Wedding Stories: Dreamy Wedding Backdrops

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.”

(Beloit Club photo)

New Kid on the Block

Beloit Club, Beloit

Beloit Club is ready to host dream weddings. The centerpiece of the project is a brand new clubhouse, resting on a hilltop overlooking their 18-hole golf course, which wedding parties can utilize for photo opportunities, or even a game of golf during the wedding weekend.
“Beloit Club broke ground just a few months prior to the demolition of the previous buildings in March 2014,” says Amanda Barlass, their wedding and event coordinator. “What a transformation, all within less than a year.”
The main entrance, which is wheelchair accessible, has a large chandelier shining above a grand staircase leading up to the main banquet hall. Natural light floods the space, which has a full bar tucked to the side of the room and a balcony facing the back, where there’s an expansive view of the patio, golf course and an additional rentable green space that’s perfect for wedding ceremonies.
To the left of the main banquet hall, large wooden doors slide open to reveal the breakout room, a setting that can comfortably fit up to 40 people. A stone fireplace adds a cozy touch.
“This room is great for rehearsal dinners, intimate weddings or other events,” Barlass says.
Only just inaugurated, the new Beloit Club is receiving reservations for wedding ceremonies, receptions and rehearsal dinners a year in advance. Many club amenities are available for members only, but the facility has plenty of space, including outdoors, that can be booked by the general public for events large or small.
“You can have a group of 16 people in one of our smaller rooms, or you can have up to 250 guests in our main banquet hall,” says Ken McIntyre, the general manager. “The best thing to do is come see the place yourself, and, of course, meet Amanda, who will work with you to achieve your vision. Just come and imagine the possibilities for your special day.”
Being ‘chef driven,’ Beloit Club offers delicious on-site catering, including the wedding cake. The executive chef, Jeff King, can serve anything on the menu or create something new based on the bride and groom’s preferences. A tasting is available after an event is booked.
“We know that everyone has an individual taste, so we’re not a cookie-cutter club that just rolls stuff out,” McIntyre says. “We can provide you options from our catering menu, or we will work to fulfill specific requests. The key is to work with Amanda and Chef Jeff on what your heart desires.”
Beloit Club’s banquet space includes tables and chairs, standard table linens, linen napkins, china service, glassware and silverware.
“We’ll help you arrange any additional rentals requested,” Barlass says.
Barlass and McIntyre recommend booking the facility at least a year in advance, but they encourage engaged couples to always ask about openings.
“You should never feel afraid to inquire,” McIntyre says. “Even if you’re only 45 days away, you never know when something might be available.”
Learn more at

(Kane Photography photo)

A Mother’s Touch

Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Rockford

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.
Ceremony: Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rockford
Reception: Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Rockford
Photographers: Kane Photography, Rockford
Florist: Event Floral, Loves Park, Ill.
DJ/Lighting/Photobooth: Luxe Productions, Loves Park, Ill.
Cake: By the Dozen, Machesney Park, Ill.
Learn more at

