(Jenelle Kappe photos)

Wedding Stories: Dream Destinations for Your Big Day

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.”

(Jill Tiongco photos)
(Jill Tiongco photos)

A Bachelor No More

The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Marisa Jungels’ guilty pleasure is watching the popular television show, “The Bachelor.” Little did Marisa know, however, that she would be living out her own reality when she said “yes” to her now husband, Ryan Jungels.

Marisa and Ryan met through mutual friends in 2009. She works in research for an executive search firm, while Ryan is a sales representative for a medical supply company based in Addison. “It just kind of happened,” Marisa says of their meeting. “We hit it off immediately.”

The couple dated more than three years before Ryan popped the question in true Bachelor fashion. On Aug. 6, 2012, he had a limo pick up Marisa for what she thought was a simple dinner. Inside the limo, she found a two-page handwritten letter, along with an iPad on the seat with a video that Ryan made. The video included photos as well as an appearance from Ben Flajnik, a winemaker who was the star of the hit television show back in 2012. Ryan contacted the reality star when Flajnik was in Chicago promoting his wine. Flajnik not only agreed to be in the video, but autographed bottles of wine for Marisa.

The limo pulled up to a gazebo where Ryan, dressed in a suit and holding a single rose, waited for his future bride, as friends documented the occasion with cameras. “He got on his knee and asked if I would accept the final rose,” says Marisa. After eagerly saying yes, the party moved on to a local pub where the happy couple was greeted by a large group of friends to celebrate.

The couple was engaged for 20 months. It was a busy time planning not only the wedding, but buying a house together and also helping Marisa’s sister, who was planning her own wedding. “It was the most stressful time of my life,” Marisa says. “There were so many life-changing events happening all at once. But it turned out great.”

Ryan and Marisa were married on March 22, 2014, at St. Philip The Apostle Catholic Parish in Addison. To accommodate their 240-plus guests, Marisa chose The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, 241 W. Higgins Road, in Hoffman Estates. The Stonegate hosts nearly 150 weddings each year and offers at least five flexible options for receptions, including the Ballroom, an elegant room with iron chandeliers, grand staircases and a built-in granite bar.

“Stonegate was amazing to work with,” says Marisa, who learned of the venue from friends. “Our coordinator, Beth Beringer, was extremely helpful. She was responsive to my many questions and needs.”

During her taste testing, Marisa got to meet the chef and tour the kitchen. She also visited Stonegate during the setup of another wedding, just to get a feel for the atmosphere. “That’s something I highly recommend doing,” she says. “I thought I had everything picked out, but after seeing another setup, I made a few changes such as moving the head table, changing the backdrop and swapping out the linens.”

Marisa and Ryan’s wedding went off without a hitch. The night included special touches such as a mimosa and champagne station, an ice sculpture bearing the couple’s initials, pre-dinner musical entertainment and a DJ who carried the party the rest of the way. “Many guests said they had never danced so much,” Marisa says. “It was a great day filled with people we love.”

Ceremony: St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Parish, Addison, Ill.
Reception/Catering: The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Music/DJ: Simone Ragusa
Floral: Aga Galus, Park Ridge, Ill.
Photographer: Jill Tiongco Photography
Gown: Brides by Demetrios, Schaumburg, Ill.

Learn more at www.thestonegate.com



Rainy Day Romance

Goldmoor Inn, Galena, Ill.

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, three-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.

Learn more at www.goldmoor.com.



Shore-ly in Love

Heidel House Resort & Spa, Green Lake, Wis.

Christy and James Tyler knew they wanted a destination wedding, but it had to be big enough for Christy’s large Irish Catholic family, which was centered around Wisconsin. The couple found the perfect balance of quiet retreat and spacious venue at Heidel House Resort & Spa, in Green Lake, Wis.

Set on the shores of Wisconsin’s deepest natural lake, Heidel House offers several settings for outdoor nuptials, indoor receptions and rehearsal dinners. Plus, the resort maintains 190 guest rooms, in addition to guest homes and suites – perfect settings for large family groups.

“I think some of the guests actually brought their own boats, and they spent some of the weekend on the water,” says Christy. “I loved how comfortable it was. It felt cozy, down-home and hospitable. And Green Lake is just so beautiful.”

On May 23, 2009, the couple were wed on Heidel House’s Grey Rock Lawn, a space that seats 300 and overlooks the banks of Green Lake. Afterward, the couple celebrated with about 150 guests inside the Dartford Ballroom, with more scenic views of the water.

