(Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek photo)

Dreamy Wedding Destinations

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.”

Trisha and Adam Peterson (Edward Fox photography)
Trisha and Adam Peterson (Edward Fox photography)

BFFs, Literally


When Trisha and Adam Peterson say they’re best friends, they really mean it. The active, outdoorsy Roselle couple spent nearly a year and a half hanging out as “just friends” before their first date, a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner in 2008.

“It wasn’t a surprise at all – we had planned a date,” says Trisha. “He did surprise me with a rose.”

The two met while working at the same life insurance company; Adam had worked there several years and Trisha was fresh out of college.

After Adam proposed to Trisha on her family’s yacht, the couple spent a few months researching their future wedding venue. An early choice was The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, 2401 W. Higgins Road, Hoffman Estates, which Trisha daily passes by on her way to work. Once she saw the grand staircase inside and the elegant lakeside pavilion, she was sold.

The Stonegate hosts nearly 150 weddings each year and offers at least five flexible options for receptions. Shuttles are available to nearby hotels, and the in-house caterers accommodate unique menu requests such as traditional Southeast Asian or Kosher celebrations.

On Aug. 13, 2011, Trisha and Adam celebrated with 160 guests in the Lakeside Pavilion, a tent-like structure that’s draped in white fabric and lit by elegant chandeliers. Available year-round, it’s temperature controlled and has a terrace that overlooks a small lake.

Throughout the year-long planning process, the couple relied on Beth Beringer, social events sales manager at Stonegate. Trisha’s still amazed at Beringer’s leadership. “There was no email or phone call that went unanswered,” says Trisha. “Her turnaround time was within the hour. She was very helpful and we never felt like a number.”

Before the big day, Beringer met repeatedly with the couple to arrange floor plans, in-house catering menus and floral arrangements.

“She even met with the florist to coordinate,” says Trisha, “So that way, the day of, the florist wasn’t running around frantically.”

And on the big day, it was Beringer who made sure the couple stayed composed. Even though another wedding was happening inside the banquet center, each event had its own space, including a personal bridal room for Trisha.

“From the second I got there, Beth was there to open the door and had a room for me to relax in before the cocktail reception,” says Trisha. Before guests arrived, the couple toured the pavilion and took photos inside and along the terrace. Looking back, she knows why this venue is something special.

“You could tell they spent a lot of time making every detail perfect,” Trisha says.

Ceremony: Trinity Lutheran Church, Roselle, Ill.
Reception/Catering/Cake: The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Florist: Elegant Blooms, Naperville, Ill.
Photographer: Edward Fox Photography, Chicago, Ill.
Music/DJ: Spinnin Discs, Schaumburg, Ill.

(Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek photo)
(Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek photo)

Familiar Friends


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the big day, everything came together perfectly.

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

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

(Ruben Ramos/Fred Fox Studios photo)
(Ruben Ramos/Fred Fox Studios photo)

Grand Getaway


Lake Geneva and the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa hold special meaning for Erin and Mike Nieft. They visited it regularly during the four years they dated, so it was natural to hold their wedding celebration there, too.

“That’s where we went on our first away weekend together,” says Erin. “We had a great time, and that was when we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.”

About five months before the couple’s first trip to Grand Geneva, they had met at a Chicago Bears game. He was from Hoffman Estates, she was from Cary, and they both loved biking, traveling and music. With so much in common, their friendship continued beyond the game.

They were married June 18, 2011, on Grand Geneva’s Greenview lawn, which overlooks a small lake and 36-hole golf course. With nearly 120 guests, they celebrated inside the spacious Evergreen Ballroom. The ballroom spaces can accommodate up to 400 guests, although most weddings host about 175.

The couple spent a year and a half preparing for the wedding, with help from the resort staff, which includes a team of wedding planners who guide each detail from engagement to reception. As Erin discovered, those coordinators get to know each bride’s taste’s perfectly.

“There was never a ‘no,’” says Erin. “It was always a ‘maybe, I think we can do that.’ There was always an option, and sometimes it was that much better. There were times I didn’t even have to ask.”

Take, for example, the tasting room, where resort chefs prepare dining options and décor for couples to select. Erin’s coordinator sat with the couple and their parents, offering ideas. But it was the chair and linen options she suggested that surprised and impressed Erin. The silk napkins, which incorporated her purple and gray color scheme, were an instant hit.

