Oak Lane, Oregon (Bailey Lynn Photography photos)

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.”

Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (Katie Valesquez – Windy City Production photo)

Best for Their Guests: Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles

On New Year’s Eve 2015, Corey Young told Chrissy Feltes he didn’t want to be her boyfriend anymore in the new year.
“That sounded bad for a moment,” Chrissy says.

Standing in the living room of their recently purchased first home, Corey explained he wanted a fiancee instead.
“He reached into his pocket, and for a moment he couldn’t find the ring,” Chrissy says. “I was completely surprised and said yes through some tears.”

The couple had met a few years prior in Steeleville, Ill., at a pool party. Corey’s charm and outgoing personality won Chrissy over. Not to mention, his guitar skills.

“She was sweet and cute, and she was googly-eyed when I played the guitar,” Corey remembers.

There were a few reasons why the couple decided on Pheasant Run for their wedding day. For one, both Corey and Chrissy’s families had connections to the St. Charles resort. Chrissy’s family often stayed at Pheasant Run for getaways, and Cory’s father had once stayed at the resort for a billiards tournament.

“The fact that we each had a little connection was pretty neat,” Chrissy says.

But more than that, the couple wanted their guests to enjoy Pheasant Run’s amenities. The countryside property is complete with apartment-style suites, a theater, live comedy, diverse dining options, 18 holes of golf, a full-service spa, tennis and swimming. Pheasant Run provided the majority of the Youngs’ wedding services and had recommendations for all outside vendors, Chrissy says.

The resort additionally offers lakeside ceremonies, a rain backup location, four distinct ballrooms that accommodate 5 to 1,000 guests, custom catering, professional planning and discounts with local vendors.

“Our guests absolutely loved Pheasant Run,” Chrissy says. “We received many compliments on the rehearsal dinner, the cocktail hour on Bourbon Street and the reception in the New Orleans Ballroom. The presentation, as well as the quality of the food, was outstanding. Pheasant Run accommodated more than 120 of our guests for the weekend and we heard nothing but praise.”

Chrissy was mentally prepared for something to go wrong, but the Youngs enjoyed their wedding day without any stress or mishaps. The couple is looking forward to their complimentary 1-year anniversary stay.

“My uncle said it best to my father: ‘You have set a new standard for family weddings,” Chrissy recalls. “My dad replied, ‘I didn’t. The staff at Pheasant Run did.’” – LG

Learn more at pheasantrun.com

Ceremony: Christ the Teacher Newman Center, DeKalb
Rehearsal Dinner/Reception/Catering: Pheasant Run, St. Charles
Music/DJ: Sam Valesquez – Windy City Production, Aurora
Photographer: Katie Valesquez – Windy City Production, Aurora
Flowers: Pheasant Run and Old Oak Florist, Homer Glen
Bride’s Gown: Formals, Litchfield
Hair & Makeup: OS2, Geneva

D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, Crystal Lake (Jessica Martell, Studio Pop Photography photos)

The Perfect Gift: D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, Crystal Lake

A night out at a Schaumburg bar changed the lives of Kevin and Ashley Schwartz. A mutual friend introduced the two during a night out.

“We were attracted to each other by catching each other’s eyes, and I was really into the music he was listening to at the time,” Ashley says. “We just clicked.”

After six years of dating, Kevin proposed to Ashley on Christmas morning in 2014, in front of his immediate family. Ashley says she was a little suspicious that day, since Kevin was acting nervous, but she never expected he would propose to her on a holiday.

“I was really surprised and happy, and he could barely get all the words out before I said yes,” Ashley recalls.

In January 2016, Ashley attended a bridal show at D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, in Crystal Lake. The spacious and elegant venue boasts granite dance floors, crystal lighting and chandeliers, and elegant decorations. D’Andrea has an on-site wedding planner who helps to plan and execute weddings from conception to cleanup.

With plenty of wedding packages to choose from, the venue can host a special wedding that fits within any budget.

While Ashley attended the bridal show, luck was on her side. She won $1,000 in a door prize giveaway. It was just one more confirmation that she’d found the right venue.

Kevin and Ashley were married on June 16, 2017, and celebrated their reception at D’Andrea.

“Out guests loved it,” Ashley says. “We received many compliments for days after the wedding. People are still talking about it.”

D’Andrea offers flexible reception options, which gives couples the chance to customize their wedding experience. But planning ahead is encouraged.

