Wedding Stories: Dreamy Wedding Backdrops

She’s dreamed of her wedding day since she was a little girl. The flowers, the gown, the location – every detail is important and requires months of planning. Of all the components that comprise a wedding ceremony and reception, few are as important – or as challenging to schedule – as the venue. Whether you dream of a Midwest destination wedding or a hometown setting, our area offers spectacular options. Here, we highlight some of our favorites, and share the experiences of couples who recently said “I do.”

(Jill Tiongco Photography photos)

A Bachelor No More

The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates

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
Reception/Catering: The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates
Music/DJ: Simone Ragusa
Floral: Aga Galus, Park Ridge
Photographer: Jill Tiongco Photography
Gown: Brides by Demetrios, Schaumburg

Learn more at

(Vito Radé Photography photos)

Instant Attraction

Boulder Ridge Country Club, Lake in the Hills

The attraction between Joe and Nicole Bushman was instantaneous.

“We met through a mutual friend who separately asked us to play on his sand volleyball team at [Chicago’s] North Avenue Beach in summer 2012,” Nicole says. “When I got to the courts, Joe had his shirt off. So, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to the tall, dark and handsome man showing off his muscles.”

Looks aside, the couple quickly realized they shared many interests, morals and goals. Joe, originally from Lanark, Ill., knew Nicole was The One and planned an elaborate proposal, which happened in April 2014.

“Having it be an absolute blindside surprise was my No. 1 priority,” Joe says. “I decided that I would sneak into her condo and decorate the place with 100 candles, six dozen roses, champagne flutes and a ‘Marry Me’ sign in chalk. Then, I’d simply wait until she came home from work.”

But Nicole threw off his entire plan the night before, when she announced she’d go boxing after work the next day. Were she to go boxing, the proposal would be late and they’d miss their dinner reservations.

“So, I’m thinking, how do I get Nicole to skip boxing without setting off her diamond alarm?” Joe says. “Brilliantly, I left my wallet behind at her place. I texted her the next day, saying I’d need her to stop home before boxing. She totally bought it.”

With candles burning, rose petals everywhere and a John Legend tune playing in the background, Joe completely surprised Nicole.

The couple’s choice for a wedding reception venue, however, was no surprise. Nicole grew up just a short drive away from Boulder Ridge Country Club, in Lake in the Hills, so she already admired its spacious reception room with picture windows overlooking a 27-hole golf course. The elegant settings for indoor and outdoor photos, delicious on-site catering and spacious outdoor terrace provided the couple with a refined wedding experience.

“I always thought I wanted to get married there,” Nicole says. “It was a very classy venue, and it all came at a reasonable price for such great service.”

As the couple celebrated their reception on May 30, 2015, the country club’s staff was organized, accommodating, friendly and easy to work with, Nicole says, and the setup perfectly accommodated the couple’s 225 wedding guests.

“I can be a bit of a Type-A control freak,” Nicole says. “But on my wedding day, I literally showed up and didn’t worry about a thing.  I had so much confidence that everything would be done perfectly, and it was.”

The couple received many compliments on the venue’s refined appearance and cordial staff.

“I always feel that the entertainment, food and drinks are three of the most important aspects of a wedding, and all three were fantastic,” Nicole says. “I never saw a guest wait more than a minute or two, maximum, for a drink, and the dance floor was packed the entire night. I’d call that a success.”

Ceremony: St. Mary Catholic Church, Huntley
Reception/Catering: Boulder Ridge Country Club, Lake in the Hills
Cake: Sugar Hills Bakery, Algonquin
Music/DJ: Orchestra 33 Entertainment, Carol Stream
Photographer: Vito Radé Photography, Chicago
Flowers: Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, Chicago
Bride’s Gown: Mori Lee
Party Bus: Van Galder Bus Company, Rockford
Videographer: I Do Video by Leo, Bartlett
Linens: Ultrapom Event Rental, Kansas City, Mo.
Backdrop/Chiavari Chairs/Lighting: Elegant Presentations, Elgin
Donuts (Welcome Bags): Roll N Donuts, Algonquin

Learn more at


(Maison Meredith Photography photos)

Rustic Love

Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.