Thanks to a full-package deal, the day went smoothly, and the couple enjoyed a largely carefree day. The only thing that could ruin the day was rain.

“It was overcast and cooler than usual, and it drizzled all morning long,” says Christy, laughing. “They asked me if I wanted to move the ceremony inside, and I finally had to call James and tell him to decide for me. He said, ‘We’re having it outside. You spent all this time planning for a wedding on the water, we’re having a wedding on the water. It’ll all be OK. Even if it is pouring rain, all that matters is that we’re married.’”

The couple first met while Christy was in photography school, introduced by a mutual friend who knew their shared love for photography. Christy had grown up in small-town Wisconsin, James around the Southeast.

“He was so different from anyone I had ever met,” says Christy. “I had in my mind this list of boxes to check, but he wasn’t any of those things. He made me really, really comfortable. And he’s really honest and just says what he feels – I think that’s opened me up in a lot of ways.”

In July 2008, a little more than a year after they met, James proposed on the shore of Lake Mendota, in Madison, Wis. But it almost didn’t happen. On their way to a weekend visit with family, Christy’s car broke down, threatening James’ plan to go ring shopping with his future brother-in-law.

“One night, we went to the Union Terrace with my brother,” says Christy. “What I didn’t know is that they had bought the ring that day, and James had brought it with, just in case. My brother left the Terrace at midnight and I wanted to walk over to the pier.”

Without even knowing it, she had set the stage for James’ surprise.

“I had read his email and was convinced it was going to happen after a Coldplay concert we were going to attend the following Thursday,” says Christy. “I was completely shocked.”

The couple relive their wedding on most summer weekends, as professional wedding photographers. “James and I joke that it’s like couples therapy for us,” she says, laughing. They do occasionally return to Green Lake, where their Heidel House experience gives brides a photographic edge.

“It’s cool because we’re like, ‘Oh, we got married here!’” she says. “Especially since we’ve been there, we can map out good places for photos and know how the flow of things goes.”

Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Heidel House Resort & Spa, Green Lake, Wis.
Turtle Custard: Culver’s Frozen Custard
Gown: Vera’s House of Bridals
Music/DJ: Record Entertainment Inc., Fond du Lac, Wis.
Ceremony Music: String quartet from Lawrence University
Photographer: John Hamblin, Chicago/Detroit, and Patrick Sablan, Chicago

Learn more at www.HeidelHouse.com.


(Annie Steele Photography)
(Annie Steele Photography)

Come Rain or Shine

Franchesco’s Ristorante, Rockford, Ill.

On a rainy afternoon in downtown Chicago, Kara McKinney and Aaron Villacorta were walking their dog along the shores of Lake Michigan. They’d been dating for three years, having met through a mutual friend.

Aaron stopped walking and looked very seriously at Kara. “You’ll be OK with it if we don’t get engaged for another three or four years, right?”

Kara hid her disappointment. “Sure I will,” she answered. “We both have a lot going on in our work lives right now.”
Then Aaron smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t be OK with it, so let’s get engaged right now, today,” he said.

Kara laughs when she recalls that magical rainy afternoon. Today, the happily married couple lives in Buffalo Grove, where Aaron works as a logistics broker, Kara as an early childhood specialist. They’re not far from the things that matter most to them – her family in Rockford, his family in Mundelein and downtown Chicago, where they met.

Aaron and Kara complement each others’ strengths and “just get each other,” says Kara. “He’s more of a perfectionist, I’m more laid back. What drew us together is that we laugh at the same things, share the same sense of humor. That’s important. And, for both of us, family is very important.”

In fact, it was at a birthday party for Kara’s mother that the couple first thought about booking their wedding at Franchesco’s Ristorante, 7128 Spring Creek Road, Rockford.

“They did such a great job with that family birthday party,” Kara recalls. “We had the best time. We loved the atmosphere, the food was terrific, and the staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more attentive.”

The same held true at their May 3, 2014, wedding and reception at Francesco’s. “We couldn’t have been any happier with the way it went,” says Kara. “They treated us as if we were part of their family.”

The couple’s pastor officiated the ceremony in a decorated banquet room arranged with an aisle for the bridal party to walk down. Lavender, grey and white were the starring colors. “My late Grandpa had always given lilacs to my Mom, so I wanted the lilacs to be part of the decor, in his honor,” she says.

After the ceremony, the 275 guests enjoyed a cocktail hour.

