Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill. (Luis Hermosillo photo)

Wedding Dreams: A Bride’s Inside Guide

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, The Hancocks Imagery photo
Beloit Club, Beloit (The Hancocks Imagery photo)

Trusting the Process: Beloit Club, Beloit

Eric and Lindsey Eggum met in high school, but they never really spoke much. Years later, the two reconnected at a mutual friend’s going-away party.

“The second he walked in the door I knew it was something different,” Lindsey says. “He has this way of lighting
up the room and making everyone around him laugh. We’ve been together ever since.”

One month into dating, Lindsey knew she wanted to get married. She waited patiently for what ended up being a magical proposal.

“We love going to Cubs games together, and we have a friend who works for the Cubs, so we went on a tour of the stadium,” Lindsey says. “At the end of the tour, Eric got down on one knee behind home plate. He brought our friend, who is a photographer, and he captured it all. After that, Eric took me to our favorite rooftop bar and had all of our best friends there to surprise me. My best friend from Charleston was there, as well as my other best friend who had just had a baby. It was the most special day.”

The couple knew they wanted to get married in Beloit after touring the rooms at Ironworks Hotel. With their accommodations set, all they needed was a venue. Less than 10 minutes away, Lindsey stumbled upon Beloit Club and was instantly hooked.

Even the locker rooms were stunning.

“Our family and friends had nothing but great things to say,” she says. “Everyone loved it and commented on how beautiful the venue was.”

The couple booked Beloit Club a year in advance for their ceremony and reception. The on-site wedding coordinator, Megan, helped the day to run smoothly as planned.

Beloit Club also handled the catering.

“Their gnocchi is literally to die for,” Lindsey says. “Our guests loved the chicken, too. I had people texting me about the gnocchi the next day, though. People seriously underestimate vegetarian dishes.”

Lindsey’s last piece of advice? Trust the process, and trust your vendors.

“They know everything and will make sure it’s all done,” she says. “I had no clue what I was walking into at our reception, but it was a beautiful surprise. Every wedding is unique in its own way. Everyone has a different style and color palette and adds their own special character. Our wedding was very simple and detailed to us.” – LG

Learn more at

Catering/Ceremony/Reception: Beloit Club, Beloit
DJ: Dominick from Luxe Productions, Loves Park, Ill.
Photographer: The Hancocks Imagery, Rockford
Videographer: Weltzin Media, Pingree Grove, Ill.
Flowers: London Avenue Designs, Rockford
Bride’s Gown: Viero Bridal, Chicago
Bakery: By the Dozen, Machesney Park, Ill.
Hair: Kayla Laloggia, Rockford
Makeup: Arch, Rockford

Cliffbreakers Events, Rockford (Mindy Joy Photography photos)
Cliffbreakers Events, Rockford (Mindy Joy Photography photos)

New Era of Elegance: Cliffbreakers Events, Rockford

Alanna Cieslek knew what she wanted, so she went after it.

Instead of waiting for John Kveton of Berwyn, Ill., to ask her out, Alanna, of Palatine, Ill., took the bull by the horns and asked John on a date when they were both students at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

“We met through the dodgeball club and through mutual friends,” Alanna says. “John was president of the club, which caught my eye, and we’re both very athletic. I knew he was special before we even started dating. I’m so glad I listened to my intuition, because once we started dating, all of the pieces seemed to fall into place.”

After the couple dated for four years, Alanna knew she was ready to marry John. But it took John an additional three years to pop the question. He proposed when the couple visited Portland, Ore., in the summer of 2017.

The pair had rented a house whose backyard garden had a beautiful archway. That first night in town, John asked Alanna if she wanted to get some snacks. She agreed, and John exited the room. Alanna went to the car, thinking he was there. The car was empty, so she went looking for him.

“I saw a glimpse of him in the garden, and I went over there thinking, ‘What the heck is he doing?’” she says. “He took my hand, and we went over to the bridge, and he proposed. ”

When it came time to select a wedding venue, the couple knew Cliffbreakers, in Rockford, was the right place.

“Cliffbreakers overlooks the scenic Rock River, which is very unique, and it has an outside porch so guests can go outside and mingle,” Alanna says. “Cliffbreakers also has a ton of new, recent renovations, so much of it is brand-new.”