Casey Taillie didn’t expect to meet his future bride during his first week of college.

But Katie Dempsey caught his eye within days of starting classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The two became fast friends after consistently seeing each other at church.

“Our faith was a big factor,” Casey says. “We realized we had similar interests and values, and after six months I finally mustered the courage to ask her out.”

The couple dated for the remainder of their college years. “Marriage was a hot topic during our senior year,” Katie says. “We were intentional about discerning whether or not God was calling us to married life.”

In August 2014, just three months after their graduation, Casey arranged an elaborate proposal that started at a winery and continued at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., where the couple camped, kayaked and hiked. They ended the trip in Madison.

“We went to dinner at the same restaurant where we had our first date,” Katie says. “Afterward, we went to Monona Terrace, where we used to end many of our dates. It was at the terrace, looking out over the lake, where Casey proposed and I gladly accepted.”

The couple explored many venues for their reception, but it was Ironworks Hotel in Beloit, Wis., that captured their hearts. Just up the road from Katie’s hometown of Roscoe, the recently renovated hotel is embellished with accents that pay tribute to the Industrial Age. The entrance canopy is constructed from steel I-beams that hold equipment from an early Beloit factory. Light pours across the hardwood floors in the banquet hall from windows that reveal scenic river views. The ballroom can hold up to 200 people or be divided into four meeting spaces.

“Having all four rooms gives you plenty of space, a great view of the river, your own private entrance and many more options for possible layouts,” Casey says.

The couple booked Ironworks just eight months before they were married on May 30, 2015.  Celebrating with friends and family, they enjoyed a delicious feast catered by Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, the hotel’s in-house restaurant and a favorite dining spot for Katie’s family.

Around 10 p.m., as the celebration continued, hotel staff delivered a mashed potato bar.

“It was a huge hit with our guests,” says Casey. “We highly recommend springing for late-night snacks.”

Guests also enjoyed Ironworks’ full bar, dance floor and open patio on the river, Casey says. Because his family is from Connecticut, many out-of-town wedding guests stayed upstairs at Ironworks’ 18 traditional rooms and 36 suites.

The couple both appreciate how helpful and professional the Ironworks team was during the planning process, an experience they say was ‘incredible.’

“Ironworks did a great job,” Casey says. “We received many compliments on how wonderful the whole hotel was.”

Ceremony: Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, Beloit, Wis.
Reception: Ironworks Hotel, Beloit, Wis.
Catering: Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Beloit, Wis.
Music/DJ: Luxe Productions, Rockford
Photographer: Maison Meredith Photography, Madison, Wis.
Flowers: Nyrie’s Flower Shop, South Beloit, Wis.
Bride’s Gown and Groom’s Tuxes: Amelishan Bridal Shop, Huburtus, Wis.
Cake/Cupcakes: Madison Sweets, Madison, Wis.
Videographer: Vanilla Video, Chicago
Makeup and Hair: B. Elliott’s Salon, Roscoe

Learn more at

Blooming Affections

Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles

Ali Cohen was never one to imagine her wedding day. But when Alec Burnham proposed to her in 2014 and they started to visit ceremony and reception venues, one image stuck in her mind.

“Really, the only thing I had pictured was getting married outside of someone’s house, in their backyard, under a tent, but I didn’t know anyone who had a beautiful backyard available,” says Ali. “We wanted it to just be fun and relaxed, and a lot of the places that we saw had too much of a formal setting.”

When the couple saw the Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles, they were sold. Nestled in the LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, the more than 80-year-old house and property are known for interpretive displays and hands-on exhibits, but the venue also hosts a variety of private events year-round. Only nine months out, Ali and Alec were able to book their June wedding, becoming one of many weddings hosted there each year.

It was also a convenient distance from Geneva, Alec’s hometown, and Chicago, where the two now live and first met. Ali, a Boston native, was introduced to Alec in 2004 through her brother, Matthew, who is now married to Alec’s childhood friend, Courtney. Ali and Alec kept in touch during college and reconnected once they had moved to the city.

