas.

“We did an afternoon wedding, so we didn’t want a full sit-down meal,” says Karyn. “Both my husband and I wanted it to be more outdoorsy than real formal. We weren’t sold on other options, and a friend mentioned that Woodfire caters.”

Laid-back picnics have always been fun for Karyn and David, who met at an employer’s picnic in September 2011.

“My current boss interviewed me for a job, and then his wife interviewed me. After I left, they looked at each other and said, ‘We need to introduce her to David,’” Karyn recalls. “So after they hired me, they had a barbecue at their home and that’s where we met. Mark, my boss, takes all the credit for it.”

By the next fall, the two knew they’d found their perfect match. They planned a November day trip to Chicago, to celebrate their first year, but David had a bigger idea. A social media aficionado, he recorded the entire trip on Facebook and Instagram, completely unbeknownst to Karyn.

“I had no idea that he had set up a hashtag, and all day was sending photos and messages,” she says. “Anyone who follows him knew it was coming, but I didn’t know, because I’m never on there. He took a picture of the ring in the morning and said, ‘Today is the day I’m going to propose.’ It was funny, because he was playing on his phone all day.”

That evening, at the end of Navy Pier, David proposed. He shared a photo of the couple online, and friends quickly responded with their own happy and excited photos.

The morning of their wedding was less than picture-perfect, with a heavy downpour lasting most of the morning. Wedding coordinator Branigan Theden helped the bride to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

“I knew the wedding was supposed to be in the lawn outside, but what if it got muddy?” recalls Karyn. “We waited until the last minute to make a decision, but once we were certain, Branigan just called up a team and they came and set up. It wasn’t wet or muddy at all out there.”

About 10 weddings are scheduled this year, Kilbuck’s first for hosting nuptials. Theden was among those brides, and says she loves making others’ wedding dreams come true, just as hers did.

“My favorite thing about Kilbuck is that you can have an indoor or outdoor wedding event and they’re both beautiful,” says Theden. “We always strive to make our brides’ days worry-free.”

A Fireworks Kind of Romance

GRAND GENEVA RESORT • LAKE GENEVA, WI

Lake Geneva, Wis., has always been a special retreat for Jackie and Matt Munson, who work at their family’s boat dealership in Lakemoor, Ill. When selecting a place for their nuptials, it was a close and familiar option.

Although they searched all over, they couldn’t, at first, find just what they wanted. Then, the couple stopped by Grand Geneva Resort, where they had spent many vacations.

“It was clean, it was updated, it offered great customer service, two venues in one, good food – basically everything,” says Jackie. “It really helped us, because at a lot of the places we looked, we would have ended up compromising on something we wanted.”

At Grand Geneva, the couple found warm and welcoming staff members who were eager to help out in any way possible. Their wedding coordinator, Kaitlin Wille, helped to arrange every detail, including a special view of the fireworks on the couple’s July 4, 2013, wedding.

“They had set aside a ballroom for our guests that had a big window overlooking the property, so that everyone could have a front-row view of their amazing fireworks,” says Jackie.

This 1,300-acre resort includes three ideal outdoor ceremony sites and four large ballrooms, one of which can hold up to 600 guests. Because it’s a resort, it also includes several lodging options, two restaurants with rehearsal dinner space, and plenty of fun activities.

About 200 guests joined Jackie and Matt for a ceremony under the pavilion, which offers removable sides and views of the resort’s two golf courses. A resort trolley shuttled guests and the wedding party to and from the ceremony. Afterward, they celebrated inside one of the newest ballrooms, the Maple Lawn room.

“It was my favorite, because it was so set back from everything else,” says Jackie. “It had all sorts of amenities right there. It’s so out of the way that you can really enjoy it all to yourself.”

Things have a way of falling into place for the couple, who met in 2006 at a bar. Jackie was working there; Matt’s parents were hosting an event for their boat business. “He was very persistent, and he just kept asking me out,” recalls Jackie.

In 2011, Matt crafted a grand proposal. “I took my dad skydiving for his 50th birthday, and Matt and my dad had planned a proposal behind my back,” says Jackie. “As we came down, he had this huge banner that said ‘Jackie, will you marry me?’ and as I landed, Matt was there on one knee, with a ring.”

By December 2012, the couple had locked in plans to hold their wedding at Grand Geneva. “We didn’t know what we wanted to do,” says Jackie. “At first, we wanted to go away somewhere. We didn’t want to settle for getting married locally, but it ended up being perfect at Grand Geneva. They took great care of us.”

Even though it was a busy holiday, the staff ensured that everything – including a live wedding band from the Fox Lake, Ill., area – came off perfectly.