Now that the facility’s multimillion-dollar face-lift is complete, director of catering Sarah Buscemi and the rest of the team are welcoming brides back to the classic venue.

“It’s a new era of classic elegance,” she says.

Equipped to host both a wedding ceremony and a reception, Cliffbreakers averages 25 to 30 weddings a year. Accordingly, Buscemi suggests couples book their weddings at least six months in advance. Not only can couples enjoy their wedding celebration here, but their guests can stay overnight at the adjacent Riverview Inn & Suites.

“We have a river view that can’t be beat,” Buscemi says. “All of our function rooms include access to the riverview deck, so all of our guests can enjoy a beautiful sunset, some gorgeous foliage and the calming flow of the Rock River below. It’s a truly magical setting.”

The couple were married on June 23, 2018, making them the first couple to celebrate a wedding in the renovated venue.

“I felt very honored for our wedding to be the first one since the new renovations,” Alanna says. “The staff was incredibly helpful throughout the planning process and very flexible.”

Alanna says she’s received rave reviews from her guests.

“People came up to me several times near the end of our reception, telling me that this was one of the best weddings they’ve been to,” she says.

She credits the staff at Cliffbreakers for turning her wedding dreams into a reality.
“It was the best day of our lives,” she says. “Very memorable, very smooth and no problems.” – JP

Learn more at

Ceremony: Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford
Reception: Riverview Inn & Suites & Cliffbreakers Events, Rockford
Music/DJ: Jeti Entertainment Wedding DJ Services, Rockford
Catering: Cliffbreakers Events, Rockford
Photographer: Mindy Joy Photography, Rockford
Flowers: John’s Mom, Jacqueline Wawrzyniak-Kveton
Bride’s Gown: David’s Bridal, Rockford

Woodbine Bend, Stockton, Ill. (Tonia Blair Photography photos)
Woodbine Bend, Stockton, Ill. (Tonia Blair Photography photos)

A Nice Ring To It: Woodbine Bend Golf Course, Stockton, Ill.

Ben Blair tried finding love online, but he wasn’t having any luck. So, he went to a friend and co-worker for some help.

“She said I should talk to her friend Julia,” says Ben, a Stockton native. “I initiated a conversation with Julia and we went on a couple of double dates with my co-worker.”

A month into the relationship, Ben knew Julia, also of Stockton, was “the one.”

“The first month into dating, I knew I loved her,” he says. “I know it’s crazy to say that, but we hit it off early on and things were going really well. She has a great smile, she’s a genuinely nice person and she’s beautiful.”

In September 2016, Ben knew it was time to propose. The couple had recently bought a house, and in the kitchen was a brand-new countertop.

“Someone had set a glass on the countertop and it left a water ring on the counter,” Ben says. “Julia was not happy about that.”

One day, Julia left to run a casual errand. Once she was out the door, Ben set his great-grandmother’s wedding ring on the counter – right on top of the blemish.

“She came back from the store, and I told her there was another huge ring on the counter,” he says. “She came in upset, thinking there would be another ring of water on the counter, and when she looked down, she saw the actual ring. I asked her if she would marry me and she said yes.”

When it came time to select a wedding venue, Ben knew he wanted to use Woodbine Bend Golf Course in Stockton. It offers several outdoor spaces, including decks and event areas on the course, making it an ideal venue for weddings and receptions year-round.

To make sure they secured the location, the couple booked the venue about eight months in advance.

“It’s inexpensive, I know owner Sam Stoddard pretty well and the venue is in Stockton,” Ben says. “We also got married there, so we were able to do everything in one location.”

The couple were married on Dec. 9, 2017, in front of 180 people, the capacity of the banquet hall.

Ben says the staff at Woodbine was very flexible, so the couple could truly customize their experience.

Since the wedding happened a little more than two weeks before Christmas, their decor took on a Christmas theme.

The cake had red and green Christmas decorations, Julia wore a red dress and Ben wore a red vest. The maid of honor wore a green dress and the best man wore a green vest. The ceremony was held in front of a fireplace surrounded by decorated Christmas trees.

“I think everyone had a good time,” Ben says. “There was a dance floor on one end of the room and a bar at the other end. If people wanted to dance, they could do that, and if people wanted to hang out and enjoy a few drinks, they could do that as well.”

Looking back, Ben says his wedding at Woodbine couldn’t have gone better.