“I was working for a company that auctioned condo buildings,” says Ali. “And of all the buildings in the city, I was actually auctioning a building two blocks from where he lived.”
They started dating in 2009, drawn to each other’s easygoing nature and love for traveling. Already a frequent traveler himself, Alec took Ali on a trip in May 2014 to London, a destination she had always wanted to visit. Amidst the blooming petals of the Kensington Gardens, he proposed, much to Ali’s surprise.

“He did everything on his own, and it was a great job,” she says.

Just like their engagement, their marriage started with beautiful flowers. On June 6, 2015, the two were wed under sunny skies next to the Nature Center, surrounded by 125 guests and floral arrangements of pale pink peonies, ranunculus, garden roses, hydrangeas and more, all done by Elizabeth Wray Designs, in Geneva.

“I happen to love flowers, and I really loved our florist,” Ali says. “She kind of brought the whole place to life with the flowers.”

Afterward, the party moved to Creek Bend’s backyard for a cocktail hour and tent-covered reception.

“It was a beautiful day – we got really, really lucky,” says Ali. “I got great feedback from everybody. They thought it was gorgeous.”

With the help of the Nature Center’s vendor list and guidance from Alec’s parents, who own The Paper Merchant in Geneva, the couple booked local small businesses to fill in the other details of their big day, creating a “full-on Geneva wedding,” says Ali. The ensemble included the artisanal cooking of Moveable Feast and the elegant gown stylings of The Crystal Bride.

Now looking back, Ali believes the day couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

“It was perfect,” she says. “And I’m not really someone who pictured my wedding day from the time I was a little girl. I always thought I would elope.”

Ceremony/Reception: Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles
Catering/Rental Items: Moveable Feast, Geneva
Invitations/Gift Bags: The Paper Merchant, Geneva
Flowers: Elizabeth Wray Designs, Geneva
Bride’s Gown: The Crystal Bride, Geneva
Makeup: Odalisque, Geneva
Hair: Lola, Geneva
Accommodations: The Herrington Inn, Geneva
Music/DJ: Marque Schusler, Geneva
Rings: State Street Jewelers, Geneva
Shuttle Service: Spare Wheels, St. Charles
Day-Of Coordination: Bliss by Sam, Chicago

Learn more at

(Bella Pictures photos)

For the Love of Teaching

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, Utica

It was in 2007 when Ashley Chirempes, a mutual friend of Jocelyn and Rick Kotrba, first introduced the couple. It was only natural, then, that Ashley also suggested the venue where Jocelyn and Rick would hold their wedding eight years later.

“We both wanted something unique,” says Jocelyn. “We didn’t want a traditional banquet hall – that just wasn’t for us.”

After touring the scenic landscape and 75-year-old lodge at Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, in Utica, the two teachers knew they wanted to book it for their Memorial Day weekend wedding.

Starved Rock Lodge hosts about 120 indoor and outdoor weddings throughout the year, with options including the Great Hall, Canyonside Cabin, Sunrise Shelter and Canyonside Courtyard. Indoor or outdoor settings can accommodate up to 200 guests.

The Lodge also has an in-house event catering service, Starved Rock Cuisine, whose selections caught the couple’s attention. As a vegetarian bride and a meat-loving groom, the two needed a menu that would satisfy both dietary preferences.

“The food was fantastic. Not only were the portions generous, but everything tasted delicious as well,” says Jocelyn. “We received many comments from guests after the wedding about how good the food was.”

It was Rick’s humor, knack for listening and dedication to education that ultimately won Jocelyn’s heart. Rick proposed to her in June 2013, right after dinner, managing to still surprise her during an intimate moment at their Glen Ellyn home.

In the two years they were engaged, the couple traveled to Starved Rock four times to explore and prepare for their big day.

“I think that really enhances the wedding day, to not only get comfortable with the venue itself but to have a special bonding experience there,” says Jocelyn. “For us, it was so great to not be rushed with things. This gave us time to research vendors and really make each aspect of the wedding our own.”

A year before the wedding, Jocelyn attended Starved Rock’s annual bridal expo, where preferred vendors showcase their services, offer samples and interact with guests face-to-face. Jenny Roulston, sales manager at Starved Rock and the couple’s wedding coordinator, says the venue has been hosting the January expo for 10 years.