“Then, the staff opened up another banquet room for a sit-down dinner reception with the kind of classic Italian dishes our families just love – there was Mediterranean chicken, lots of good pasta, and a beautiful wedding cake made by Kim Salamone, one of the restaurant’s owners.”

One of Kara’s favorite touches was a digital montage of family photos that Aaron put together himself, easily accommodated by Franchesco’s AV department. “It’s something we can keep forever,” she says.

One of the keys to a great event is employing a high ratio of servers per guest, says Franchesco’s owner Benny Salamone, who hosts 50 to 60 weddings each year.

“To serve hot, fresh food, from kitchen to table, you need an adequate number of servers,” says Salamone. “We have at least one server per three tables, compared to most facilities, which have one server per 50 to 60 guests.”

Franchesco’s also supplies linens and centerpieces, if requested by the bride, making her job a bit easier.

“The best advice I would give a bride-to-be is to work with reliable people, stay calm and just enjoy your day,” says Kara. “It’s kind of like marriage itself. You have to overlook little imperfections and believe everything will work out just fine – come rain or shine.”

Ceremony/Dinner/Cake: Franchesco’s Ristorante, Rockford, Ill.
Gown: Sara Grace Co., Rockford, Ill.
Flowers: Crimson Ridge, Rockford, Ill.
Photography: Annie Steele Photography, Chicago
Music/DJ: Paul Singh
Hair/Makeup: WM DaySpa, Rockford, Ill.

Learn more at www.Franchescos.com.


(Jenelle Kappe photos)
(Jenelle Kappe photos)

Cupid’s Arrow

Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms/Copperstone Inn, Rockton, Ill.

Craig Gavril’s mom likes to take credit for setting up her son with Rebekah Nowak in 2007. Maybe it was more than coincidence that Carol invited her son to the 25th anniversary of the Emerald Society bagpipe group, in Chicago.

“Becky went to the event with her family, my mom ran into her and introduced us, and the rest is history,” says Craig. “I guess that’s why they call her ‘Cupid Carol.’”

Craig and Rebekah hit it off quickly, eventually leaving the party to walk through downtown Chicago. Five years later, on Dec. 21, 2012, they walked those same steps toward Craig’s grand proposal.

“She wanted to see Martina McBride, who was playing at the Chicago Theatre, but it was sold out,” he says. “I didn’t tell her at first that there were actually two tickets sitting in her purse. After the concert, we walked to this park at State and Wacker, the same place where we had a conversation the day we met. I pulled off her glove and got down on one knee, and put the ring on her finger before she knew what to do.”

The engagement ring, which Craig designed himself, features a main stone of emerald, with one trillion-cut diamond on either side. The custom-fit wedding band has a peek-a-boo diamond on the bottom.

Planning their wedding, the pair visited 10 potential venues, but nothing quite charmed them. “We were looking for something with a rustic feel,” he says. “We wanted a barn feel, but in Chicago, that was always under a tent. We kept searching, and I pulled up The Pavilion in Rockton. I thought, no, it’s too far. I took Becky to see it, and we fell in love with it.”

The exposed timber frame, the elegant chandeliers, the warm stonework – The Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms and its accompanying Copperstone Inn were just what the couple wanted. Set on 130 rural acres, The Pavilion and Copperstone provide several ceremony sites and quiet lodging for wedding parties. The seven-suite luxury bed-and-breakfast offers a spa, bar, theater, Jacuzzi and gourmet breakfasts.

Every year, nearly 80 couples celebrate their weddings here, and dates book fast. Originally, Craig and Rebekah wanted a September date, but late summer is an increasingly popular time for nuptials. On May 3, 2014, the couple were wed by the pond near The Pavilion.

“We lucked out on the weather,” says Craig. “It was rain and thunderstorms leading right up to the day, and then that Saturday, we got up to 70 and sunny. Then on Sunday, it was back down to the 60s. Somebody was watching out for us.”

Kacie Benjamin, The Pavilion’s events coordinator, and Taneel Fraley, The Pavilion’s premier wedding planner, helped to make the day smooth and carefree, even coordinating with out-of-town vendors.

“The staff was wonderful,” says Craig. “They took care of anything we could ask for. I didn’t have to ask any questions that day.”
The couple celebrated with about 200 friends and family, heralded by 20 bagpipes from the Emerald Society.

Rebekah is an only child, so Craig knew all along that their wedding would be an important occasion. Thanks to the team at The Pavilion and Copperstone, the day was flawless.