“We booked our venue almost two years in advance, since we really wanted the room that included the atrium,” Ashley says.
The facility was also able to accommodate Ashley’s love for great food, thanks to expert chefs who take pride in presenting creative and delicious menu options, such as shrimp scampi, lobster tail and filet mignon.

“They really accommodated all of my needs,” Ashley says. “They held food for a late-arriving table, and I made sure I took the time to eat on my busy day.”

If the day wasn’t already special, the die-hard Chicago Blackhawks fans also ran into Pat Foley, the team’s play-by-play television announcer.

“He was at the country club when we were there for the ceremony,” Ashley says. “Our guestbooks at D’Andrea were Blackhawks jerseys for people to sign.”

The couple are still flying high, thanks to their wedding at D’Andrea, and they know the staff played a large role in making their dreams become a reality.

“It was the best day ever,” Ashley says. “Lynnette [Kaszuba, event planner], was great from the first day. Enjoy the moment, because when the day comes, it flies by.” – JP

Learn more at dandreabanquets.com/

Ceremony: McHenry Country Club, McHenry
Catering: D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, Crystal Lake 
Music/DJ: Ken Murphy, AMP DJ Services, Lake Zurich
Photographer: Jessica Martell, Studio Pop Photography, Crystal Lake
Flowers: Marry Me Floral, McHenry
Bride’s Gown: Mori Lee, Kathryn’s Bridal, McHenry
Limo: GNT Limousine Service, Crystal Lake

Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, Hoffman Estates (Jolie Images photos)

My Hole-in-One: Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, Hoffman Estates

Dave and Kaitlyn Kaczmarek may have known each other in high school, but in those days romance wasn’t top-of-mind.

The Bloomingdale and Itasca natives floated around the same social circles at Lake Park High School, in Roselle, and followed those same friends through their college years. By the time Dave was finishing school, his friends suggested that he could have some chemistry with Kaitlyn.

“I didn’t think I was ready to get into a relationship, but at the same time, I realized it was an opportunity that could pass me by,” Dave says.

Pretty quickly, the pair realized they’d found their matches. They found they had much in common, including their casual, get-along personalities.

“She’s a genuine person, and truly a sweet soul,” Dave says.

By summer 2015, Dave began plotting the elaborate steps for his simple proposal. It began with getting their families together at her family’s northern Michigan lake home.

“Every July, her family goes up for this Venetian festival, so we used that as an excuse to have everyone visit,” Dave recalls. “Her mom had this story made up about how the newspaper was doing a story and wanted to take pictures of us. Right around sunset, we were on this balcony overlooking the lake, and that’s where I proposed.”

Kaitlyn didn’t see it coming.

Once back in the suburbs, the pair discovered that finding the right wedding venue can be challenging. They loved the idea of an outdoor wedding, but they questioned whether it would work with a springtime date. They decided fall was a better option, but still they struggled.

“A lot of hotels had nice banquet spaces, but outside they didn’t have much of a view,” he says.

That’s when the pair found Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, in Hoffman Estates. The public golf course delivers 18 scenic holes of champion golf and boasts event accommodations for up to 250 guests both indoors and out.

“It had everything,” Dave says. “There’s a nice ballroom, and it feels slightly private. It’s off the beaten trail, but it’s still really close to I-90 and everything else we need. We found a lot of hotels nearby, too.”

Working with catering supervisor Jennifer Fuller and director of golf Brian Bechtold, the Kaczmareks arranged for an outdoor ceremony at the club’s gazebo, located adjacent to the clubhouse but secluded from the course by a grove of trees.
Following the ceremony on Sept. 17, 2016, a line of golf carts stood ready for the wedding party to disembark on their photo shoot.

“It’s the Bridges of Poplar Creek, so of course they have lots of nice bridges,” says Dave. “We took lots of photos on the bridges.”

Meanwhile, guests headed to cocktail hour at an outdoor bar that offered just a glimpse of the course’s scenic terrain. Upstairs in the main ballroom, those guests could enjoy full, sweeping vistas.

Looking back, Dave credits Fuller, Bechtold and their team for helping to create a flawless wedding.

“Having those two helping us out made everything so much easier,” Dave says. “Jen helped with everything and met us multiple times, on her own time, just to help us out. And the food – the food was excellent. It’s the best food I’ve ever had, and was the best wedding food.”