Young at Heart

Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort, Rockford

When Ray Montelongo pulled his car into Boylan Catholic High School’s parking lot in April 2001, Megan Ryan was confused why they were stopping where they’d met as teenagers more than 10 years ago. But when he stepped out of the car and kneeled with a ring in his hand, Megan knew it was the perfect place for a marriage proposal.
“It was funny and special at the same time,” says Megan.
Megan and Ray were just 14 and 17 years old, respectively, when they first started dating. After attending different colleges, they reconnected in their hometown of Rockford, rekindling their love for each other’s humor and their natural chemistry. After four years of dating and the launch of Ray’s business, Montel Technologies, the couple were ready to take the next step.
Their search for a wedding venue in the Rockford area led Ray and Megan to Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort. The luxury conference hotel offers five ballroom options for the 35 to 40 weddings hosted there every year, with flexible accommodations for up to 1,200 guests. Each ballroom features shimmering crystal chandeliers, adjoined patios and grand fireplaces – settings that allow for indoor and outdoor events year-round. Every option overlooks the river, and each provides a breathtaking blufftop view.
“The views at Cliffbreakers are spectacular,” Megan says. “We also liked the hotel that’s attached to the facility, and we needed a venue large enough to host all of our guests.”
The Montelongos chose the Renaissance Grand Ballroom to host their 200-guest reception after the ceremony at St. Bridget Catholic Church in Loves Park. After booking their June 29, 2002, date about a year out, the couple worked with the venue’s list of suggested vendors to secure the rest.
The hotel’s in-house catering made planning dinner and drinks selections one of the easiest steps of the planning process – and also Megan’s favorite. Six months ahead of the big day, the couple saw their full table setup and sampled each dish of their selected menu, which happened to include lobster and steak.
“Our guests raved about the food,” says Megan. “I was so busy talking to everyone at the wedding that I didn’t actually get to eat anything. But the tasting was very memorable.”
Their wedding celebration was perfect in every way, even though the weather was a muggy 80-something degrees. A banquet manager oversaw the reception planning, to keep things on schedule.
“Everything was gorgeous,” Megan says. “The staff was amazing. They were bending over backwards to get everything perfect for us. Cliffbreakers is still creating life’s most important memories and I really can’t say enough good things about them. Everyone said they did a wonderful job.”
More than a decade later, Megan and Ray still receive complements about their big day at Cliffbreakers.
Ceremony: St. Bridget Catholic Church, Loves Park
Reception/Catering: Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort, Rockford
Learn more at

(Maison Meredith Photography photos)

Rustic Love

Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.

Casey Taillie didn’t expect to meet his future bride during his first week of college.
But Katie Dempsey caught his eye within days of starting classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The two became fast friends after consistently seeing each other at church.
“Our faith was a big factor,” Casey says. “We realized we had similar interests and values, and after six months I finally mustered the courage to ask her out.”
The couple dated for the remainder of their college years. “Marriage was a hot topic during our senior year,” Katie says. “We were intentional about discerning whether or not God was calling us to married life.”
In August 2014, just three months after their graduation, Casey arranged an elaborate proposal that started at a winery and continued at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., where the couple camped, kayaked and hiked. They ended the trip in Madison.
“We went to dinner at the same restaurant where we had our first date,” Katie says. “Afterward, we went to Monona Terrace, where we used to end many of our dates. It was at the terrace, looking out over the lake, where Casey proposed and I gladly accepted.”
The couple explored many venues for their reception, but it was Ironworks Hotel in Beloit, Wis., that captured their hearts. Just up the road from Katie’s hometown of Roscoe, the recently renovated hotel is embellished with accents that pay tribute to the Industrial Age. The entrance canopy is constructed from steel I-beams that hold equipment from an early Beloit factory. Light pours across the hardwood floors in the banquet hall from windows that reveal scenic river views. The ballroom can hold up to 200 people or be divided into four meeting spaces.
“Having all four rooms gives you plenty of space, a great view of the river, your own private entrance and many more options for possible layouts,” Casey says.
The couple booked Ironworks just eight months before they were married on May 30, 2015.  Celebrating with friends and family, they enjoyed a delicious feast catered by Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, the hotel’s in-house restaurant and a favorite dining spot for Katie’s family.
Around 10 p.m., as the celebration continued, hotel staff delivered a mashed potato bar.
“It was a huge hit with our guests,” says Casey. “We highly recommend springing for late-night snacks.”
Guests also enjoyed Ironworks’ full bar, dance floor and open patio on the river, Casey says. Because his family is from Connecticut, many out-of-town wedding guests stayed upstairs at Ironworks’ 18 traditional rooms and 36 suites.
The couple both appreciate how helpful and professional the Ironworks team was during the planning process, an experience they say was ‘incredible.’
“Ironworks did a great job,” Casey says. “We received many compliments on how wonderful the whole hotel was.”
Ceremony: Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, Beloit, Wis.
Reception: Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.
Catering: Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Beloit, Wis.
Music/DJ: Luxe Productions, Rockford
Photographer: Maison Meredith Photography, Madison, Wis.
Flowers: Nyrie’s Flower Shop, South Beloit, Wis.
Bride’s Gown and Groom’s Tuxes: Amelishan Bridal Shop, Huburtus, Wis.
Cake/Cupcakes: Madison Sweets, Madison, Wis.
Videographer: Vanilla Video, Chicago
Makeup and Hair: B. Elliott’s Salon, Roscoe
Learn more at