On May 24, 2015, Jocelyn and Rick were married under scattered clouds at the venue’s Sunrise Shelter, with Ashley  and other close friends and family at their side. Before the ceremony, there were on-and-off rain showers that challenged their photos, but everything worked out in the end.

“Due to the weather, we were unsure if we would be able to get married outside. We had to go back and forth, inside and outside,” says Jocelyn. “Starved Rock had prepared the inside and outside for us. They made it so seamless, and because of that it wasn’t stressful at all.”

The 5 p.m. ceremony was followed by a cocktail reception in the Starved Rock Room and dinner served in the Great Hall.Many of the 140 guests extended their stay so they could explore the park’s many trails and their iconic scenery.

“It was wonderful,” says Jocelyn. “I couldn’t be happier with how it all went. I really feel lucky.”

Ceremony/Reception: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica
Cake/Desserts: Maureen “Mo” Stabler at Starved Rock, Utica
Photographer: Bella Pictures, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Gown: David’s Bridal, Lombard
Tuxes: Men’s Wearhouse, Lombard
Bridesmaid Dresses: After Six
DJ/Music: Joe Beck Entertainment Plus, Bloomington, Ill.
Florist: Flowers Plus, Streator, Ill.
Linens: SueZ’s Linens and Things, Blackstone, Ill.

Learn more at

(Unposed Photography photos)

A Thousand Words

Goldmoor Inn, Galena

Ginny Griffin broke her arm in the summer of 2007, but it didn’t stop her from joining a running club near her home in Chicago. To fellow runner Sofoklis “Sof” Nikiforos, the cast made Ginny stick out from the pack.

“She looked pretty hardcore,” he says.

Both were attracted to the other’s laid-back personality and love for outdoor adventures. During a camping trip six years later, at Fort Custer, Mich., Sof proposed in between dinner and s’mores.

“He asked me to open this tin to look for supplies to clean the dishes, and an argument ensued, because I was like, ‘The cleaning supplies are inside the cabin. I was just in there!’” says Ginny. “But I opened the tin and saw the ring. I must have looked at it for five minutes, speechless, before I looked up to see him on one knee. I was shocked, in a very happy way.”

The couple’s love for the outdoors also brought them to the picturesque landscapes of the Goldmoor Inn, in Galena, in search of a wedding venue. Perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River, the privately owned inn is surrounded by abundant gardens on 21 acres, all picture-perfect settings for indoor and outdoor wedding ceremonies year-round. The bed-and-breakfast hosts nearly 60 weddings each year, with seating for up to 150 guests.

“According to Ginny’s three-year-old nephew, the inn looks like a castle,” Sof says. “It was our last stop after checking out seven places, and when we got there, it was just picture-perfect with the Mississippi River in the background.”

Working with Goldmoor’s in-house wedding coordinator, Erica Wall, the couple secured their May 31, 2014, wedding date nine months out. The venue’s list of preferred vendors made planning easy for the Chicago couple, and it connected them to one of their most important guests: photographers from Unposed Photography in Galena.

“They really helped us keep a schedule,” says Sof. “We got to have a lot of fun while they took photos. The whole day was like Christmas times 100. It was fun the entire way through.”

The couple were married on the Goldmoor’s lawn before moving with their 32 guests to the patio, where they enjoyed dinner served from Goldmoor’s kitchen, craft beer from Galena Brewing Co. and dancing as the sun descended behind the Galena hills. When storm clouds threatened to cut the reception short, photographers recognized an opportunity.

“They started taking pictures of us for about five minutes,” says Ginny. “And they finally got this shot, and it’s a great shot, of lightning in the background over the hill.”

A majority of the guests stayed at the Goldmoor over the weekend, enjoying its food and the unique personality in each of its 18 suites. True to their adventurous nature, the couple started their big day with a group 5K run and capped off the weekend with a send-off brunch. It felt as though the property was theirs for the weekend, says Ginny.

“Galena has a lot of charm,” she says. “We got really positive feedback from all of the guests – everyone loved the hills and how gorgeous the area was. Who knew this was in Illinois?”