The couple’s first anniversary present will arrive a little late this year. They’re expecting their first child in December. – CL

Learn more at bridgesofpoplarcreek.com

Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, Hoffman Estates
Music/DJ: A-List DJs, Streamwood
Cake: Continental Bakery, Mount Prospect
Photographer: Jolie Images, Wheeling
Bride’s Gown: House of Brides, Schaumburg
Tuxes: Vera Wang
Flowers: Fabbrini’s Flowers, Hoffman Estates

Starved Rock Lodge, Utica (Kathy Casstevens and Stephanie Casstevens, Starved Rock Lodge)

A Match Made Online: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica

Things really clicked for Karen Ramos and Matt Kiep – in more ways than one.

The busy young professionals each decided to test their luck by finding love online. Near the end of 2013, they’d made a connection.

By February 2014, they decided to meet for a casual lunch at Colonial Café, in St. Charles.

“When we met, things just seemed to click,” says Karen, who was born and raised in the Philippines. “It’s like we’ve known each other forever, and we were so comfortable with each other. I think that effortless connection is what really attracted us to each other.”

In August 2015, Matt, originally from Batavia, arranged for a photographer to do a photoshoot of Karen in Wheaton’s Cantigny Park. She had always wanted professional portraits of herself.

What Karen didn’t know, but Matt and the photographer did, was that a spot had been arranged for Matt to propose. When he did, Karen said yes, without hesitation.

“Both families knew it was happening that day, and had been waiting for the good news,” Karen says.

When it came time to find a wedding venue, the couple knew they wanted to get married outdoors, in a place surrounded by nature. With hiking trails, large canyons and many outdoor activities, Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, in Utica, seemed an ideal location for a wedding. Starved Rock also has several preferred vendors who help to make wedding planning easy.

“We came and visited, and it was love at first sight,” Karen says. “The same day of our visit, we put a hold on our wedding date and started the process.”

The site was booked in November 2015 for a wedding on June 2, 2017.

Since Starved Rock is a destination location, lodge staff offered a host of wedding services for the couple, including a rehearsal dinner, rehearsal breakfast and trolley transportation to take photos at the park’s 18 canyons. Typically, space is reserved inside the lodge in case it rains.

During the outdoor ceremony, the couple paid their respects to loved ones who’ve passed away. Matt wore a photo locket of his late mother on his lapel. Karen attached something similar on her bouquet, to commemorate her own loved ones who’ve passed away.

Also celebrating their pregnancy, the couple took a moment during the reception to share a gender reveal with their guests. Stationed in the center of the dance floor was a large yellow box shaped like a large toy block. When Matt and Karen opened the box, a balloon popped out, reading “Baby girl.”

Karen says having their wedding at Starved Rock was everything they expected and more.

“Our guests thoroughly enjoyed our wedding at Starved Rock,” Karen says. “I kept getting compliments about the venue and especially the food and the cupcakes. I was extremely happy and appreciative of the team I worked with.” – JP

Learn more at starvedrocklodge.com

Ceremony: St. Laurence Catholic Church, Elgin
Reception/Catering: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica
Music/DJ: Guys on the Radio, Spring Valley
Photographer: Kathy Casstevens and Stephanie Casstevens, Starved Rock Lodge
Flowers: Jen Byers of Flowers by Jen, Aurora
Bride’s Gown: Sophia Tolli from Kathryn’s Bridal, McHenry
Limo: Starved Rock Bella Trolley, Utica
Wedding Planner: Sarah Freeman of Sarah Kathleen Events, Aurora

Edgewater Hotel, Madison, Wis. (Chelsea Matson Photography photos)

Weddings on the Water: The Edgewater, Madison, Wis.

When Mary McGuire saw Mike in a Speedo, it was all over. She knew she would marry him someday.

At least, that’s how Mike thinks it happened.

“It’s really because I found him funny,” Mary says. “We were both on the water polo team at University of Wisconsin-Madison, so we knew of each other for a few years prior to dating. He always made me laugh, and we had a lot of fun together.”

During 13 years of dating, the couple developed a tradition of having a nice dinner every year for each other’s birthdays. After Mary’s birthday dinner in 2015, she received an unexpected surprise.

“We went home from dinner, and I had changed into sweatpants and a Packers hoodie,” Mary says. “I was opening birthday cards when Mike came out with a card. There was some order of me reading his card, him saying nice things, getting down on one knee and pulling out a gorgeous ring. I’m still not sure what he said or how it all went – I just know that I started crying.”

The personal, private proposal was everything Mary wanted.