“The wedding was pretty relaxed, and we tried to keep everything simple,” he says. “We wanted to enjoy ourselves, and we did. Everything was perfect.” – JP

Learn more at

Ceremony/ Reception: Woodbine Bend Golf Course, Stockton, Ill.
Photographer: Tonia Blair Photography, Stockton, Ill.

Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford (Mark & Carly Photography photos)
Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford (Mark & Carly Photography photos)

A Toast to Love: Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford

As Lora Rice and Bryan Moscinski searched for their ideal wedding venue, the two longtime friends knew they wanted a smaller, more intimate celebration. They preferred something outdoors, but they also wanted the reassurance of an indoor backup.

Then a friend turned them on to Burpee Museum of Natural History, in Rockford, a venue better known for its famous fossils than its social events spaces. It had everything they expected, plus a staff that remained flexible to the couple’s needs.

And, the location’s natural, picturesque setting along the Rock River allowed the couple the space they desired, with the flexibility to make their event intimate and special.

Burpee Museum has a scenic ceremony spot on the banks of the Rock River as well as indoor space for large receptions. Brides are invited to prepare next door at the historic Barnes Mansion, a riverside home that once hosted lively gatherings of Rockford’s elites.

Lora loved the setting, and she especially loved the easy backup option: the Mahlburg Auditorium, a high-ceilinged social space with large windows, located just off the museum entrance.

It didn’t hurt that the couple’s guests and children were invited to explore the museum throughout the day.

“I had concerns about the weather,” says Lora. “They immediately said, ‘Here’s what we can do.’ It was easy to explain what you’re looking for. There’s not just one wedding package. They’ll work with you on anything.”

On June 25, 2017, Bryan and Lora were married at Burpee Museum’s Riverfront Amphitheater, the Rock River providing a scenic backdrop to the day. With their closest family and friends attending, the couple enjoyed a simple champagne-and-cake reception, hosted outside on the terrace, which has space for cocktails, eating and dancing. The Barnes Mansion and its nearby turn-of-the-century boathouse provided picturesque scenery for wedding photos as the bride and groom prepared.

Looking back on her wedding day, Lora is grateful for the Burpee team’s eagerness to make her day special.

“It has so much flexibility you wouldn’t consider,” she says. “Be sure to talk about your vision.” – CL

Learn more at

Ceremony/Reception: Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford
Cake: Indulge Fine Pastries & Desserts, Cakes & Wedding Cakes, Belvidere
Appetizers: The Machine Shed, Rockford
Music/DJ: Red Velvet Event DJ, Carol Stream
Photographer: Mark & Carly Photography, Rockford

Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford (B. Adams Photography photos)
Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford (B. Adams Photography photos)

Reunited Love: Prairie Street Brewing Co., Rockford

Grant Magnuson and Katie Harkness were students at Western Illinois University in 2010 when they started dating. Everything was going well until life got in the way.

Grant, who grew up in Belvidere, graduated and began student teaching and living in Chicago. They continued dating while Katie, a North Aurora, Ill., native, was a senior at WIU, but eventually, they went their separate ways.

When Katie graduated, she took on a teaching job in North Carolina. After about a year, Katie moved back to Illinois, where Grant was waiting.

“I went to lunch with him and we’ve been inseparable ever since,” Katie says. “A few months later, I moved to Chicago. Grant and I started dating again, and I fell so in love with him. He brings out the best in me and he makes me a better person.”
When it came time to propose in August 2017, Grant decided to pop the question on the deck of his future mother-in-law, Karen.

“I wanted to do it there because I know Karen’s house is Katie’s favorite place to be,” Grant says.

One of Katie’s friends took her shopping while Grant set up. Katie thought her mom had been out of town, but she was actually helping to get things ready.

Later that night, Katie had planned to have dinner with Grant and some friends, but along the way, Grant said they should swing by her mother’s place to drop off their dog, Harry.

“We walked into Karen’s and went to the back patio,” Grant says. “Then, I got down on one knee and asked the most nerve-wracking thing: ‘Will you marry me?’ Kate was speechless, and the question took her breath away, but she said yes.”

The couple decided to get married at Prairie Street Brewing Co., in Rockford, because the moment they walked into the venue, Katie knew it was true to them.