It’s an image neither of them will forget. Wedding photos line the walls of their Wrigleyville residence.

“We still keep in touch with our photographers and officiant to this day,” says Ginny.

Officiant: The Rev. Jess Farlow
Ceremony/Reception/Catering/Cake: Goldmoor Inn, Galena
Photography: Unposed Photography, Galena
Flowers: Valley Perennials Florist, Galena
Bakery: Sweetheart Bakery, Galena
Beer: Galena Brewing Co., Galena
Nails: Knot’s A Problem, Galena

Learn more at

(Ryan Davis Photography photos)

Inside Connection

Kilbuck Creek, Monroe Center

Sara and Mark Henderson are accustomed to having an inside connection in their work, their romance and especially their wedding planning.

As chief meteorologist of a Rockford television station, Mark has spent the past 10 years going inside some exciting stories. As a wedding planner at a local venue, Sara has helped many brides to accomplish a picture-perfect event.

Naturally, Sara had the inside scoop on planning her own wedding, held on June 21, 2014. She knew she wanted an outdoor ceremony at Anderson Japanese Gardens, but it was her personal connections that pointed Sara toward a reception at Kilbuck Creek, a quiet retreat near Monroe Center.

“We saw it and loved it right away,” she says. “We were amazed by how much they were there for us.”

Just opened in 2013 as a wedding, vacation and corporate retreat, Kilbuck sits on 200 wooded acres, and includes a guest house, a new wedding pergola and a banquet hall that seats about 250. About 30 weddings are scheduled this year. The retreat-like setting proved the perfect stage for Mark and Sara’s relaxed reception.

“We’re in our 30s, so we’ve seen lots of weddings, and I had worked with lots of weddings in my job,” says Sara. “We turned the experience upside down. We wanted something traditional, but we wanted people to have fun, too.”

Couples who book their wedding at Kilbuck have full access to the grounds all weekend, so Sara and Mark took full advantage. On Friday evening, they used the Kilbuck lodge for a rustic rehearsal dinner. For their Saturday reception, wedding coordinator Branigan Theden arranged for lawn games to be spread around the property, including a life-sized game of Jenga on the deck. She even helped Mark to plan a special fireworks show, put on by one of his friends.

“They had never done fireworks on the property, so Branigan worked everything out with the owner, and it proved to be a great setting,” says Sara.

The couple met in 2012, about the time Sara returned to Rockford after living in Cincinnati.

“We both went to Valparaiso University, and it turns out we had a lot of the same mutual friends,” she says. “Mark posted something on Facebook, I liked it, and then I noticed we had a lot of the same friends. We started talking, and we haven’t stopped.”

Sara was especially smitten with Mark’s supportiveness of her young daughter, Juliana.

“From day one, he was very cordial, polite and understanding,” says Sara. “He was very different from anybody I’ve ever known.”

About a year later, Mark proposed, during the fireworks show at an outdoor concert. Mark’s television camera crew captured the special moment.

Sara had just about a year of planning, which she says was just the right amount of time to arrange a perfect event and a generous multi-station buffet, which was catered by the owner of Costa’s Pizza & Ristorante, in Byron.

“He just took our ideas and ran with them,” says Sara. “He actually brought pizzas over late in the evening for our guests. I know Branigan has him slated for exclusive catering in 2015 for a good reason.”

Ceremony: Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford
Reception: Kilbuck Creek, Monroe Center
Catering: Costa’s Ristorante, Byron
Photographer: Ryan Davis Photography, Rockford
Gown: Sara Grace, Rockford
Florist: Event Floral, Rockford
Music/DJ: Pablo & the Rhythmix

Learn more at

(C+S Wedding & Event Photography photos)

Young Love

Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat, Oregon

Brooklyn and James Morris were just teenagers when they met and fell in love.

“It was summer 2012,” Brooklyn says. “We met by complete chance at the local fair, ByronFest. James went with his friend Matt, and I went with my friend Dayna, who was dating Matt.”

Brooklyn was initially attracted to James’ smile and sense of humor, while James fell instantly for her long, dark hair. The couple grew up just a few miles away from each other – James in Byron and Brooklyn down the road in Stillman Valley.