(Jodi Flynn Photography photo)

Sunshine-Filled Love

Rocky Waters Vineyard and Winery, Hanover

From their first visit to Rocky Waters Vineyard and Winery in 2013, Andrew Richmond and Erinn Strauch fell in love with it.
“We went to the winery and had a nice time with Kyle Spahn, the son of the owners,” says Andy. “Once we saw the place, we thought it was beautiful and knew we wanted to have our wedding there.”
Through their next several visits, the couple learned more about the winemaking process, sampled more of Rocky Waters’ bottles and started to brainstorm ideas for their big day. It became an exciting process for the couple, who hadn’t previously known much about wine.
In fact, Andy and Erinn, from Morrison, Ill., and Chadwick, Ill., were first drawn to each because of their mutual interests in hunting and enjoying time outdoors, when they met in 2008 through friends. The picturesque vineyard, rolling hills and lush site next to the property’s lake was the perfect setting for two nature lovers to be wed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Rocky Waters also made what became one of Andy’s favorite wines, the award-winning Cedar Lake Blush.
“After having a little too much wine, I told Erinn that I figured out what makes it so good – that it’s sunshine in a bottle,” says Andy. “She makes jokes about that still.”
They worked closely with Spahn over the next six months to plan out the rest of their ceremony set for Aug.16, 2014. By renting the venue’s fisherman’s cabin alongside the lake, they were able to schedule an entire weekend to relax and enjoy with their nearly 100 guests. Andy says photos of the cabin don’t do it justice.
“Kyle was awesome to work with,” says Erinn. “One of my favorite parts was using the fisherman’s cabin. We had the rehearsal dinner there, which was really accommodating for everyone. And after the wedding, the preacher announced that everyone was welcome inside for wine samplings and hors d’ oeuvres. That was super nice to have everyone at the wedding stick around for a few minutes and enjoy it.”
The relaxed atmosphere seemed to carry over from their engagement, when the couple spent a leisurely, private day at home, after Andy proposed in 2012.
“I had worked the night shift and had gone home to take a nap. When I woke up, he was there and proposed! I don’t even think I was awake enough,” laughs Erinn. “I remember asking him ‘What?’ several times.”
Spahn also set up a tractor-pulled wagon to transport guests conveniently from the parking lot to the wedding site and back, touring through the vineyard’s charming views. The reception was later held at Gil’s Ballroom, in Clinton, Iowa, with close to 200 additional family members and friends.
“Everything went perfectly,” says Andy. “Our guests loved it, too. A whole bunch of them didn’t even know that there was something like that in the area where they could go.”
Nearly a year after their ceremony, Andy and Erinn still visit the winery to enjoy a glass of wine and take it all in.
Ceremony: Rocky Waters Vineyard and Winery, Hanover, Ill.
Reception: Gil’s Ballroom, Clinton, Iowa
DJ: Hit the Lights, Morrison, Ill.
Photographer: Jodi Flynn Photography, Chadwick, Ill.
Cake: Nifty Cakes, Mount Carroll, Ill.
Hair: Platinum Salon, Freeport, Ill.
Learn more at

(FotoEnvy photo)


Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford

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.”
Ceremony: St. Bridget Catholic Church, Loves Park, Ill.
Reception/Rehearsal Dinner: Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford
Catering: Main Street Meat Co., Roscoe, Ill.
Cake: Cake Creations, Rockford
Music/DJ: Sound Productions Inc., Rockford
Snacks/Favors: Edwards Apple Orchard, Poplar Grove, Ill.
Photographer: FotoEnvy, Rockford
Flowers: Florists’ Transworld Delivery, Downers Grove, Ill.
Bride’s Gown: David’s Bridal, Rockford
Limo: Van Galder, Rockford
Learn more at

(Kaite Claire Photography photo)

Barn Beginnings

Barnacopia, Polo

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.”
Ceremony/Reception: Barnacopia, Polo
Catering: Oregon Powerhouse BBQ, Oregon
Photographer: Kaite Claire Photography, Fowlerville, Mich., and Kat/Eye Studios, Chicago
Gown: Alexis Kay Designs Inc., DeKalb
Floral: Country Floral, Polo
Limo: AAA Quality Limousines, Loves Park, and FlagLimo, Aurora
Cake: Michelle Zinky, Freeport
Learn more at

DC Estate Winery Wedding by Peer Canvas Rockford Photographer
(Peer Canvas photo)

Hitting a Home Run

DC Estate Winery, South Beloit

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.
Ceremony/Reception: DC Estate Winery, South Beloit
Catering: Thunder Bay, Rockford
Photographer/Videographers: Peer Canvas, Rockford
Flowers: Broadway Florist, Rockford
Linens: Beautiful Day Linens, Rockford
DJ: Luxe Production, Loves Park
Cupcakes: The Sweetery, Rockford
Photobooth: Face Nook Foto Booth, Rockford
Transportation: Van Galder Bus, Rockford
Hotels: Ironworks Hotel & Hampton Inn, Beloit, Wisconsin
Learn more at

(C+S Wedding & Event Photography photo)

Young Love

Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat, Oregon

Brooklyn and James Morris were just teenagers when they met and fell in love.
“It was summer 2012,” Brooklyn says. “We met by complete chance at the local fair, ByronFest. James went with his friend Matt, and I went with my friend Dayna, who was dating Matt.”
Brooklyn was initially attracted to James’ smile and sense of humor, while James fell instantly for her long, dark hair. The couple grew up just a few miles away from each other – James in Byron and Brooklyn down the road in Stillman Valley.
“When I realized she loved me as much as I loved her, and when I knew that we wanted the same things out of life, I knew I wanted to get married,” James says.
Brooklyn adds, “I realized he was the one God made me wait so long for. I knew there was no one else I’d rather have.”
James proposed to Brooklyn in front of both their families, on her 18th birthday, Dec. 21, 2013.
“He made me think I was getting an iPad for my present,” Brooklyn says. “When I finally fought my way through all of the tape that he’d wrapped around the gift, he got down on one knee and offered me the most beautiful ring. Neither of us said a word, because I knew his question and he knew my answer. It was the sweetest moment.”
The couple planned their June 20, 2015, ceremony and reception at Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat in Oregon, a longtime favorite for casual dining, banquets and dinner cruises on the Rock River. It’s also where James used to work.
Nearly every part of the riverfront property was used for their wedding, says Brooklyn.
They started with a rehearsal dinner on the authentic Paddle Wheel Riverboat, which is docked near the restaurant and cruises up and down river with as many as 129 people. The wedding ceremony was held just outside the restaurant, on a sprawling pavilion and gazebo that can hold up to 200 people. Then, the party moved to a reception inside the glass-enclosed riverside dining room, which reveals panoramic views of the river.
Brooklyn’s mom, Michelle, was highly impressed with Maxson and particularly enjoyed the wooded scenery.
“It’s a beautiful place on its own, so I loved the fact that we didn’t have to go crazy with decorating,” Michelle says. “We were able to keep it simple and tasteful, and the owners [Frank and Nancy Semmerling] were more than willing to work with us to achieve whatever look we were after.”
The Semmerlings worked hard to help Brooklyn’s wedding dreams come true. “They made me feel like a princess all day,” says Brooklyn. “I got anything and everything I wanted, and I couldn’t have been happier to be there.”
Maxson’s flexible head chef can prepare most any type of wedding feast, from pizza to rainbow trout. Michelle especially appreciated the accommodating menu.
“Variety and flexibility – that’s what I love most about Maxson,” Michelle says. “We were able to get kids’ meals as well as special plates for those with allergies, and everything was delicious.”
Looking back on it, Brooklyn remembers her wedding day as a success.
“It meant so much to me, and our guests had nothing but great comments.”
Catering/Ceremony/Reception: Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat, Oregon
Music/DJ: Mark Charvat from Q98.5, Rockford
Photographer: C+S Wedding & Event Photography, Byron
Flowers: Merlin’s Greenhouse & Flowers, Oregon
Bride’s Gown: Isabella’s Bridal, Taunton, Mass.
Learn more at