“The exposed brick and openness made us fall in love with the venue,” she says. “It was an industrial chic vibe that we were both drawn to and fell in love with. The fact that it was a brewery made it more special and more of our own.”

The couple were married on July 6, 2018. They locked down the wedding venue 11 months prior.

Set along the banks of the Rock River, Prairie Street Brewhouse offers scenic views of downtown Rockford and an old, industrial feel. The century-old building creates a scenic backdrop for the special day.

Katie gives credit to the staff at Prairie Street for making the celebration run smoothly.

“They helped make my dream wedding by being so flexible and willing to try any idea I had,” Katie says. “Even on rehearsal day, I wanted to try entering through different doors than originally planned, and they went with it and it worked seamlessly. Honestly, anything I wanted or just wanted to try, they would somehow just make it work.”

Katie looks back on her wedding day with happiness, knowing the day was a true celebration of her and Grant’s love.

“We truly had the most perfect day at the most perfect venue,” she says. “Our wedding was on a beautiful, summer day where everyone could enjoy Prairie Street’s own beers, food and river views on the dock. It made our wedding stand out against other weddings, which was so special.” – JP

Learn more at

Ceremony/Reception: Prairie Street Brewing Co., Rockford
Music/DJ: Brent Wetter, DJ from Luxe Productions, Loves Park, Ill.
Catering: Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe
Photographer: B. Adams Photography, Rockford
Flowers: Pepper Creek, Rockford
Bride’s Gown: Wolsfelt Bridal, Aurora, Ill.
Hair & Makeup: C+M Bridal Beauty, Hinckley, Ill.
Videographer: New Pixel Films, Chicago
Dress: Wolsfelt, Aurora, Ill.

Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill. (Jess Gretencord photos)
Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill. (Jess Gretencord photos)

Love at First Click: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.

Five years ago, Hayley and Manuel Villafuerte started talking through a dating website. Four months later, they finally met in October 2012. They hit it off – “he was a very kind and funny man,” says Hayley, and, after nearly six years of dating, she said, ‘I do’ on March 30, 2018.

While the happy couple, who live in Grundy County, Ill., had many decisions to make, selecting a wedding and reception venue wasn’t difficult at all. They selected the only venue they visited: Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, in Utica, Ill.

“Starved Rock has always held a special place in my heart,” says Hayley, a teacher. “I love that you can stay where you have your ceremony and reception. An all-in-one-place is very convenient not only for the bride and groom, but your guests. Starved Rock was so easy to work with; they made everything go very smoothly.”

Starved Rock offers two indoor ceremony venues for couples. The Great Hall can accommodate up to 200 guests and the ceremony takes place in front of the largest two-sided fireplace in Illinois. Because they were married in early spring, Hayley and Manuel got married in front of that fireplace. For more intimate ceremonies, the Canyonside Cabin can hold 30 guests. Both locations are backup locations in the event of rain.

Starved Rock Lodge also has two outdoor venues. The Sunrise Shelter is located east of the lodge and has room for 200 guests. Couples exchange vows surrounded by towering pines, while overlooking the top of Starved Rock. The Canyonside Courtyard holds 30 guests while still displaying the beauty of the great outdoors.

Admittedly, Hayley and Manuel, a correctional officer, had wedding-day jitters, but they found some funny moments during the ceremony. “I was so worried about repeating the ring vows during the ceremony,” says Hayley, “that I never dreamed while saying my vows that my husband’s ring would not fit. But in our wedding video, you can hear my nervous laughter while I continued to repeat my vows and struggle with the ring. We still laugh about it months later.”

The couple also decided to make their wedding a cellphone-free zone to avoid any distractions during the ceremony. The groom apparently didn’t get the memo. “I typed my vows on an index card,” says Hayley, “but when it was my husband’s turn to speak, he reached inside his suit jacket and pulled out his phone. Our guests laughed as he read his vows from his ‘forbidden’ cellphone.”

Hayley’s advice? Keep it simple. “In the long run, it will be just as perfect as someone who had an extravagant wedding, and you will thank yourself. Remember, it’s your wedding day. Cherish every moment of it because it really goes fast.” – PAA

Learn more at

Ceremony/Reception: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Catering: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Music/DJ/Photo: Matt Makeever, a local high school teacher, was the piano player for ceremony and cocktail hour. Location musician Steve Sharp played for the reception instead of a DJ.
Photographer: Jess Gretencord
Videographer: Matt Klein
Flowers: Mary’s Special Touch Floral Studio, LaSalle, Ill.