“When I realized she loved me as much as I loved her, and when I knew that we wanted the same things out of life, I knew I wanted to get married,” James says.

Brooklyn adds, “I realized he was the one God made me wait so long for. I knew there was no one else I’d rather have.”

James proposed to Brooklyn in front of both their families, on her 18th birthday, Dec. 21, 2013.

“He made me think I was getting an iPad for my present,” Brooklyn says. “When I finally fought my way through all of the tape that he’d wrapped around the gift, he got down on one knee and offered me the most beautiful ring. Neither of us said a word, because I knew his question and he knew my answer. It was the sweetest moment.”

The couple planned their June 20, 2015, ceremony and reception at Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat in Oregon, a longtime favorite for casual dining, banquets and dinner cruises on the Rock River. It’s also where James used to work.

Nearly every part of the riverfront property was used for their wedding, says Brooklyn.

They started with a rehearsal dinner on the authentic Paddle Wheel Riverboat, which is docked near the restaurant and cruises up and down river with as many as 129 people. The wedding ceremony was held just outside the restaurant, on a sprawling pavilion and gazebo that can hold up to 200 people. Then, the party moved to a reception inside the glass-enclosed riverside dining room, which reveals panoramic views of the river.

Brooklyn’s mom, Michelle, was highly impressed with Maxson and particularly enjoyed the wooded scenery.

“It’s a beautiful place on its own, so I loved the fact that we didn’t have to go crazy with decorating,” Michelle says. “We were able to keep it simple and tasteful, and the owners [Frank and Nancy Semmerling] were more than willing to work with us to achieve whatever look we were after.”

The Semmerlings worked hard to help Brooklyn’s wedding dreams come true. “They made me feel like a princess all day,” says Brooklyn. “I got anything and everything I wanted, and I couldn’t have been happier to be there.”

Maxson’s flexible head chef can prepare most any type of wedding feast, from pizza to rainbow trout. Michelle especially appreciated the accommodating menu.

“Variety and flexibility – that’s what I love most about Maxson,” Michelle says. “We were able to get kids’ meals as well as special plates for those with allergies, and everything was delicious.”

Looking back on it, Brooklyn remembers her wedding day as a success.

“It meant so much to me, and our guests had nothing but great comments.”

Catering/Ceremony/Reception: Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat, Oregon
Music/DJ: Mark Charvat from Q98.5, Rockford
Photographer: C+S Wedding & Event Photography, Byron
Flowers: Merlin’s Greenhouse & Flowers, Oregon
Bride’s Gown: Isabella’s Bridal, Taunton, Mass.

Learn more at

(Kat/Eye Studios photos)

Barn Beginnings

Barnacopia, Polo

Katie and Tyler Oberhelman knew it was love after only two weeks of dating.

“He blurted out ‘God, I love you” on accident, and everything is history from there,” Katie says.

The couple met in April 2012 in Tyler’s hometown of Naperville, just before they began working together at Navistar, an international truck manufacturer. Katie, originally from Geneva, asked him to watch the Chicago Blackhawks game at a nearby bar after work one night. They talked until the bar closed, and continued their conversation in the parking lot until 5 a.m.

“We had so many things in common, it was almost freaky,” Katie says. “Our conversations sparked a mutual interest.”

By 2013, Tyler knew he wanted to propose to Katie, and had many ideas how he’d do it. But in a fit of impatience, he popped the question in Katie’s driveway.

“We were about to leave for a weekend trip to Michigan, and Tyler jumped out of the truck,” Katie says. “He said he forgot to do something. I thought something was wrong with the truck, but next thing I know, he’s down on one knee with a ring in his hand.”

Since the couple had so much in common, it was easy to select Barnacopia, in Polo, for their wedding ceremony and reception. The barn-like building is part bed-and-breakfast, part museum and part social gathering space. Its three floors include antique tractor displays, old cars and several settings that are ideal for wedding celebrations. Katie, a photographer, especially loved taking photos around the place.

Every corner of the unique farm appealed to Katie and Tyler, who didn’t want a “normal” wedding.