“The holiday weekend was challenging, just because they had so much going on, but it didn’t affect anything for us,” says Jackie. “They arranged to have separate valet parking just for our guests, and guaranteed a great room block. I know we’re definitely going back for every anniversary!”

(Nels Akerlund photo)

Mother Knows Best

PAVILION AT ORCHARD RIDGE FARMS/COPPERSTONE INN • ROCKTON, IL

Maybe mother does know best. At least, that’s Marisa Cincola’s conclusion. It’s her mother’s love for tennis that first brought Marisa and husband John together in 2011.

“I met him because he’s a professional tennis instructor in Crystal Lake,” says Marisa. “My mom’s been taking lessons for 20 years at the Racket Club in Crystal Lake. Since John started there six years ago, my mom would just rave about him. We both have strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. She always said, ‘Oh, you two would make a great pair.’”

Pretty soon after their first date in March 2011, the two realized what Marisa’s mom already saw: their compatible sense of humor, athletic pursuits and laid-back personalities.

By autumn, Marisa and John were considering marriage and casually reviewing potential venues. They didn’t want a country club or a conference center, but they were intrigued by The Pavillion at Orchard Ridge Farms, in Rockton, Ill.

“We loved the pictures we saw online. The photos looked great, so we made an appointment to visit in November,” she recalls. “In the meantime, John was saving up for a ring, but I had no idea when we’d be getting engaged.”

The two made an appointment with event coordinator Kacie Benjamin, and visited in November 2011. “John said, ‘We’re going to take a little trip,’” Marisa says, “But he wouldn’t tell me where.”

Turns out, they had an appointment to tour the Pavilion, and would stay the night at Copperstone Inn, the seven-suite luxury bed and breakfast seated on the Pavilion’s 130 rural acres. Copperstone offers a spa, bar, theater, Jacuzzi and gourmet breakfasts. The Pavilion typically hosts about 77 weddings each year, some as private ceremonies.

As Marisa and John arrived at the Inn, the staff encouraged them to tour the property, and to be sure to visit the 10,000 square-foot, barn-like banquet space at night.

“We were scheduled to go to dinner downtown, and my husband suggested we look around the property before we go,” says Marisa. “So we show up at the Pavilion and the chef from Copperstone is there, working in the small kitchen, and a table is set up. The fireplace was lit.”

Little did Marisa know that the entire Copperstone staff was helping John to set the stage for a romantic proposal. “They said there were lots of engagements at Copperstone, but we were the first at the Pavilion,” she says.

On Nov. 17, 2012, the couple returned to celebrate their wedding, following a ceremony in nearby Beloit, Wis. Since Marisa’s family is from Cary and John’s is from Moline, some family members stayed inside the luxurious Copperstone suites, while others stayed in Beloit.

Marisa says she’s grateful for the Pavilion’s helpful staff, and especially credits the venue’s preferred vendors, which include custom catering and cocktails from Abreo, photography by Nels Akerlund and wedding coordinator Taneel Fraley, who was essential to Marisa’s big day. “She was worth every penny,” she says.

Looking back, Marisa is thankful that she took her mother’s advice.

“I never would have thought that my mom knows who is the right man for me,” Marisa says. “Fortunately for me, she did know what I needed – and she finally has someone to talk tennis with! Mom adores him, and always boasts about how she picked out her son-in-law.”

VENDORS

Ceremony: St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Beloit, Wis.
Reception: Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms, Rockton, Ill.
Catering: Abreo, Rockford
Cake/Cookies: Patricia’s Patisserie, Cherry Valley, Ill.
Gown: Katherine’s Bridal, McHenry, Ill.
Floral: Event Floral, Rockford, Ill.
Music/DJ: Mad Hatters, Buchanan, Mich.
Photographer: Nels Akerlund, Rockford, Ill.
Videographer: I Do Video by Leo

(Kyle Hale photo)

Friends by Fate

EAGLE RIDGE RESORT & SPA • GALENA, IL

Matt and Courtney Hatchel know how to have fun. During their weekend-long wedding on June 1, 2013, they enjoyed plenty of it at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, in Galena, Ill.

“To us, the wedding was about our union and a public declaration of our love together,” says Courtney. “Since our guests were coming from far away, we wanted to make sure this was a fun trip, that you didn’t just show up to things and then leave for home.”

A Thursday rehearsal dinner in downtown Galena left all day Friday for the men to golf Eagle Ridge’s championship golf courses, and the women to enjoy the on-site spa and nearby shopping. Friends from the couple’s adopted home state of Ohio stayed in the resort’s private villas, while others enjoyed the resort’s massive 225-acre private lake.

“We didn’t look at other places,” she says. “When we visited the first time, we didn’t meet our planner right away. We met with a sales person, and we said, ‘You don’t have to sell us, we know this is what we want.’”