“Seeing the reactions, every single moment somebody was saying it was the best wedding they’d ever been to,” says Craig. “To get out of the banquet hall setting, to be in this big, spacious, beautiful space, was thrilling.”

Ceremony/Reception: The Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms, Rockton, Ill.
Catering: Hoffman House, Rockford, Ill.
Wedding Planner: Taneel Fraley, Favor* Wedding & Event Planning, Rockford, Ill.
Hair/Makeup: Arch Apothecary, Rockford, Ill.
Florist: Stems Floral & More, Rockford, Ill.
Wedding Rings: Ancona Jewelers, Addison, Ill.
Live Band: Hey Jimmy, Chicago
Photographer: Jenelle Kappe, Chicago
Cake: Sugarjones, Rockford, Ill.

Learn more at www.OrchardRidgeFarms.com.



A Love Aloft

Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.

Elizabeth and Igor Kasyanyuk love the industrial loft look, with exposed brick, wood and stone. That urban chic-meets-vintage-flair aesthetic is now the backdrop of their renovated residence in downtown Rockford, and it set a romantic tone to their recent wedding.

The couple knew they’d found the perfect location when their wedding planner and personal friend, Lori Eickhoff, showed them the new Ironworks Hotel, in downtown Beloit.

“We stumbled onto Ironworks, and the minute we went in there, we were blown away,” says Elizabeth.

Opened just this year, Ironworks Hotel has been thoroughly renovated into a tribute to America’s industrial heritage. Its exposed architectural elements and Restoration Hardware-style furnishings echo that modern industrial chic. With up to four meeting spaces that accommodate 200 guests, a classy steakhouse and a 54-room hotel, this space is already filled for weddings through 2014. One of the first couples booked this year, Elizabeth and Igor fell in love right at the entrance, where a grand canopy of steel I-beams hold actual equipment from an early Beloit factory.

“We loved that there was so much light in there, that you could see light from the river,” says Elizabeth, describing the river views set just outside the window-filled reception rooms. “It was during the day, so you could see the river, the warm hardwood floors.”

The couple met in July 2012, on a blind date initiated by friends. She had grown up in Freeport, Ill.; he was born in Ukraine and had grown up around Rockton, Ill. The two found an instant connection and crafted serious wedding plans just a year later. In October 2013, Igor proposed in a carefully orchestrated visit to Kohler-Andrae State Park, near Sheboygan, Wis.

“He went two weeks ahead of time to scout with his friends,” says Elizabeth. “He set the bar high for everyone we know.”

With the help of some friends and an electric perrywinkle sky, Igor proposed during a beachside sunset.

“We strolled along the boardwalk through the sand dunes, and he led me to a beautiful fixture on the beach, with lanterns, photos and my favorite champagne,” Elizabeth recalls. “Two photographers and several great friends also appeared as he got down on one knee.”

On June 7, 2014, the couple were wed on the grounds of Beloit’s Hanchett Bartlett Homestead. Afterward, the couple and their 190 guests traveled to Ironworks for a grand reception. Some birch branches, intertwined with twinkle lights, were all that was needed to dress up the venue’s hardwood floors, exposed wooden beams and metal lamps.

“The space had enough of its own character that it did not need tremendous amounts of additional decor to look sophisticated and well-rounded,” Elizabeth says. “Some of our favorite design details were the factory elements.”

The meal, provided by Merrill & Houston’s, the hotel’s steakhouse, didn’t disappoint. “We had had a tasting with Igor’s parents, and his mother is Ukranian – she’s an amazing cook,” says Elizabeth. “Irena’s cooking is masterful and it is difficult to find a restaurant meal that can compete with her home-crafted Ukranian cuisine. Irena was pleased and enjoyed the flavors and quality of our menu choices.”

The couple left straight from the reception for a honeymoon in Spain, making a grand exit with friends and family cheering them on. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Ceremony: Hanchett Bartlett Homestead, Beloit, Wis.
Reception/Catering: Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.
Gown: Sara Grace Co., Rockford, Ill.
Photographer: Karrah Kobus, Minneapolis, Minn.
Videographer: Greg Farnham and Nate Carter, Rockford, Ill.
Music/DJ: DJ Next Door
Hair: Salon Riverside, Loves Park, Ill.

Learn more at www.ironworkshotel.com.


(Laura Hamp photos)
(Laura Hamp photos)

Hearts On Fryer

Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Rockford, Ill.