“What she picked, worked,” Erin says.

Grand Geneva hosts about 80 weddings each year, with as many as five receptions each weekend. Events director Manuel DeMoya says the staff remains flexible, offering a wide range of options, including Friday and Sunday weddings, or afternoon celebrations.

“No budget is too small,” he says. “If they’re flexible, we can help them to plan a great event.”

Because it’s a resort, couples may choose from among many add-ons, including rock climbing, golfing or trolley rides to Lake Geneva. And, the resort’s restaurants, including Geneva Chophouse, have special large-group spaces to accommodate a rehearsal dinner. Erin took her bridesmaids to the resort’s spa for treatments and hair.

Looking back, Erin has no regrets. In fact, when the couple returned for a first-anniversary celebration, there was one friend they were sure to visit: their coordinator, Marlene. “She’s like part of the family.”

Ceremony, Reception, Catering, Cake: Grand Geneva Resort, Lake Geneva, Wis.
Gown: Volles Bridal and Boutique, Lake Zurich, Ill.
Florist: Lilypots Flowers & Gifts, Lake Geneva, Wis.
Photographer: Ruben Ramos/Fred Fox Studios, Schaumburg, Ill.
Videographer: JJ Kim/Orange Wedding Films, Chicago, Ill.
Music/DJ: MDM Entertainment, Schaumburg, Ill.
Makeup: Danna “Maddison” from Mario Tricoci, Schaumburg, Ill.
Hair: Grand Geneva Resort, Lake Geneva, Wis.

(Kyle Hale photo)
(Kyle Hale photo)

Friends by Fate


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceremony: Oak Ridge Farms, Apple Grove, Ill.
Reception/Catering/Cake: Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa
Gown: Vera Wang, Chicago, Ill.
Florist: Jean Carlson, Garden Party Florist, Galena, Ill.
Photographer: Kyle Hale Photography, Atlanta, Ga.
Music/DJ: Scratch Weddings

(Nels Akerlund photo)
(Nels Akerlund photo)

Mother Knows Best


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Ky Boyd photo)
(Ky Boyd photo)

Rainy Day Romance


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Laura Hamp photo)
(Laura Hamp photo)

Hearts on Fryer


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

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

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

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

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

Melissa was stunned when the illustrator revealed his work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It made it more welcoming for my guests,” she says. “The night went smoothly. The wait staff was excellent and the bartenders were fun. Everything just fell into place. I would recommend Giovanni’s to anyone.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she adds. “It was everything I dreamed about.”

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

(Shelley Anderson/Cage & Aquarium photo)
(Shelley Anderson/Cage & Aquarium photo)

Lucky Find


Chicago residents Priscilla Andrews and Kyle Telander never suspected they’d end up getting married in the Woodstock area. But as fate would have it, a daytrip led them to the perfect setting, at Gardens of Woodstock, in Lakewood.

“I had gotten this idea that I wanted a summer camp wedding,” says Priscilla, who met Kyle while the two attended graduate school for psychology. “I had researched the North Woods, but we decided it wasn’t possible for us. We had been to Woodstock for a day, just for fun, and before we left, I Googled, ‘garden, Woodstock, wedding,’ and this place showed up.”

It was late February, about two months after Kyle had proposed with a carefully orchestrated Christmas ornament hanging. “We could tell [the Gardens] had everything we needed,” she says. “It wasn’t so big that it lacked intimacy. I liked the fact that our guests didn’t feel cramped or overwhelmed by the space.”

The couple held a small ceremony in a lush garden space in August 2012, with 65 guests seated by a waterfall and gazebo. The lovely space needed little decoration; Priscilla handcrafted favors and other décor. A traditional reception, held inside the banquet room, featured cuisine from the venue’s select caterer, whose dinner stations were a big hit.

“There’s always the stereotype that the bride and groom don’t go up for seconds,” says Priscilla. “I did go up for seconds, because the food was great, and because I was so relaxed, just enjoying myself.”
The venue typically hosts 10 to 20 weddings a year, and offers additional services such as providing chairs, tables and linens.

“We couldn’t find anyplace that could provide what they did,” says Priscilla. “We lucked out, and I still think that maybe we got lucky, before word really got out about this place.”