Fun and friendship have always come easily to the couple, who first met as mutual friends of Courtney’s brother in 2005, at an OAR concert in Chicago.

“We got along, but I thought nothing of it,” she recalls. “A couple of years after that, I had moved to Cleveland, and I got a call from my brother saying, ‘Hey, remember Matt? He’s moving to Cleveland – could you show him around?’ I felt for him, because I’d done the same thing a few years before. I decided to take him under my wing and show him around.”

It was a natural connection. She was from Neponset, Ill., near Kewanee; he was from Winchester, Ill. Also, they both enjoyed marathon running, a hobby that lent itself perfectly to Matt’s proposal on Dec. 22, 2011.

After the pair returned from a long run near Courtney’s family farm, Matt offered to pick up the mail at the end of the long, winding driveway. Inside was a chocolates bag, something that Courtney thought was a gift from the mailman to her father.

“Matt was talking about races, and how we always stick together, and even if one of us pulled ahead, we always met up at the end,” she says. “And I’m thinking, what’s his scheme? Because he’s a schemer.”

Outside on the lawn, Matt revealed the diamond ring hiding inside the chocolates bag. “I’m still looking through this ski mask at him, and he’s down on his knee asking me to marry him,” she says. “I was shocked and crying and happy.”

Since the couple lives in Columbus, Courtney’s mother, Sue Blake, often stepped in to coordinate with Eagle Ridge wedding planner Jackie Sarnicki.

“Jackie took amazing notes – she was amazing,” says Sue, a retired art teacher. “She remembered everything Courtney said. She’d check every little detail. That is so comforting, especially when you’re dealing with long-distance visits from the bride.”

Cake was an important part of Courtney’s wish list, and Eagle Ridge’s chef didn’t disappoint. “We had a special request for tres leches cake, a Mexican cake,” says Sue. “Their chef happened to be known for tres leches cake, and our guests said it was the best wedding cake they’d ever had.”

For couples planning their own weddings, Sue recommends asking lots of questions, and planning far ahead. Many dates at Eagle Ridge are already booked for 2014.

“Tell them what you want,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask them to help create your vision. Look at lots and lots of options, and if you’re very all-over-the-place, they’ll help you to narrow it down.”

First Comes Love

ROCKFORD WOMAN’S CLUB • ROCKFORD, IL

Stephanie and Billy Kulpa wanted a one-stop shop for their wedding. What they ended up with turned out even better.

Set inside the classy Rockford Woman’s Club, in downtown Rockford, their wedding celebration included a ceremony and reception in two beautifully decorated rooms capable of holding about 175 guests.

“The ceremony was held downstairs, and there was a live band set up,” says Stephanie. “Afterward, we went upstairs for a cocktail hour, and the Woman’s Club staff took the downstairs and turned it into a dining room in one hour. It was so nice, as a bride – there was nothing to worry about.”

Nearly 40 wedding celebrations happen at the club each year, and many take advantage of the Art Deco architecture, wood paneling and dark wainscoting inside. That artistic elegance spares brides from needing complex decorations, says Nancy Whitlock, club president and events organizer.

The club’s elegance was also a big selling point for Stephanie, whose photographer made stunning use of the setting, even in the bride’s room, where the ladies prepared.

“I’m going through my photos now, and I can’t think of a photo that looks bad, because everything there was so amazing,” she says. “Everything is beautiful. If you look around, there’s wood paneling and crown moulding – it’s very romantic.”

The couple officially met when they attended Harlem High School, in Machesney Park, Ill., but they weren’t friends until after a birthday outing they both attended in January 2008.

“He had approached me and asked if I had any single friends,” she says, laughing. “I got his number that night. He claims that he actually wanted my number, but thought that I was with somebody else.”

As their friendship developed, Stephanie saw that Billy was outgoing, caring, incredibly driven … and great at romantic surprises, especially on Thanksgiving Day in 2010.

“He surprised me with an early morning breakfast,” says Stephanie. “We were living in an apartment, so he had stored flowers and food in a neighbor’s fridge. It was six in the morning, and he walks in with all this food, and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ He brings in another tray, and I say, ‘I can’t eat any more.’ Then he shows me a bowl that has a ring inside of it.”

As they planned their wedding, they knew they wanted to host it on Memorial Day weekend, to accommodate out-of-town family and friends. They discovered the Woman’s Club during a friend’s wedding there, and knew they’d found a setting for their May 25, 2013, wedding.

“There was a much more personal touch with Nancy, Rose and the staff, and a lot more personal service than we would have had elsewhere,” says Stephanie.

The club usually books weddings no more than a year in advance. It doesn’t maintain a list of preferred vendors, so it allows most any certified caterer to operate in the catering kitchen. While Stephanie collected wedding notes in a giant binder and asked lots of questions, she also relied on Whitlock for pulling things together. Looking back, she’s relieved to have had a helping hand.