(Bella Pictures photo)

For the Love of Teaching

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, Utica

It was in 2007 when Ashley Chirempes, a mutual friend of Jocelyn and Rick Kotrba, first introduced the couple. It was only natural, then, that Ashley also suggested the venue where Jocelyn and Rick would hold their wedding eight years later.
“We both wanted something unique,” says Jocelyn. “We didn’t want a traditional banquet hall – that just wasn’t for us.”
After touring the scenic landscape and 75-year-old lodge at Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, in Utica, the two teachers knew they wanted to book it for their Memorial Day weekend wedding.
Starved Rock Lodge hosts about 120 indoor and outdoor weddings throughout the year, with options including the Great Hall, Canyonside Cabin, Sunrise Shelter and Canyonside Courtyard. Indoor or outdoor settings can accommodate up to 200 guests.
The Lodge also has an in-house event catering service, Starved Rock Cuisine, whose selections caught the couple’s attention. As a vegetarian bride and a meat-loving groom, the two needed a menu that would satisfy both dietary preferences.
“The food was fantastic. Not only were the portions generous, but everything tasted delicious as well,” says Jocelyn. “We received many comments from guests after the wedding about how good the food was.”
It was Rick’s humor, knack for listening and dedication to education that ultimately won Jocelyn’s heart. Rick proposed to her in June 2013, right after dinner, managing to still surprise her during an intimate moment at their Glen Ellyn home.
In the two years they were engaged, the couple traveled to Starved Rock four times to explore and prepare for their big day.
“I think that really enhances the wedding day, to not only get comfortable with the venue itself but to have a special bonding experience there,” says Jocelyn. “For us, it was so great to not be rushed with things. This gave us time to research vendors and really make each aspect of the wedding our own.”
A year before the wedding, Jocelyn attended Starved Rock’s annual bridal expo, where preferred vendors showcase their services, offer samples and interact with guests face-to-face. Jenny Roulston, sales manager at Starved Rock and the couple’s wedding coordinator, says the venue has been hosting the January expo for 10 years.
On May 24, 2015, Jocelyn and Rick were married under scattered clouds at the venue’s Sunrise Shelter, with Ashley and other close friends and family at their side. Before the ceremony, there were on-and-off rain showers that challenged their photos, but everything worked out in the end.
“Due to the weather, we were unsure if we would be able to get married outside. We had to go back and forth, inside and outside,” says Jocelyn. “Starved Rock had prepared the inside and outside for us. They made it so seamless, and because of that it wasn’t stressful at all.”
The 5 p.m. ceremony was followed by a cocktail reception in the Starved Rock Room and dinner served in the Great Hall.Many of the 140 guests extended their stay so they could explore the park’s many trails and their iconic scenery.
“It was wonderful,” says Jocelyn. “I couldn’t be happier with how it all went. I really feel lucky.”
Ceremony/Reception: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica
Cake/Desserts: Maureen “Mo” Stabler at Starved Rock, Utica
Photographer: Bella Pictures, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Gown: David’s Bridal, Lombard
Tuxes: Men’s Wearhouse, Lombard
Bridesmaid Dresses: After Six
DJ/Music: Joe Beck Entertainment Plus, Bloomington, Ill.
Florist: Flowers Plus, Streator, Ill.
Linens: SueZ’s Linens and Things, Blackstone, Ill.
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(Unposed Photography photo)
(Unposed Photography photo)

