Every detail of a wedding is important and requires months of planning, but few are as significant a choice as the venue. Whether you dream of a Midwest destination wedding or a hometown setting, our area offers many choices. Meet a few local couples as they share their own stories of how they got to “I do.”
Worth Every Penny: Goldmoor Inn, Galena, Ill.
Hannah Plickebaum knew her boyfriend, Jason, would propose to her, but she didn’t know when or where.
So, when Jason got on one knee and proposed to the girl he met at the University of Iowa in front of her entire family at Christmas, she was blown away.
“I thought he was going to do it in private, because he’s shy and a very private person,” Hannah says. “I also called him a butthead before answering.”
As she searched for a wedding venue, Hannah came across some photos of The Goldmoor Inn. She was hooked from that moment on.
“I saw the pictures online and I fell in love almost immediately,” she says. “After meeting [Birgit Radin, co-owner of The Goldmoor], I didn’t even want to look at other venues. She was amazing and the property was amazing. I was practically singing on the car ride home because I was so excited.”
To make sure they got the date they wanted, Hannah says the couple booked their wedding date about 18 months early.
“We set the date for June 22, 2019, since it was close to my late aunt’s birthday,” Hannah says. “It’s also my sister’s birthday, but she graciously let us share.”
The Goldmoor grounds can accommodate intimate weddings and elopements. Under normal circumstances, the pavilion can hold up to 175 guests, and if it rains, protective siding can be added. A roomy patio situated behind The Goldmoor overlooks a wooded area and the Mississippi River, which creates a perfect gathering space for cocktail hour.
A smaller gazebo that can fit up to 10 people can be used for elopements, and during the cooler months, The Goldmoor can host up to 50 guests for an indoor wedding.
Each spot on the property showcases sunning Galena landscaping that makes for a perfect wedding day backdrop.
Hannah says the guests who attended her wedding loved everything about The Goldmoor, especially the food.
“They were seriously amazed,” she says. “The property was gorgeous and the food was a hit. Every guest I spoke to was in awe of how perfect the food was.”
One of those guests who also gave rave reviews of the facility was Hannah’s mother, Sharon Murray.
“Everything was just as my daughter and her husband wanted,” Murray says. “I would highly recommend The Goldmoor Inn to any bride who’s looking for a perfect wedding venue.”
Hannah gives Radin and the staff at The Goldmoor a lot of praise because they made sure the day went according to plan.
“The entire staff asked what we needed and how they could make things better,” Hannah says. “I don’t think they let me worry about a single thing. When I mentioned to Birgit that I was scared of rain, she said, ‘Don’t be,’ in such a way that I was convinced that she’d keep the rain away herself.”
Hannah says getting married at The Goldmoor was worth every penny.
“They provide everything – it’s completely worth it,” she says. – JP
Sparks Fly: Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles, Ill.
For Jacki and Ryan Cope, July 4 has always been special.
“One summer, when we were younger, we went to the Chicago fireworks together,” Jacki says. “That was the first time he told me he loved me.”
Last year, sparks flew again when the couple revisited Chicago on July 4 and watched the fireworks from Buckingham Fountain with some family members and close friends. Under the glowing lights, Ryan proposed.
Jacki and Ryan wanted a venue as romantic as their engagement, and they found it when they came across Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. Nestled in the LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, the property includes a spacious outdoor setting and a 1930s renovated house, which hosts a variety of events year-round. The couple booked their July wedding nine months out.
Jacki was surprised to find the scenic outdoor venue so close to her hometown of Wheaton. “I knew I wanted a backyard reception, but a little more elegant,” says Jacki. “I actually searched a lot of places, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of Creek Bend sooner.”
Ryan grew up in Crestline, Ohio, and met Jacki when he moved to Chicago in 2003 to attend Universal Technical Institute. After graduation, Ryan moved to Florida to work for Mercedes Benz of Sarasota. Jacki graduated from Illinois State University and moved to Florida to be with Ryan. She moved back to Wheaton in 2011; Ryan followed about two years later.
During their time apart, the couple remained optimistic. “We’re kind of the same person,” Jacki says. “We always knew we were going to be together, but we were always in different places.”
The time and location were just right when the two were wed over Fourth of July weekend. On July 2, 2016, Jacki and Ryan said “I do” under a spacious clear-top tent next to the Nature Center, surrounded by 140 guests and the forest scenery.
“The guests all really enjoyed it,” Jacki says. “Most told me they felt like they were in the middle of nowhere, but close to home at the same time.”