“Nancy was with us every step of the way,” says Stephanie. “They stick with you through the whole thing. It went without a hitch. We had a hiccup with a few things with other vendors, but we didn’t even realize it, because Nancy was there to handle everything.”

The happy couple is expecting their first child.

VENDORS

Ceremony/Reception: Rockford Woman’s Club, Rockford, Ill.
Catering: ABC Catering, Rockford, Ill.
Cake: Cakes by Dea, Rockford, Ill.
Florist: Shirley Grace Floral, Rockton, Ill.
Photographer: Scott Morgan, Des Moines, Iowa
Music/DJ: Luxe Productions/Ted O’Donnell, Rockford, Ill.
Ceremony Music/DJ: Awestruck, Rockford, Ill.
Gown: Brandi’s Bridal Galleria, New Glarus, Wis.
Tuxes: Men’s Warehouse, Rockford, Ill.

(Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek photo)

Familiar Friends

STARVED ROCK LODGE • UTICA, IL

If weddings are a celebration with your family and best friends, then Stephenie and Matthew Lunger celebrated with some very familiar company. For nine years, Stephenie worked at Starved Rock Lodge, in Utica, where she was married this July 6.

“Matthew thought maybe it wouldn’t have that special quality we wanted for our wedding, since I had worked there and seen how everything worked,” says Stephenie. “But I think knowing it actually made it even more special for me.”

With the help of her former coworkers, the celebration unfolded perfectly, with event planning, photography, catering and more handled by familiar folks. Essential to the entire process was sales consultant Margie VandeWyngaerde.

“Margie was so patient,” says Stephenie. “We originally planned for 150 people, but about 185 showed up. The space can only hold 200 – she made magic happen. I had lots of decorations and she was completely flexible with whatever I needed.”

Each summer, the lodge, located inside one of Illinois’ oldest state parks, hosts about 120 weddings, most in summertime. Like the Lungers, most couples choose an outdoor setting, in places like the Sunrise Shelter or the courtyard; the Great Hall, which can seat up to 200 guests, often serves as a backup venue in case of rain.

Throughout the day, the Lungers also took advantage of the park’s other wedding services, including photos by Marketing Director Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek.

“Kathy took about 2,000 photos,” says Stephenie. “We took pictures in the St. Louis Canyon, and we rode the trolley around the park.”

Strolling the heavily wooded, 2,630-acre park has always been a favorite pastime for the couple, who first met in high school. About 10 miles from the park, in LaSalle, Ill., Stephenie played in the marching band. Although Matthew went to a different school, his friends, who knew Stephenie, invited him to watch her perform. They started dating in 2005, Stephenie’s junior year.

The two continued their romance throughout college, while Stephenie attended Western Illinois University, and Matthew attended school in Colorado before joining the U.S. Army. It was in 2011 that he found a perfect moment to propose, during a winter retreat in Colorado.

“It was February 2011, and there was a storm, so pretty much everything was shut down,” recalls Stephenie. “There was this area that was shut down, but he made a bunch of excuses to have it opened up, so we had dinner and then we went out there by the mountains and he proposed.”

Once she started planning the wedding, Stephenie found a strong resource in Margie, who connected her with local vendors and many helpful to-do lists. “I’m the queen of procrastination,” she laughs. “So, I waited ’til five months ahead of time to get a lot of things done. Margie held my hand the whole time. She was definitely a resource for learning what needs to be done, and when.”

Stephenie considers her Starved Rock wedding coordinator a true miracle worker. Margie says she’s just happy to help a familiar friend.

“It’s wonderful knowing that she knew the ins and outs of a wedding,” she says. “Even though she knew so much about how we work, she still chose to enjoy her day with us.”

On the big day, everything came together perfectly.

“I can’t stress how helpful everybody was,” she says. “They say it’s supposed to be your happiest day, but nobody tells you how stressful it is. They did a lot to help make everything perfect for us.”

VENDORS

Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Photo Booth: Flash Foto, Utica, Ill.
Florist: CM Cakes & Flowers, Dixon, Ill.
Photography: Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek/Starved Rock
Music/DJ: Joe Beck, Bloomington, Ill.

(Ky Boyd photo)

Rainy Day Romance

GOLDMOOR INN • GALENA, IL

It’s been said that rain on your wedding day brings good luck and an abundant family. If that’s the case, then Erica and Emerson Buchanan are in for a long, happy marriage.

Despite a rainy, cool spring and gloomy weather forecasts, their May 5, 2013, wedding happened without a hitch. When the rain appeared early in the day, the staff at Goldmoor Inn, 9001 N. Sand Hill Road, Galena, was prepared for the worst.