A Thousand Words

Goldmoor Inn, Galena

Ginny Griffin broke her arm in the summer of 2007, but it didn’t stop her from joining a running club near her home in Chicago. To fellow runner Sofoklis “Sof” Nikiforos, the cast made Ginny stick out from the pack.
“She looked pretty hardcore,” he says.
Both were attracted to the other’s laid-back personality and love for outdoor adventures. During a camping trip six years later, at Fort Custer, Mich., Sof proposed in between dinner and s’mores.
“He asked me to open this tin to look for supplies to clean the dishes, and an argument ensued, because I was like, ‘The cleaning supplies are inside the cabin. I was just in there!’” says Ginny. “But I opened the tin and saw the ring. I must have looked at it for five minutes, speechless, before I looked up to see him on one knee. I was shocked, in a very happy way.”
The couple’s love for the outdoors also brought them to the picturesque landscapes of the Goldmoor Inn, in Galena, in search of a wedding venue. Perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River, the privately owned inn is surrounded by abundant gardens on 21 acres, all picture-perfect settings for indoor and outdoor wedding ceremonies year-round. The bed-and-breakfast hosts nearly 60 weddings each year, with seating for up to 150 guests.
“According to Ginny’s three-year-old nephew, the inn looks like a castle,” Sof says. “It was our last stop after checking out seven places, and when we got there, it was just picture-perfect with the Mississippi River in the background.”
Working with Goldmoor’s in-house wedding coordinator, Erica Wall, the couple secured their May 31, 2014, wedding date nine months out. The venue’s list of preferred vendors made planning easy for the Chicago couple, and it connected them to one of their most important guests: photographers from Unposed Photography in Galena.
“They really helped us keep a schedule,” says Sof. “We got to have a lot of fun while they took photos. The whole day was like Christmas times 100. It was fun the entire way through.”
The couple were married on the Goldmoor’s lawn before moving with their 32 guests to the patio, where they enjoyed dinner served from Goldmoor’s kitchen, craft beer from Galena Brewing Co. and dancing as the sun descended behind the Galena hills. When storm clouds threatened to cut the reception short, photographers recognized an opportunity.
“They started taking pictures of us for about five minutes,” says Ginny. “And they finally got this shot, and it’s a great shot, of lightning in the background over the hill.”
A majority of the guests stayed at the Goldmoor over the weekend, enjoying its food and the unique personality in each of its 18 suites. True to their adventurous nature, the couple started their big day with a group 5K run and capped off the weekend with a send-off brunch. It felt as though the property was theirs for the weekend, says Ginny.
“Galena has a lot of charm,” she says. “We got really positive feedback from all of the guests – everyone loved the hills and how gorgeous the area was. Who knew this was in Illinois?”
It’s an image neither of them will forget. Wedding photos line the walls of their Wrigleyville residence.
“We still keep in touch with our photographers and officiant to this day,” says Ginny.
Officiant: The Rev. Jess Farlow
Ceremony/Reception/Catering/Cake: Goldmoor Inn, Galena
Photography: Unposed Photography, Galena
Flowers: Valley Perennials Florist, Galena
Bakery: Sweetheart Bakery, Galena
Beer: Galena Brewing Co., Galena
Nails: Knot’s A Problem, Galena
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(Gena Marie Photography photo)