The Standard, Rockford (Anna Zajac photos)
The Standard, Rockford (Anna Zajac photos)

A Rooftop Wedding: The Standard, Rockford

Four years ago, Rockford native Bretta (Grumley) Hutchinson packed her belongings, leaving Chicago for a new life in Boston.

That bold move led to the 2007 Boylan High graduate meeting the man of her dreams.

“I lived in Chicago for six years and wanted a big change,” says Bretta, a museum educator for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “I was looking for a smaller city to live in. I roomed with three other women, including Kate, who became one of my best friends. After about six months, the first night we went out in South Boston I met John.”

John is a manager of commercial sales engineering for a Boston company. The pair first met at a local bar and hit it off. A week later, Bretta and John went on their first date: dinner at a Scottish restaurant/tavern called The Haven.

When John finally popped the question, the couple decided to get married back in the Midwest. They looked in Chicago but found most venues to be too costly. Instead, they opted for Bretta’s hometown of Rockford, where they got married on the rooftop patio at The Standard, in downtown Rockford, on June 10, 2017.

“We went to the first wedding there in October 2016, but the rooftop wasn’t open yet,” Bretta says. “We knew Brent Hughes and his wife, Betsy, who were building The Standard, but we didn’t know if it would be completed in time. Fortunately, it was.”

Bretta and John appreciated the aesthetics The Standard offered for both the wedding ceremony and the reception. After the nuptials were finished, the 130 guests headed to the second floor where a spacious dining hall is located. The food is prepared by Chef Paul Sletten, who owns several downtown restaurants.

“The Standard has space you can do anything with,” says Bretta. “It has an industrial look with exposed brick and open windows that let plenty of light in. The rooftop was great, but it was the light, space and blank canvas that did it for me. And the skyline and the river also created a pretty background atmosphere.”

The couple hired the Brian Kinney Band, from Minneapolis, who just happened to play at her brother’s wedding 11 years before. But Bretta says she couldn’t have done all the planning without help. “My advice to couples is to hire an event planner who can stay all night,” she says. “It’s nice to have someone who can organize the event and help make things go smoothly.”

These days, the couple is home in Boston. They stay busy with their new dog, Squirt, a German Shepard/Corgi mix, and also explore new restaurants, hike and attend an occasional Red Sox or Bruins game.

“I knew it was a little risky moving to Boston, where I didn’t know anyone,” she says. “But it all worked out better than I could imagine.” – PAA

Learn more at

Ceremony/Reception: The Standard, Rockford
Catering: Abreo, Rockford
Music: Brian Kinney Band, Minneapolis
Photography: Anna Zajac, Chicago
Flowers: London Avenue Designs, Rockford
Transportation: Van Galder, Rockford

(Erica Pospeshil Photography photos)
(Erica Pospeshil Photography photos)

Master Planners: Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, Oregon, Ill.

Samm Hinrichs developed a master plan when she met Ken Dawson, through mutual friends, at a haunted house.

“She pretended to ‘lose’ her phone so I could get her number to help find it,” Ken says. “I was attracted to her eyes, amazing looks and personality. She’s very easygoing and fun to be around. We hit it off right away.”

After a year of dating, the couple acknowledged they had a serious connection and hoped eventually to get married. Ken bought a ring, but the “right moment” to propose never seemed to arrive.

Five months passed as Ken waited for a special, romantic opportunity. Finally, he crafted a master plan of his own.

“The proposal was quite an ordeal,” says Ken. “I ran through idea after idea, but they never worked out. Something always came up to make me cancel. Finally, I secretly booked a private wine room at Franchesco’s Ristorante, in Rockford. I played it off like it was a mistake on the restaurant’s end. I had the ring tucked in the side of my sock, and after ordering food and drinks, I took a knee next to her and proposed. She said yes, obviously, and that she knew something was up.”

The No. 1 priority when searching for a wedding venue was finding a location with a waterfront view. The couple was thrilled to find Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, in Oregon, for their June 25, 2016, wedding. A longtime favorite for casual dining, banquets and dinner cruises on the Rock River, Maxson had the beautiful views the couple hoped for. And, it was close to Polo, where Ken grew up and where the couple lived.