The couple customized the venue to fit their elegant, vintage style. The two were in total control of their wedding day, from catering to tent services. Taking advantage of their freedom, Jacki and Ryan brought in food trucks to cater the reception and add to its fun, relaxed atmosphere.
The large circle driveway accommodated food trucks from Porkchop in Chicago, La Cocinita in Evanston and Grill Chasers in Schaumberg. Violet and Pearl Vintage Rentals decorated the elegant house and complemented its furnishings with stylish seating for guests who wanted an escape from the outdoors. “I highly recommend using a rental company to stage the whole interior for you,” Jacki says.
The combination of good food, outdoor scenery and backyard atmosphere created an unforgettable experience. Of course, the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect.
“The theme of the wedding was ‘love story’,” Jacki says with a smile. Creek Bend played an important role in that story. “Not many venues were able to book a wedding on a holiday weekend. The place itself was beautiful. I loved every second.” – AG
A Cozy Celebration: Oscar Swan Country Inn, Geneva & Galena, Ill.
Jenn and Steve Fernandes grew up only a mile apart in West Chicago. The high school sweethearts developed a more serious attraction over time.
“I had known Steve since middle school, but we never had much interaction,” Jenn says. “Once I got to know him better in high school, I saw his awesome character and genuine kindness. There are very few people like Stephen in this world.”
Steve orchestrated an elaborate proposal for Jenn during a concert at the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, Mich. Jenn was “randomly” called to the stage where Steve, in front of nearly 1,000 people, dropped to one knee. After Jenn said yes, her entire family joined her from the crowd to celebrate.
“Everything went according to plan,” Steve says. “She was completely surprised.”
Jenn quickly got to work searching for a wedding venue. After touring Oscar Swan Country Inn in Geneva, she immediately knew it was what she wanted. The 8-acre estate with a cozy bed-and-breakfast reminded her of her grandmother’s home. The backyard and garden accommodated her guest list of 150 for the June 4, 2016, wedding.
“We had a huge dance party and all the children were able to run around in the yard,” Steve says. “Our guests loved the space. They also enjoyed the food – Oscar Swan catered in a buffet-style fashion and many of our guests said it was the best wedding food they’d ever had.”
Jenn appreciated how flexible the venue was in allowing her to hire some outside vendors. Not having to stick to a pre-planned package was important to her.
She says, “We wanted our wedding to be relaxing and fun, and that’s exactly what it was.” – LGL
Going with the Flow: Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, St. Charles, Ill.
Daisy Gonzalez of Crystal Lake still chuckles when she recalls the story of how she met her husband, Luis.
She was a junior and he was a sophomore at South Elgin High School. At lunch one day, Daisy brought a shirt to the cafeteria that she had just made in fashion design class. Luis happened to be sitting behind her at another table.
“I didn’t know who he was,” she says. “I was showing my friend the shirt; Luis saw it and offered to model it. He took off his shirt and got up in front of everyone to wear the shirt I made. He was pretty annoying.”
Luis doesn’t disagree. “I was a goofy kid, and I had a little crush on her. I never thought at the time we’d end up together. But after we started talking more, I really fell for her.”
The couple dated for seven years before they were married on June 16, 2017, at the pergola located at Mt. St. Mary Park, a St. Charles Park District facility. The happy couple was surrounded by family, friends and even Luna, their Siberian husky.
“She’s like our baby,” says Luis, a groundskeeper. “There was no way we weren’t going to have her there. That was one of the highlights of the day.”
Unfortunately, rain poured during the ceremony. “It looked like I took a shower,” says Daisy, a legal translator for an attorney’s office. “We all got soaked.”
Despite the rough beginning, the skies cleared in time for the reception, which was held at another park district facility, the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a 10,500 square-foot building featuring a spacious lobby that’s 20 feet tall, with floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of the oak savanna, wetlands and prairie located just outside the front doors.
Daisy’s advice to other couples is to remain calm. “Things are going to go wrong,” she says. “We forgot to bring our plates and silverware for the reception. But you deal with it, move on and enjoy the day. Just go with the flow.
“We looked at other places, but Hickory Knolls was the right fit for what we needed,” she adds. “I wanted something with a vintage look, along with neutral colors and a woodsy feel. We found that in Hickory Knolls. It was spacious and surrounded by nature. Other places didn’t have that same feel.”
Another appealing feature at Hickory Knolls is the indoors wildlife exhibit that includes turtles, snakes, spiders and other creatures. It captured the attention of the couple’s younger guests. “The staff was very friendly, and everything was beautiful,” says Luis. “As long as we were with our family, we were happy.” – PAA
Master Planners: Maxon 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.
Under normal circumstances, 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.” – LGL