“We had chosen to do the ceremony in the grass, but [owner] Patricia Smith and [wedding coordinator] Erica Wall rearranged everything for the weather,” says Erica. “The day ended up being sunny and nice.”

That afternoon, Erica and Emerson were wedded at the bed-and-breakfast’s outdoor pavilion, a large canopy with seating for nearly 125. A popular space for weddings year-round, the 18-room, family-owned inn features several indoor and outdoor venues that can host anywhere from two to 125 guests. Its sweeping views of the Mississippi River, abundant gardens, 3-acre front lawn and charming exterior make it a romantic setting for about 55 couples each year.

“We look like a castle, perched on a bluff,” says owner Smith. “The turret suite is our only round room. It’s two floors up, and it’s the only room with a panoramic view. While the bride is getting ready, she can see everything happening downstairs.”

In addition to an on-site wedding planner, venues and in-house catering, The Goldmoor offers spa services, bachelor/bachelorette party accommodations, rehearsal dinner settings and easy access to several Galena-area vendors, as well as gourmet food. Erica was delighted with the inn’s chicken Marsala and pulled pork dinners, both made from scratch at Goldmoor.

“I actually didn’t taste the food beforehand,” she admits. “We had this idea of doing a pig roast, and a chic picnic. The food was absolutely amazing.”

Erica first met Emerson in the eighth grade, when he moved to Galena from Dubuque. The two remained friends in high school, continuing their friendship online after Emerson enlisted in the Army. It was during a trip to Minnesota that they made a romantic connection.

In summer 2011, while home on leave, Emerson proposed to the diehard Chicago Cubs fan. “We went to Little Cubs Field, in Freeport, because I had always told my family that I wanted to be proposed to on Wrigley Field,” she says. “He had blindfolded me, and when he took it off, he was in the grass on one knee.”

Emerson completed his tour in Korea, while Erica planned their wedding from home. They legally married in spring 2012, while Emerson was still overseas. While planning the wedding, Erica found eager and helpful assistance from Goldmoor staff members, who guided her through every step.

“The day before the wedding, for the rehearsal, I wasn’t completely sure what song I wanted to play when I walked down the aisle,” says the bride. With some advice from wedding coordinator Erica and input from the bridesmaids, the group successfully selected Bruno Mars’ “Marry You.”

Reflecting on their rainy day experience, the couple encourages future brides to plan for rain, and to work with a venue that offers personal service even on the busiest of days.

“We were really worried that, if it was cold and rainy out, nobody would want to stay for the reception,” says Erica. “There was another wedding going on inside, so there was no way we could have gone there, and there were lots of high schoolers in the dining room for prom. But even though it was so busy, they definitely took good care of us.”

VENDORS

Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Goldmoor Inn, Galena, Ill.
Photography: Ky Boyd Photography
Gown: David’s Bridal
Tuxes: Seno Formalwear, Freeport, Ill.
Floral: Flowers by Su, Warren, Ill.
Hair: Kim Sinagra/Suite 5 Salon, Galena, Ill.

Love is Brewing

PRAIRIE STREET BREWHOUSE • ROCKFORD, IL

For a couple who met at a Wrigleyville party, and got engaged at a winery, it was fitting to hold their wedding reception at a historic brewery building.

But, really, it was the urban charm and wide choices that attracted Matt and Margo Brandt to the Prairie Street Brewhouse, located in Margo’s hometown of Rockford, along the Rock River.

“It was the uniqueness of the space,” says Margo. “We’ve never seen anything like it. The jagged stone and the old bricks, the boat docks and the spacious rooms just made it an awesome place for celebrating.”

It also offered intrigue and creative planning. “There wasn’t a room we didn’t use,” adds Matt. “There was a lot of flexibility with the different spaces and the dock. It realy facilitated hosting a reception that wasn’t cut from the traditional mold.”

Nearly 100 couples visit the Brewhouse each year to celebrate their weddings. While Margo and Matt used it for their reception only, some couples also hold ceremonies on the riverside docks, and celebrate in one or all three of the banquet spaces inside. The Barrel Room, the largest of the three, holds about 300 people. Still undergoing extensive renovations, the building includes lofts upstairs and a new brewpub, scheduled to open soon.

“We love where we’re located,” says events manager Rachael Pennell. “We pride ourselves on being a unique venue, but unlike many boutique venues, we can hold about 300 people.”

During the couple’s July 4, 2013, wedding, guests enjoyed a classic summer barbecue, with large grills outside and a separate caterer’s appetizers and side dishes inside. A bluegrass band played on the docks during cocktail hour, and later in the evening, an electric violinist accompanied the DJ. Although the party paused to watch Rockford’s downtown fireworks, the festivities continued until late.