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 ballrooms and one dining room – that are roomy enough for receptions and rehearsal dinners. The staff can assist the couple with specialty lights, decor, 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/Reception: St. James Catholic Church, Belvidere, Ill.
Reception/Catering: Giovanni’s, Rockford, Ill.
Photographer: Laura Hamp Photography
Gown: The Crystal Bride, Geneva, Ill.
Floral: Event Floral, Rockford, Ill.

Learn more at www.giodine.com.


(Vermilion River Photography photos)
(Vermilion River Photography photos)

February on My Mind

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, Utica, Ill.

A summer wedding was so cliche to Cindy and Brian Fusinato. Besides, Cindy figured, it’d be just her luck to have rain interrupt an outdoor ceremony.

“I wanted to do it on Valentine’s Day,” says Cindy. “Someone else had already booked it, so I asked what the next available date was, and it was the weekend of Feb. 21 or 28. I thought the 21st was just there, in the middle, and the 28th is at the end of the month, it’s memorable, so I picked that.”

Selecting the perfect venue was also a snap. Brian and Cindy had grown up in Spring Valley, Ill., and Peru, Ill., respectively, and Cindy wanted something close to home. When they attended a friend’s wedding, she knew she also wanted to celebrate at Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, which is within 20 miles of home.

Located inside Starved Rock State Park, this 75-year-old lodge hosts about 120 weddings each year, most of which happen in summer. During warmer months, the park offers scenic outdoor settings, but during winter and inclement weather, the Lodge’s Great Hall is the venue of choice.

On Feb. 28, 2014, Brian and Cindy were married in the Great Hall, in front of its grand stone fireplace, which was lit for the occasion. Afterward, the couple celebrated with about 200 guests in the adjacent Starved Rock Room, where the Lodge’s restaurant catered a bounteous feast.

“The food was excellent,” says Cindy. “They catered our rehearsal and wedding, so we had something completely different for each. We had the Tuscan buffet for the rehearsal dinner, because my husband’s Italian. We had lasagna and all of that good food. Then, we did the grand buffet for the wedding, and we had fried chicken, turkey, mostaccioli, mashed potatoes and two types of salad.”

The couple met in 2006, while socializing with friends at a local bar, and connected right away. After the couple had dated for nearly six years, Brian crafted a wedding proposal that took Cindy completely by surprise. It was her birthday, and Cindy had just arrived home from a night shift at work, eager for a day trip to Naperville.

“I walked into the house, and he was pacing and stressed,” she recalls. “We were going to leave right away for Naperville, so I figured that’s what it was. He said, ‘Happy Birthday’ and he handed me this long box. I said, ‘I told you not to get me anything for my birthday.’ I’m thinking it’s a necklace or a bracelet, and when I opened it and saw the ring, I just dropped to my knees. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I almost had a heart attack – I was not expecting it.”

In the days leading up to their winter wedding, the couple retreated to a cabin at Starved Rock – a perfect place to relax before the big day. Playing on the February colors, Cindy dressed her wedding party in chocolate brown, with the groomsmen wearing colorful reddish-pink ties. The bride’s ivory dress added just a hint of color to the snow-white backdrop.

Looking back, Cindy says she’s pleased with her unique wedding, and is still receiving compliments from guests. Really, she says, it’s just the result of a clear vision.

“My only problem was at the start of the planning, when I was constantly browsing Pinterest,” she says. “I was eventually like, ‘This is a waste of time.’ Stick with what you’ve got on your mind. The more you go on Pinterest, the more changes you’ll want to make. I stayed with my vision, and it worked perfectly.”

Ceremony/Reception: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Cake/Desserts: Tiers of Joy, LaSalle, Ill.
Photographer: Jim & Carol Krancic, Vermilion River Photography, Oglesby, Ill.
Gown/Bridesmaids: Marien Mae Bridal Boutique, LaSalle, Ill.
Tuxes: Something Different Tuxedos & More, Spring Valley, Ill.
DJ/Music: Guys on the Radio DJ Service, Spring Valley, Ill.
Decorator: SueZ’s Linens and Things, Blackstone, Ill.

Learn more at www.StarvedRockLodge.com.


(Hermosillo Photography photos)
(Hermosillo Photography photos)

Luck of the Draw

Kilbuck Creek, Monroe Center, Ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About 15 weddings took place in 2013, and 25 are scheduled for this year. Theden was among last year’s brides, and says she loves making others’ wedding dreams come true.