“We booked about nine or 10 months in advance, just because we knew it was the place and we wanted to have it,” Ken says.
The venue can accommodate 110 people on its paddleboat, 250 on the sprawling pavilion and gazebo, and 280 in the restaurant.
Ken especially enjoyed that the whole wedding party could arrive at the reception by boat.

“Samm and I love being on the water, and arriving by boat made our wedding more unique,” Ken says. “Don’t be afraid to ask the owners any questions you have – they are willing to work with you to make everything just as you want.”

The couple also got the pizza and pasta bar they wanted, even though pizza isn’t offered on the menu. Everything was made in house. The Maxson’s staff also ordered specific alcohol that the couple requested, provided containers for leftover cupcakes and kept leftover wedding cake overnight in the fridge.

“They went above and beyond what we could have asked for,” Ken says. “All of the guests said the venue was beautiful and that the food was amazing. We couldn’t have been happier with the service and how the whole process went.” – LG

Learn more at

Ceremony: Northwest Territory Historic Center, Dixon, Ill.
Catering/Reception: Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, Oregon, Ill.
Music/DJ: Illusion Audio, Polo, Ill.
Photographer: Erica Pospeshil Photography, Dixon, Ill.
Flowers: Country Floral, Polo , Ill.
Bride’s Gown: Hope’s Bridal Boutique, Davenport, Iowa
Cake: Aurelio’s Bake Shop, Sterling, Ill.
Decorator: Something Barrowed, Something Blue, Rochelle, Ill.

Rockford Woman’s Club (Photos provided)
Rockford Woman’s Club (Photos provided)

A Family Tradition: Rockford Woman’s Club, Rockford

Couples who get married at the Rockford Woman’s Club, in Rockford, could be following in the same footsteps as their parents and even their grandparents.

The Rockford Woman’s Club building turns a century old this year, and the historical, majestic venue in downtown Rockford has held weddings since the very beginning.

“I’ve had granddaughters get married here, and their grandparents and their parents have also held their wedding receptions here,” says Nancy Whitlock, president of the Rockford Woman’s Club.

More than a gathering place, The Rockford Woman’s Club is an organization of women who seek to promote and encourage philanthropy, civic and cultural improvement and education in the Rockford area. Preserving their building is an ongoing priority.

You’ll find the woman’s club at work supporting and offering opportunities for women of all ages to grow and serve within the community, Whitlock says.

The club, which has served our region for more than 120 years, owns the venue at 323 Park Ave., located along the Cultural Corridor, in Rockford. The facility is available to the public for a wide variety of special events, including weddings, bridal and baby showers, private parties, seminars and business meetings.

Tucked inside the building is The Rockford Theater, an 800-seat auditorium. For larger gatherings, the theater lobby can be expanded.

When it comes to weddings, the Rockford Woman’s Club is convenient because it can accommodate many needs in numerous spaces.
Dates fill up quickly, so Whitlock recommends booking a wedding reception at least a year in advance.

Whitlock says that, while there have been plenty of upgrades through the years, the character and charm of this building are still intact, making it a perfect place to host a wedding and reception.

“You can enjoy your dinner and toasts downstairs, and everyone can come upstairs to the reception area,” Whitlock says. “The band or DJ may be set up in the gallery, and guests can dance the night away.”

The upper level of Rockford Woman’s Club has a large space for music and dancing inside the Belle Keith Art Gallery. The sunroom off the gallery offers a backdrop for photos or a quiet place to relax. A circular balcony just outside the gallery doors could also serve as the perfect place for a bouquet or garter toss.

Guests use a grand staircase as they head downstairs to the elegant banquet facility. A beautiful, ornate, wooden bar area is located right off the main dining room.

Decorating the wedding venue is one thing brides don’t have to worry about, because the building is beautiful just the way it is, Whitlock says.

“You’re welcomed to add flowers and add your special touches, but the club stands on its own as well,” she says. “You don’t have to work too hard to make it look pretty, because it’s already pretty.” – JP

Learn more at

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Rockford (Photo provided)
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Rockford (Photo provided)

Friend Zone to Fiancé: Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Rockford

Many years ago, Derek Peach asked Andrea Hannaford to their high school’s homecoming dance.