Because the Brewhouse has no preferred vendors, the couple enjoyed wide flexibility.

“Matt is a big foodie and relishes choice,” says Margo. “Neither of us wanted to have fixed options on the food or how the evening played out. If people were still having a great time, we wanted to make sure that it didn’t have to end.”

Matt and Margo first met in 2007, prior to a Cubs game. “He approached me, and we hit it off right away,” Margo says. In March 2012, Matt’s romantic side emerged, when the couple ended a spring break in Napa Valley, Calif.

“We were snowboarding in Tahoe, but the snow wasn’t great, since it was March,” says Margo. “We decided to go to Napa for the rest of our vacation. We went to the winery, and as it was closing, Matt asked if I wanted to walk up the hill. I was tired from snowboarding, so I didn’t want to go. But then we walked up, and it was a beautiful view of the valley. Before I knew what has going on, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.”

The Brewhouse was the second place the couple visited while planning their wedding, and it quickly became their favorite. Dates fill up quickly there, and some weddings are already scheduled for 2015, says Pennell. Margo hadn’t intended to host her wedding on a holiday, but Pennell and the Brewhouse staff were extra accommodating.

“We thought that having the wedding on the Fourth of July was going to be an issue,” says Margo. “Ultimately, though, it was a big part of what made our day that much more special and unique. I’m so happy that it worked out how it did.”

Vendors

Ceremony: St. Peter’s Cathedral, Rockford, Ill.
Reception: Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford, Ill.
Wedding Planner: Lauren Wave Weddings, Rockford, Ill.
Catering: Uncle Bub’s, Chicago; Giovanni’s, Rockford, Ill.
Cupcakes: Sweet Mandy B’s, Chicago
Florist: Event Floral, Rockford, Ill.
Photographer: SweetCheeks Photography, Lake Zurich, Ill.
DJ: Luxe Productions, Rockford, Ill.
Electric Violinist: Edith Yokely, Chicago
Bluegrass Band: Wood Street Bloodhounds, Chicago

Simply Classical

MENDELSSOHN PERFORMING ARTS CENTER CAMPUS • ROCKFORD, IL

Jessica Kelly always dreamed of having a traditional wedding, complete with a gorgeous church and organ music. It was perhaps divine intervention, then, that brought Jessica and Justin to Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center (MPAC), in Rockford.

Her family lives in Harvard, Ill., but local churches were too small to accommodate more than 200 guests. Justin’s family was in Houston; guests were coming from across the country and needed an easy place to travel to.

“I wasn’t crazy about the idea of getting married in a banquet hall,” says Jessica, a devoted Christian. “Not to mention, we had a very short engagement, at only six months, so venues had a limited availability anyway.”

So, the couple turned to Rockford, a convenient travel destination. Jessica thought she had the perfect venue, but things fell through. That’s when she discovered Mendelssohn, and fell in love with its new Mendelssohn Hall, an historic church recently re-opened as a music performance and arts education space, which doubles as a wedding venue.

Surrounded by stained glass, historical architecture and a nondenominational environment, the religious couple was married there on June 28, 2013.

“The organ opened with the fanfare from Charpentier’s Te Deum Prelude, and I descended the winding staircase from the balcony on my father’s arm,” says Jessica. “My dream came true, and yes, we stuck with tradition and exited the ceremony to the organ playing [Felix] Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March.’”

Established as a fine music club in 1884, MPAC maintains three spaces ideal for weddings. Mendelssohn Hall is the largest, holding up to 400 guests, with banquet seating, a full-service kitchen and a smaller chapel downstairs. Next door, the Emerson House can hold up to 90 for a ceremony and/or reception inside the living room of an old mansion. MPAC’s Emerson Auditorium, inside the Starr Center, has also hosted smaller musical weddings. Among them, more than 25 weddings are scheduled for this year.

Jessica and Justin have known each other for most of their lives, growing up as family friends in suburban Chicago. At one point, the families moved apart, but stayed in touch. By 2008, Justin was working in Milwaukee, at a law firm where Jessica worked occasionally. As they rekindled their longtime friendship, they discovered they had far more in common. They shared the same theological views, and enjoyed good sushi, Chicago sports teams and Scrabble games.

Last Christmas, following a celebration with Justin’s family, he quickly assembled a marriage proposal. After picking up Jessica from the airport, Justin took her to dinner in downtown Greendale, Wis., in suburban Milwaukee.

“I was totally unsuspecting,” says Jessica. “In fact, I was walking at too quick a pace and he had to circle around a little further than anticipated to get me to slow down and just relax for a quiet evening walk.”

In front of the old Village Hall, Justin lowered himself to one knee. A mom across the street shouted congratulations and offered to snap a picture.