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

Ceremony/Reception: Kilbuck Creek, Monroe Center, Ill.
Catering: Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza, Rockford, Ill.
Appetizers: Toni’s of Winnebago, Winnebago, Ill.
Photographer: Hermosillo Photography, Rockford, Ill.
Gown: DreamProm.com
Tuxes: Express

Learn more at www.KilbuckCreek.com.


(Peer Canvas Photography photos)
(Peer Canvas Photography photos)

A New Tradition

Dry Creek Estate, South Beloit, Ill.

When Emily and Nate Scott began planning their wedding, selecting a venue was pretty much a no-brainer. After all, Emily’s parents own Dry Creek Estate, 8877 Stateline Road, South Beloit, a new winery and wedding venue that’s located on the quiet country escape where Emily grew up.

“We had talked about doing a destination wedding, but we knew it was a lot of planning,” says Emily. “With Dry Creek, we thought it would be a great family tradition, since we’d be the first wedding there. It was very special for us.”

Just opened this summer, Dry Creek Estate looks like a Tuscan winery, complete with stone accents and terra cotta roofing. Its open-air pavilion seats up to 300, and its outdoor spaces are perfect for weddings.

For Emily, the space wasn’t just a great family tradition in the making, it was also a chance to enjoy the quiet countryside. Located along the Wisconsin state line, the property is just five miles away from Interstate 90 – close enough for visitors, but far enough from busy traffic.

On June 14, 2014, Emily and Nate were married on the main lawn, just in front of a stone arch and small pond, a space specially designed for ceremonies. The couple didn’t have a wedding party, but by their sides were a series of rustic wine barrels with flowers on top. Playing on that wine theme, Emily had her guests sign corks instead of a guestbook.

The wedding, of course, was a family affair. Emily’s young nephews served as ushers, and pulled a wagon carrying her five-month-old son, Mason, who was the ring bearer.

Emily met Nate online in 2006. As they talked, the two realized they had a lot in common, and because Nate lived nearby in Beloit, they also shared some connections. About a month later, they decided to meet in person.

“I just found this out, but apparently when I went to go meet Nate, my sisters, Ashley and Alicia, actually followed me the whole time, just to make sure I was OK,” Emily says, laughing. In person, she saw who he really was, and found she admired his driven personality. Just before they met, Nate had joined the Army National Guard, and while they dated, the two endured his rigorous training and multiple deployments.

In September 2013, Nate took Emily on a romantic retreat to Lake Geneva, and, enlisting a horse-drawn carriage, proposed in the evening. Unfortunately for Nate, Emily had seen the surprise coming. “I acted like I was surprised at the moment,” she says, “but I had seen him buy the ring. I didn’t hide it very well, because I’m not a very good liar.”

Planning the wedding was a smooth process, thanks to Dry Creek’s go-to wedding planner, Tia Lasswell, who has more than 15 years of experience in wedding coordination. She helped Emily to connect with Dry Creek’s Rockford-area caterers, and was key in pulling together the site’s first-ever wedding.

“It was a wonderful planning process,” says Emily. “Anytime I needed help with anything, I’d just talk to the wedding coordinator. I could call, text, give her suggestions, help with whatever. It was awesome – I felt like it wasn’t as bad as some people make it sound.”

Dry Creek is still accepting reservations for weddings this year and next year, but spots are filling up fast, says Emily’s sister Ashley, who’s a venue manager. Late-summer dates are especially popular, when the winery is in full color.

“Come out and look at it,” says Emily. “When you see everything we have to offer, it’s hard not to say ‘yes.’”

Ceremony/Reception: Dry Creek Estate, South Beloit, Ill.
Catering: Thunder Bay Grille, Rockford, Ill.
Music/DJ: Flipside Entertainment, Rockford, Ill.
Photobooth: Spotlight Photobootht, Rockford, Ill.
Gown: Deborah Vllaneueva Artful Dressmakingt, Rockford, Ill.
Tuxes: Men’s Warehouse
Photographer: Peer Canvas Photography, Beloit, Wis.
Floral: Broadway Floristt, Rockford, Ill.
Linens: Beautiful Day Linens, Rockford, Ill.

Learn more at www.DryCreekEstate.com.


(Sung Joon Koo photos)
(Sung Joon Koo photos)

A Family Affair

Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford, Ill.

Planning an intimate outdoor ceremony was an important part of Julie and Rohika Wagner’s wedding preparations.

“I was very particular about how I wanted the ceremony space,” says Julie. “I wanted nature involved, but a lot of places that had lots of flower arrangements or a botanical setting were very pricey. I just wanted a nice place with a nice space.”