“We’re both quirky people who like to wear cowboy boots, so for us to have a ‘normal’ wedding didn’t seem right,” Katie says. “Barnacopia is one-of-a-kind. Once you see the barn – better yet, once you meet [owners] Judy and Gary Bocker – your wedding is guaranteed to be amazing.”

The Bockers began renting the building for weddings in 2013. Since then, they’ve booked about 20 to 25 weddings each year. Katie and Tyler were happy to be among the first.

Despite a little rain, the sun shone down on Katie while she walked down the aisle on June 21, 2014. The cornfields glistened in the background and a rainbow appeared in the sky just in time for the saying of vows.

“There are things outside your control, but if you stay focused on what the day is really about, everything is totally worth it,” Katie says.

To this day, the couple still visit Barnacopia and keep in touch with the Bockers. They appreciate how accommodating and hard-working the Bockers were and how promptly they responded to every request.

“I can’t tell who loved it more: us or our guests,” Katie says. “When you say you’re getting married in a barn and will be wearing cowboy boots, people seem puzzled. But once they get there, no further explanation is needed.”

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

Learn more at

Young at Heart

Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort, Rockford

When Ray Montelongo pulled his car into Boylan Catholic High School’s parking lot in April 2001, Megan Ryan was confused why they were stopping where they’d met as teenagers more than 10 years ago. But when he stepped out of the car and kneeled with a ring in his hand, Megan knew it was the perfect place for a marriage proposal.

“It was funny and special at the same time,” says Megan.

Megan and Ray were just 14 and 17 years old, respectively, when they first started dating. After attending different colleges, they reconnected in their hometown of Rockford, rekindling their love for each other’s humor and their natural chemistry. After four years of dating and the launch of Ray’s business, Montel Technologies, the couple were ready to take the next step.

Their search for a wedding venue in the Rockford area led Ray and Megan to Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort. The luxury conference hotel offers five ballroom options for the 35 to 40 weddings hosted there every year, with flexible accommodations for up to 1,200 guests. Each ballroom features shimmering crystal chandeliers, adjoined patios and grand fireplaces – settings that allow for indoor and outdoor events year-round. Every option overlooks the river, and each provides a breathtaking blufftop view.

“The views at Cliffbreakers are spectacular,” Megan says. “We also liked the hotel that’s attached to the facility, and we needed a venue large enough to host all of our guests.”

The Montelongos chose the Renaissance Grand Ballroom to host their 200-guest reception after the ceremony at St. Bridget Catholic Church in Loves Park. After booking their June 29, 2002, date about a year out, the couple worked with the venue’s list of suggested vendors to secure the rest.

The hotel’s in-house catering made planning dinner and drinks selections one of the easiest steps of the planning process – and also Megan’s favorite. Six months ahead of the big day, the couple saw their full table setup and sampled each dish of their selected menu, which happened to include lobster and steak.

“Our guests raved about the food,” says Megan. “I was so busy talking to everyone at the wedding that I didn’t actually get to eat anything. But the tasting was very memorable.”

Their wedding celebration was perfect in every way, even though the weather was a muggy 80-something degrees. A banquet manager oversaw the reception planning, to keep things on schedule.

“Everything was gorgeous,” Megan says. “The staff was amazing. They were bending over backwards to get everything perfect for us. Cliffbreakers is still creating life’s most important memories and I really can’t say enough good things about them. Everyone said they did a wonderful job.”

More than a decade later, Megan and Ray still receive complements about their big day at Cliffbreakers.

Ceremony: St. Bridget Catholic Church, Loves Park
Reception/Catering: Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort, Rockford

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A Tropical Escape

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford

Christina and Corey Neese hadn’t planned on getting married right away after their engagement in December 2013.

“It wasn’t until one of our good friends passed away at work in fall 2014 that we were convinced life was too short,” says Christina. “I started thinking maybe it’s time to finalize our plans – the sooner, the better.”

Fellow employees at transportation specialist Landstar, the couple were drawn to the intimate setting of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens in Rockford, Corey’s hometown.

“I knew what I wanted,” says Christina, a Byron native. “The scenery indoors made it perfect for a wedding in January. You have beautiful decorations, and it’s very peaceful and laid back. I didn’t have to decorate hardly at all.”