Especially because of the tight planning timeframe, Jessica is thankful for MPAC’s administrative assistant, Ellen Larson, who helped to organize the day and coordinate with musicians.

“Ellen was great, and coordinated a few times for me to walk through with family and our wedding coordinator,” says Jessica. “It helped to get really comfortable with the layout of the building and map out the choreography of the entire day. It enabled us to have the day run completely on time, flawlessly.”

Maybe it was a stroke of the divine.

Vendors

Ceremony/Reception: Mendelssohn Hall, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center, Rockford, Ill.
Catering: Private, by a friend
Cake: Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Greenfield, Wis.
Photography: Black Olive Photographic, Milwaukee, Wis.
Florist: Pepper Creek, Rockford, Ill.

Dino-mite Duo

BURPEE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY • Rockford, IL

A museum may not be your first thought for a wedding reception, but that atypical setting is exactly what attracted Michaeleen and Oliver Chmell to Rockford’s Burpee Museum of Natural History.

“We didn’t want a traditional banquet room or restaurant, so we looked around at different unique venues,” she says. “We finally just Googled ‘alternate venues in Rockford,’ and Burpee popped up.”

Rockford’s natural history museum includes several spaces for wedding ceremonies and receptions, from the high-ceilinged auditorium to the Riverview Room & Terrace that overlooks the Rock River and the new riverwalk. Couples also have held ceremonies in the 400-seat outdoor amphitheater, and in front of Burpee’s famous dinosaur, Jane.

During the couple’s June 29, 2013, wedding reception, the Riverview Room and an adjacent, folding-wall classroom became a gorgeous, fabric-draped setting for dinner and dancing. Classroom whiteboards were cleverly disguised, and a row of cabinets easily transformed into a dessert buffet.

The couple’s nearly 220 guests had the added benefit of exploring the museum, which was open to guests during the reception. “Everybody’s been telling me they really enjoyed the way we set it up,” says Michaeleen. “Between the dinner, the museum, the terrace and the riverwalk, there was a lot there for our guests to see and do.”

Oliver and Michaeleen first met at Boylan High School, in 2006. The two made an instant connection during Spanish class, and continued their friendship outside of school.

“He really took me outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “He’s also a little quirky.”

The summer after Oliver graduated, they began dating, and their romance continued throughout college, as he attended Notre Dame and she attended the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Five years later, Oliver proposed, while they were on their way to a Christmastime ski retreat in western Colorado.

“When you’re driving through the mountains, you either go through a tunnel or over a mountain,” says Michaeleen. “So, we went over the mountain and ended up at Loveland Pass. He pulled over at a lookout point and wanted to get out. It was freezing, it was late, and I didn’t want to go. But he convinced me to get out, and we could see so many stars in the sky. Then, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.”

By early the next summer, they’d decided on Burpee, where they found a staff that was more than accommodating, and always encouraging. The day before the wedding, staff members went out of their way to aid the setup, despite the opening of a brand-new museum exhibit.

“They always let us know when there were other events, and they’d say, ‘If you’re around, you should check out how it looks today,’” says Michaeleen.

Even when their wedding planner left the museum a month before the wedding, their new coordinator, MacKenna Atteberry, quickly took charge. “When my coordinator left, she left the number of one of the directors,” says Michaeleen. “I called that person and MacKenna got back with me right away. I was in constant contact with her, and she was so helpful.”

Vendors

Ceremony: St. James Church, Belvidere, Ill.
Reception: Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford, Ill.
Catering: Altamore’s, Rockford, Ill.
Photography: Brian Milo, Rockford, Ill.
Florist: Balloons and Flowers By Haley, Rockford, Ill.
Wedding Coordinator: Laura Ahern, Cherry Valley, Ill. Wedding Rings: Anderson Metal Works, Rockford, Ill.
Live Band: Men of Our Times, Rockford, Ill.
Uplighting: Luxe Productions, Rockford, Ill.
Gown Alterations: Norma’s Expert Alterations, Rockford, Ill.

Weekend Escape

WHITE PINES INN • MT. MORRIS, IL

When you live and work in the concrete jungle of Chicago, there’s no playground like the quiet forests around Mt. Morris, Ill. While Alex and Kathryn Evers dated, White Pines State Park became a weekend home.

“I grew up in northern California near the redwoods, and then I moved to North Carolina in the Appalachians,” says Alex. “Kathryn’s family would take her outdoors and camping all the time growing up. White Pines was close to Chicago and lots of people we knew didn’t know it was there.”

The weekend trip became so familiar that Alex, a charter school teacher in Chicago’s south side, often joked about getting married there. On July 20, 2013, the dream became a reality, as the couple celebrated with about 150 guests at White Pines Inn’s wedding canyon, located across from the state park.