The two Palatine residents couldn’t find anything in Chicagoland that compared with what they found at Anderson Japanese Gardens, 318 Spring Creek Road, in Rockford. One of the highest-rated Japanese gardens in North America, Anderson Gardens hosts about 40 weddings at three sites: the Pavilion, the Waterfall and the Main Gate.

“When we went there, it was covered in snow, and it was just beautiful,” she says. “It looked like I was in Japan. It was so peaceful and calming.”

Julie knew that sense of calm when she first met Rohika, in 2012, at a sporting event in New York City. The New Jersey native felt an instant connection to him, and the two shared much in common. Both are half-Asian in ancestry; Julie’s mom is Korean and Rohika’s mom is Japanese.

Both families are members of the Unification Church, a worldwide religious organization founded in Korea by the late Sun Myung Moon. Arranged marriages are part of that tradition, so before dating, the two sought the blessings of their parents.

“In our church tradition, it’s the parents who decide,” explains Julie. “We were giving our parents the offering, and left it for them to decide. Luckily, they said it was OK.”

Their parents’ blessings cleared the way for Rohika’s surprise proposal in May 2013, during a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden. “I thought it would be a regular date, but he had the ring in his pocket and not in the box, so I never saw it,” she says. “He was really sneaky.”

A sudden shift in plans gave the couple just six months to put everything together in time for their May 25, 2014, wedding. It was hectic, but Julie found a helping hand from Anderson Gardens’ wedding coordinator, who helped the bride to find a reception venue at the nearby Burpee Museum of Natural History.

“I couldn’t really think of my reception or catering, but after our tour, the planner there gave us a to-do checklist,” says Julie. “When I looked through it, that’s how I found my vendors. That really helped us a lot. It was like a cheat sheet for planning a wedding.”

In the final hours before the ceremony, Julie found herself in good hands. When the family served water bottles to keep guests cool, staff provided buckets of ice. While the bride prepared in the lower level of the visitors center, staff kept her out of sight from the groom.

“They helped me be all ‘James Bond’ about getting ready,” she recalls. “They planned it so that nobody could see me come up, or walk toward the ceremony, until the right time.”

The two were wed in front of the garden’s Main Gate, with about 50 guests in attendance. Their ceremony was more relaxed than traditional, but the symbol of their church is inscribed in their rings, providing a constant reminder of their faith and family – two elements that brought them together.

Ceremony: Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford, Ill.
Reception: Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford, Ill.
Catering: ABC Catering, Rockford, Ill.
Cake: Jarosch Bakery, Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Photographer: Sung Joon Koo, Austin, Texas
Floral: Blue Daisy Floral Design, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Learn more at www.AndersonGardens.org.


(Sara Rae Photo photos)
(Sara Rae Photo photos)

My Big Fat Indian Wedding

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.

Avanti and Sanjeev Bhatia knew it would be no small task planning their traditional Indian wedding. They wanted to hold it at a destination location, somewhere easily accessible to their 400 guests. That’s when they discovered Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, where the couple has spent winters skiing. The 1,300-acre resort includes outdoor ceremony spaces, lodging, fun activities and restaurant spaces for rehearsal dinners.

“I checked their website, and it said their wedding rooms could hold 600, so I knew it was right,” says Avanti. “We had family flying in from Canada, California, India. We wanted something convenient, so they wouldn’t have to drive everywhere.”

The resort’s location was just 45 minutes from Sanjeev’s family in Milwaukee, and little more than an hour from Avanti’s, in Skokie. And, because of the elaborate requirements of their Hindu celebration, the couple also had some unique needs. “One thing that’s important is that the bride and groom walk around a sacred fire four times, representing four basic human goals,” Avanti explains.

The couple also had to coordinate the groom’s spectacular horseback entrance, called the baraat. “The resort blocked off some of the roads so his procession could go on,” says Avanti. “There was a guy playing a drum and everyone was dancing, right in front of the place. They actually blocked the lanes for about a half-hour.”

Kaitlin Wille, their dedicated wedding coordinator at Grand Geneva, was happy to oblige, and offered several additional accommodations, such as a Sunday brunch exclusively for the guests. She also coordinated with a Chicago caterer that served traditional Indian dishes.

“Kaitlin was so good about meeting all of the requirements that we had,” Avanti says. “It’s not always that a hotel lets you have a fire in the ballroom. That was actually one of the first things I asked about, was, ‘Do you allow fire in the ballroom, because it’s part of the ceremony?’”