“I actually said no,” Andrea laughs. “But he ended up becoming my best guy friend in high school.”

The couple lost touch during college, but occasionally they’d see each other around their hometown of St. Charles. After graduating, Andrea decided to reach out.

“He was a firefighter and I had just graduated from nursing school,” she says. “I texted him and we’ve talked every day since then.”

After many years of dating, Andrea was itching to get married. She was thrilled when Derek proposed during a hike at Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, Ill.

“I was complaining because I wore brand new leggings and white shoes, and our new puppy was jumping all over us,” Andrea remembers. “But when Derek proposed at this ledge overlooking the river, it was perfect. I forgot all about my shoes.”

Andrea visited numerous wedding venues, but it was Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, in Rockford, that won her over. She knew she wanted an outdoor wedding in a beautiful setting, and Klehm’s 155-acre campus of majestic trees and gardens fit her vision perfectly.

Not only that, but the wedding coordinator, Mary Pat Muzzarelli, was a delight to work with.

“She went above and beyond to answer all of my questions,” Andrea says. “If I needed something, she was there in two seconds.”

Klehm’s recent renovations can accommodate 25 to 400 guests for ceremonies and receptions. A classic, white tent with an adjoining terrace sits just steps away from beautiful scenery.

“They even let us stay a little bit past closing time,” Andrea says. “Everything was perfect.” – LG

Learn more at

Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill. (Luis Hermosillo photo)
Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill. (Luis Hermosillo photo)

Picture Perfect: Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill.

After 2.5 years of dating, Seth McCammond was ready to propose Marta.

The couple had met while working at a pet store.

“We clicked right away,” Marta says. “Talking to each other was easy – we had similar interests and the same sense of humor.”

On March 12, 2016, Seth organized a family game night at his parents’ house. His siblings and grandparents were there, in addition to Marta’s family. During a game of Pictionary, it was Seth’s turn to draw and Marta’s turn to guess.

“I wasn’t able to figure it out,” Marta recalls. “I happened to look up and everyone’s phones were out – weird – but I started to guess again. He drew a hand, a circle, a ring… ‘Oh! It’s a ring!’”

The guess was correct, and both families cheered.

“I looked back to Seth and he was down on one knee, with a box in his hand and a gorgeous sapphire ring inside it,” Marta says. They both teared up as she accepted his proposal.

The couple were married on Sept. 23, 2017, at Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill. Their ceremony was held under two trees that formed a natural arch on the front lawn of Byron Forest Preserve, and their reception was held at the Jarrett Prairie Center in the newly renovated museum and on the 2,600-square-foot wrap-around deck that overlooks 400 acres of prairie.

“The Jarrett Prairie Center was great for the reception because it offered indoor and outdoor spaces,” Marta says. “Our guests could go inside to cool down and get drinks, while the deck offered fresh air and picturesque views of the prairie.”
To make things even better, the sun was setting during their first dance as a married couple.

“The Byron Forest Preserve staff were always available to answer questions and go over all of the details,” Marta says. “Just step outside on the deck and take in that wonderful view. You’ll be sold right away.” – LG

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Baltic Mill, Belvidere (photo provided)
Baltic Mill, Belvidere (photo provided)

Beauty on a Budget: Baltic Mill, Belvidere

The Baltic Mill’s unique, natural setting welcomes couples who want an outdoor celebration for their wedding day. The historic area, owned by the Belvidere Park District, provides a backdrop of calming greenery for ceremonies.

The venue currently focuses on holding ceremonies in an outdoor setting – perfect for any couple looking for a beautiful setting on a budget.

The Baltic Mill offers four wedding packages for brides and grooms to choose from. Each package includes a three-hour time block for ceremonies to commence in an area with a stage and hillside seating for guests. Larger packages include a conference room and rehearsal time for the night before. An on-site wedding coordinator is available for all packages.

Reservations are taken on a first-come, first-paid basis, with various times available on weekends and throughout the week. The Belvidere Park District requests that couples book the Baltic Mill at least 90 days prior to the event. However, the Belvidere Park District is willing to accommodate couples with any last-minute requests if dates are available.

The venue has anywhere from 20-40 weddings per year – a significant amount considering that the season is only from April to October. The space can hold 300 guests, all on natural limestone seating. Those interested in seeing the facility can call and schedule a tour.

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