The six-acre canyon can be arranged nine different ways, from the quiet waterfall at site six to the Euro-designed tent at site eight. Couples can choose their own site, and there’s never more than one wedding at a time. On site four, Alex and Kathryn enjoyed a long, stone-covered aisle and platform, set before the tall canyon walls.

“They have a full rock wall in the background, and the seating is in a semicircle, so your ceremony is naturally shaded and cool,” says Alex. “It was a great benefit on an 80-degree day in July.”

For their reception, the couple used White Pines’ newest facility, LaBranche, located in nearby Polo, Ill. A larger, more modern complement to the traditional log-cabin White Pines lodge, LaBranche holds up to 340 guests in a banquet setting that includes stone fireplaces, chandeliers and cedar log walls. But it was the food, pork tenderloin and chicken, catered by White Pines, that was the biggest hit of the night.

“It was perfect,” says Alex. “One of my groomsmen is a high-end chef in Miami, and he was stuffing his face.”

Throughout the weekend celebration, the couple, wedding party and close family enjoyed several of the nearly 25 cabins located inside White Pines. While some cabins are family-sized, Alex stayed inside the bridal suite, which includes a Jacuzzi, shower/steam room and an outdoor barbecue grill.

“I got kicked out of the suite at one point, because it was big enough for eight women to get dressed, and do hair, makeup, all that stuff,” he says.

Alex first met Kathryn in Chicago in 2006, after he had returned as a transfer student from an Indiana college. He found a job at an Applebee’s where Kathryn worked, and the two became fast friends. Alex was “adopted” by Kathryn’s family, developing a tight bond with her father.

“We’re extremely close, especially since my father passed away,” says Alex. “I got his permission to marry her, and he was the only one who knew about it at the time.”

During his father-in-law’s birthday in 2012, in front of both families, Alex arranged a complex proposal at dinner. “After dinner, Kathryn thought they were bringing the cake, and she couldn’t figure out why they put the tray in front of her,” says Alex. “She was being distracted by a family member as she was being served, so I grabbed the ring box off the tray and got down on one knee.”

Long before their wedding, the couple was sold on White Pines, a place that many Chicago friends and family had never heard of, but one which offered a surprising number of big-city amenities. Alex says he’s especially impressed with owner and events coordinator Beth Henderson, who’s willing to do just about any service necessary, down to floral and honeymoon arrangements.

“At first, we thought they didn’t have a lot of options,” Alex says. “But we realized this is just like something you’d find in the city. As we looked online, we realized it has so much. We ended up surprised by how many choices we had.”

Vendors

Ceremony: White Pines Inn Wedding Canyon, Mt. Morris, Ill.
Reception/Catering: White Pines LaBranche, Polo, Ill.
Cake: Sweet Dreams Desserts & Catering, DeKalb, Ill.
Photography: L. D. Nicklaus, Chicago & Iowa
Music/DJ: Luxe Productions, Rockford
Florist: Alter flowers by White Pines. Others by Groom’s mother

Living the Dream

MIDWAY VILLAGE • ROCKFORD, IL

Little girls often dream of their wedding day. A little girl named Shayleigh always dreamed of being married at Midway Village Museum, in Rockford.

“We had a field trip when I was in school, and we’d taken pictures there in high school, before dances and prom,” she says. “It was so beautiful, I thought it would be gorgeous for a fall wedding.”

As it turns out, she was right. The historical village was the perfect backdrop for Shayleigh and Craig Nelson’s Oct. 13, 2012, wedding. Even when a downpour threatened the outdoor ceremony, the staff was ready with a solution; the wedding party and nearly 200 guests were whisked inside the museum, as an easy alternative. Afterward, they celebrated late into the evening at the village’s renovated 1905 barn.

“The wood floors and rafters are gorgeous, and the only lighting hangs near the walls, like lanterns,” says Shayleigh. “It went well with our rustic theme, and gave off a soft glow.”

The couple met in October 2009, through mutual friends from Winnebago and Pecatonica. Craig was a few years older and had a daughter; Shayleigh took on the girl as her own daughter, and the couple later gave her a sister.

Craig’s romantic Christmas 2011 proposal was almost ruined by a medical emergency he suffered the night before. Even though he spent the night in a hospital, he made sure there was a special gift under the tree.
“He had a note inside a ring box, with his high school ring,” Shayleigh says. “He put a note in there that said, ‘Will you marry me? This will have to do until you turn around.’ So I turned around, and he was with our daughters, on one knee, holding a ring.”

The couple booked Midway Village not only because of Shayleigh’s longtime dream. She also found it was reasonably priced, and offered personal service, helpful vendor recommendations, and ample photo opportunities.

“Plan enough time for pictures, because there are a ton of photo possibilities here,” she says. “You have to allow time to enjoy the scenery there.”

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