On May 17, 2014, the couple were married inside Grand Geneva’s Evergreen Ballroom, in a traditional ceremony spoken mostly in Sanskrit. Afterward, guests enjoyed a reception in the adjacent ballroom, with partying and dancing that lasted until 1 a.m. They then enjoyed another hour of food and fun at the privately reserved Embers Terrace, located off the resort’s steakhouse.

The couple first met in spring 2008, when a group of mutual friends introduced them. Sanjeev’s warm, friendly smile and genuine personality had Avanti hooked right away. “We realized we had so much in common,” she says. “Our birthdays are a day apart, in the same year. He’s born on the 11th and I’m born on the 12th, so he’s just a day older than I am. His sister and I actually have the same birthday.”

Almost five years later, Sanjeev proposed in downtown Chicago. “It was around Valentine’s Day, so that had been his excuse for taking me out to dinner,” she says. “He had these puzzle pieces he wanted me to put together, and it was a photo of us that said, ‘Will you marry me?’ Except, he had some of the pieces in his pocket, so he handed them to me, and then got down on one knee.”

The couple had their ceremony booked within a few short months. It turned out to be the perfect combination of scenic getaway and family retreat.

“Many of our family members have gotten married at large hotel venues in the Chicago suburbs,” says Avanti. “Those were wonderful, but there wasn’t anything outdoors. I wanted a weekend away with my family, a chance to bring everyone together.”

Ceremony/Reception/Cake: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.
Catering: Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine, Schaumburg
Floral/Decorator/Mundap: Yanni Design Studio, Wheeling, Ill.
Hair: Well Spa, Grand Geneva Resort
Makeup: Ania Tate, Bobbi Brown artist, Chicago
DJ: Shaadi Entertainment, Chicago
Photographer: Sara Rae Photo, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Photo Booth: Concept One Photo, Bloomingdale, Ill.
Videographer: Highway 61 Films, Valparaiso, Ind.
Wedding Coordinator: Roma Patel, Chicago
Invitations: Kellogg Printing Co., Monmouth, Ill.

Learn more at www.GrandGeneva.com.



What a Girl Wants

Gardens of Woodstock, Lakewood, Ill.

As a bride-to-be, Amy Anderson knew what she wanted. Budget-conscious, Amy wanted a beautiful garden setting that would complement her wedding’s “shabby chic” flair and baby pink accents. Looking around Chicagoland, the Palatine native just couldn’t find the right setting – until she and her mom discovered the Gardens of Woodstock.

“I loved all of the flowers in the gardens,” Amy says. “It was so pretty that we didn’t have to decorate anything. I built all of my decorations around the gardens.”

Because she planned the wedding nearly a year-and-a-half in advance, Amy also landed her desired date: Labor Day weekend. On Aug. 31, 2013, Amy and Jared were married in the lush gardens of this Lakewood nursery and garden shop. Afterward, the couple’s 80 guests enjoyed cocktails and a reception beneath the large tent installed last summer.

Though the bride had done much of the planning, the crew at Gardens of Woodstock completed the final touches. “They’re really easy to work with,” says Amy. “I thought we’d have to do all of the setup ourselves, but they set everything up for us and allowed us to leave things there overnight.”

Turns out, Amy also knew what she wanted when she met Jared at Eastern Illinois University. Never mind that they’re total opposites. “He’s really calm and relaxed, and I’m very loud and high-strung,” she says, laughing. “I think, over time, he’s calmed me down a little.”

Even when a delivery guy nearly ruined Jared’s surprise proposal, Amy knew what she wanted. “The ring was delivered when I was home, and I had a hunch he was up to something,” she says. “He got home, and I asked him what was in the box, and he wouldn’t tell me.” That night, he took her to Twin Lakes Recreation Area, in Palatine, and proposed beneath a willow tree.

The couple is expecting their first child this winter.

Learn more at www.GardensofWoodstock.com.


(Laura Hamp Photo)
(Laura Hamp Photo)

Living the Dream

Midway Village Museum, Rockford, Ill.

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

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

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

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

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

Craig’s romantic Christmas 2011 proposal was almost ruined by a medical emergency he suffered the night before. Even though he spent the night in a hospital, he made sure there was a special gift under the tree.

“He had a note inside a ring box, with his high school ring,” Shayleigh says. “He put a note in there that said, ‘Will you marry me? This will have to do until you turn around.’ So I turned around, and he was with our daughters, on one knee, holding a ring.”

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

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

Learn more at www.MidwayVillage.com.