Working with Leslie Campos, operations manager at the Conservatory, the couple booked their Jan. 2, 2015, wedding and reception about three months in advance. Armed with a list of the venue’s accepted vendors, the couple hired Sam’s Ristorante, in Rockford, to cater.

After the ceremony, the tropical grounds were open for exploration to the couple’s 35 guests, including Christina’s 16-year-old son, Logan. He walked his mother down the aisle and gave his blessings before Corey proposed after a family Christmas Eve party.

“I couldn’t have done it without his permission,” says Christina. “Things went so smoothly. I would recommend the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens to anyone.”

Ceremony/Reception: Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford
Catering: Sam’s Ristorante, Rockford
Music: Big Day DJ Service, Rockford
Flowers/Centerpiece: Garden Arts, Winnebago

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(Matt Mason Photography photos)

A Par-fect Match

Geneva National Resort, Lake Geneva

Sarah Hertel was mortified when her friend yelled at a stranger to get out of their picture – until she realized who that stranger was.

“I was on a girls’ day in Chicago and suddenly my handsome boyfriend was there in a snazzy tux,” Sarah says. “I couldn’t believe he was with me and not at his station in Japan. Right then, I started to bawl.”

Andrew, a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, flew from Okinawa and whisked Sarah off to dinner on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center, followed by a carriage ride around the city and fireworks at Navy Pier. The day ended with a proposal.

“I hope this fits,” Andrew joked as he got down on one knee.

The couple met during high school in Grayslake, through their church youth group.

“I was attracted to her quietness and passion for God,” Andrew says. Sarah’s mom, Ursula Ahern, thought Andrew’s “craziness” and marvelous heart captivated her daughter.

“They’re a wonderful match,” Ursula says.

Sarah and Andrew were married on June 7, 2015, at Geneva National Resort, in Lake Geneva, Wis., inside the newly renovated, 4,900-square-foot Legends Room, which has a refined-rustic aesthetic.

The resort hosts 70 to 95 weddings each year in three indoor banquet spaces and two outdoor ceremony locations, all with lake views.

Andrew and Sarah experienced a stress-free wedding day, thanks to the hard-working staff.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for something – they can accommodate your requests,” Sarah says. “We had a perfect day.”

Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Geneva National Resort, Lake Geneva
Music/DJ: Pam Zaccagnini
Photographer: Matt Mason Photography, Lake Geneva
Flowers: Kimberose, McHenry
Bride’s Gown: Morilee
Limo: HeavenSent Limousine & Transportation

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(CAM Photoz photos)

Forever Friends

Heritage Ballroom, Elgin

Natalie and Evan Whitcomb knew it was forever from the moment they started dating. While in high school, Evan, from Elmhurst, met Natalie, from South Elgin, at a church camp during Memorial Day weekend in May 2011.

“First, we were close friends for almost a year,” Natalie says. “Then, when we began our dating relationship, we knew we wanted to eventually get married.”

On May 29, 2014, the two went to Morton Arboretum, in Lisle, for lunch and a walk.

“Evan gave me a photo book with over 200 pictures of us, from our time dating, and then he got down on one knee and proposed,” Natalie says.

The two were married exactly one year later, on May 29, 2015, at the Heritage Ballroom in Elgin. Located a block away from the Fox River, the ballroom is part of the Centre of Elgin Recreation Facility, a hub for gatherings and recreation. The ballroom boasts floor-to-ceiling panoramic views of the river and accommodates up to 300 people.

Natalie was sold when she discovered that the ballroom works with her preferred caterer.

“We used Cuisine America, and it was perfect,” Natalie says. “We had so many compliments from our guests – many of them said it was the best food they ever had at a wedding.”

The couple also enjoyed photo opportunities on the rooftop of the parking garage and the green spaces outdoors.

“Make sure your photographer looks around the area and is aware of all the awesome places to take pictures,” Natalie says.

Ceremony/Reception: Heritage Ballroom, Elgin
Catering: Cuisine America, Elgin
Photographer: CAM Photoz, Wauconda
Flowers: Designs by Janet, Geneva
Bride’s Gown: Wedding Belles Ltd., Barrington

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