Best Friends in Love

Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford

As Becki Cash walked out onto the terrace of the Burpee Museum of Natural History, she could envision walking down the aisle to marry Eric Wright. Without needing to look at any other venue, she knew it was the place.
“I felt the feeling in my stomach that I imagined I would feel on the day of our wedding, and I was done,” she says.
Perched above the Rock River in downtown Rockford, the Burpee Museum has four rental spaces to accommodate both indoor and outdoor weddings ranging from under 60 guests up to 230. The museum typically hosts 15 to 20 weddings a year, in addition to other private events, and each rental comes with indoor tables and chairs, set-up and take-down service, and full museum access for all guests. It’s what gave Becki’s wedding a special touch.
“Having access to the entire museum was really unique because our guests needed to kill time while we were taking pictures,” she says. “A lot of people commented on how beautiful it was. People were able to take pictures by the bridge and by a few dinosaurs!”
The Riverside Room & Terrace allowed the two nature lovers to take advantage of the May weather for their outdoor ceremony. Many of the details for the event came from the venue’s list of preferred vendors and at the guidance of the museum’s event coordinator. Although she felt everything went perfectly, Becki says she especially appreciated the work of her photographer, Gena Sweet, and the floral arrangements by Balloons and Flowers by Haley, which helped to create a memorable and unique event.
Becki and Eric met in 2012, when a mutual friend invited them to a concert of country singer Easton Corbin. Shortly afterward, they went out on their first date to see a movie and were the only two people in theater. They’ve been inseparable ever since, says Becki, as their relationship grew through shared values and constant communication.
On May 23, 2015, Becki experienced the moment she had imagined. Standing next to the Rock River on the sun-soaked terrace in her hometown, she and Eric, who is an Indiana native, said their ‘I do’s’ in front of 150 guests.
“I was so nervous and excited, all at the same time, and I took it all in,” says Becki. “I knew I would never get that feeling back again. I was arm-in-arm with my dad and about to marry my best friend. Not a lot can top that!”
The outdoor setting perfectly mimicked the start of their engagement a year before, in May 2014. During a family party, Eric asked Becki to join him out in the backyard, and when he took her hands and said, “You know you’re my best friend, right?” Becki knew he was going to pop the question.
“When I turned around everyone was crying and laughing,” says Becki. “It was just the way I would have chosen it to be: simple and sweet.”
Ceremony/Reception: Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford
Cake: Patricia’s Patisseries, Cherry Valley
Photography: Gena Marie Photography
Florist: Balloons and Flowers by Haley, Rockford
Catering and linens: Elsberry’s Edibles
Décor Rental: Embellish Specialty Rentals, Rockford
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A Tropical Escape

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford

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 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 had given his blessing 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.”
Ceremony/Reception: Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford
Catering: Sam’s Ristorante, Rockford
Music: Big Day DJ Service, Rockford
Flowers/Centerpiece: Garden Arts, Winnebago
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(Nae’s Photography photo)
(Nae’s Photography photo)

Simple & Sweet

Pinecrest Grove Community Center, Mt. Morris, Ill.

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.
Ceremony/Reception: Pinecrest Grove Community Center, Mt. Morris
Music/DJ: Jeti Entertainment, Rockford
Photographer: Nae’s Photography, Oregon, Ill.
Bride’s Gown: David’s Bridal, Rockford
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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.
Ceremony: The Cathedral of St. Peter, Rockford
Reception/Catering: Josef Barbados Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
Music: Steve Ditzell & Blue Lightning Band, Rockford
Flowers: Event Floral, Loves Park, Ill.
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(Captured by Christina for His Glory photo)

Love Takes Center Stage

Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill.

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.
Ceremony/Reception: Byron Forest Preserve, Byron
Catering: Anna’s Pizza & Pasta, Winnebago, Ill.
Music/Lighting: Luxe Productions, Loves Park, Ill.
Photography: Captured by Christina for His Glory, Rockford
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(BKM Photography photo)

A Touch of Sweetness

Hilton Garden Inn, Rockford

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!”
Ceremony: St. James Catholic Church, Belvidere
DJ: Hits DJ Service, Rockford
Photographer: BKM Photography, Chicago
Cake: Cakes by Audrey, Rockford
Flowers: The Flower Bin, Belvidere
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