After looking at a dozen venues in the Madison area, the couple fell in love with The Edgewater. Magnificent, expansive views of Lake Mendota and the City of Madison can be seen from many of the reception and ceremony locations, both indoor and outdoor, not to mention from most of the guest rooms. With incredible scenery as the backdrop, unique indoor and outdoor spaces offer couples the ability to customize their wedding space to accommodate large and small ceremonies and receptions.

Mike and Mary were initially concerned that getting married at a hotel would be less personal, but found The Edgewater’s views and outdoor patio overlooking the lake were unique from other venues they toured. In addition, it was convenient to have a full spa with a variety of services available, including hair, makeup, nails, facials, massages and more. Mary, Mike and their entire wedding party were able to get ready for their big day right on site.

Working with The Edgewater’s wedding concierge team also helped to make the planning process less stressful.

The Edgewater offers the artistry and creativity of some of the best chefs and catering professionals in the region. The resort supplies all food and beverage for events taking place, and wedding cakes or desserts may be provided from a licensed bakery.

Exquisite dining options in The Edgewater’s restaurants and private dining rooms serve as the perfect spaces for bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, and pre-/post-wedding brunches. Ideal for groups of 2 to 50, The Statehouse Chef’s Table and The Statehouse Wine Room are just two options on the water, all offering unparalleled views and Modern Midwestern dining experiences.

Some final advice from Mary: “Ask a lot of questions when you’re planning your wedding,”she says. “Because the space is so versatile and there’s so much you can do, it’s helpful to know your options.” – LG

Learn more at theedgewater.com

Ceremony/Reception: The Edgewater, Madison, Wis.
Catering: The Edgewater and Chocolaterian, Madison, Wis.
Music/DJ/Photo Booth: DJ Magic: Andrew Accola, Madison, Wis.
Lakeside Photo: Chelsea Matson Photography, Milwaukee
Ballroom Photo: Tim Fitch Photography, Madison, Wis.
Flowers: KP Designs: Kirstie Pence, Madison, Wis.
Limo: Mad City Party Bus, Madison, Wis.

Creek Bend Nature Center (Chrystl Roberg Photography photos)

Sparks Fly: Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles

For Jacki and Ryan Cope, July 4 has always been special.

“One summer, when we were younger, we went to the Chicago fireworks together,” Jacki says. “That was the first time he told me he loved me.”

Last year, sparks flew again when the couple revisited Chicago on July 4 and watched the fireworks from Buckingham Fountain with some family and close friends. Under the glowing lights, Ryan proposed.

Jacki and Ryan wanted a venue as romantic as their engagement, and they found it when they came across Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. Nestled in the LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, the property includes a spacious outdoor setting and a 1930s renovated house, which hosts a variety of events year-round. The couple booked their July wedding nine months out.

Jacki was surprised to find the scenic outdoor venue so close to her hometown of Wheaton. “I knew I wanted a backyard reception, but a little more elegant,” says Jacki. “I actually searched a lot of places, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of Creek Bend sooner.”

Ryan grew up in Crestline, Ohio, and met Jacki when he moved to Chicago in 2003 to attend Universal Technical Institute.

After graduation, Ryan moved to Florida to work for Mercedes Benz of Sarasota. Jacki graduated from Illinois State University and moved to Florida to be with Ryan. She moved back to Wheaton in 2011; Ryan followed about two years later.

During their time apart, the couple remained optimistic. “We’re kind of the same person,” Jacki says. “We always knew we were going to be together, but we were always in different places.”

The time and location were just right when the two were wed over Fourth of July weekend. On July 2, 2016, Jacki and Ryan said “I do” under a spacious clear-top tent next to the Nature Center, surrounded by 140 guests and the forest scenery.
“The guests all really enjoyed it,” Jacki says. “Most told me they felt like they were in the middle of nowhere, but close to home at the same time.”

The couple customized the venue to fit their elegant, vintage style. The two were in total control of their wedding day, from catering to tent services. Taking advantage of their freedom, Jacki and Ryan brought in food trucks to cater the reception and add to its fun, relaxed atmosphere.

The large circle driveway accommodated food trucks from Porkchop in Chicago, La Cocinita in Evanston and Grill Chasers in Schaumberg. Violet and Pearl Vintage Rentals decorated the elegant house and complemented its furnishings with stylish seating for guests who wanted an escape from the outdoors. “I highly recommend using a rental company to stage the whole interior for you,” Jacki says.

The combination of good food, outdoor scenery and backyard atmosphere created an unforgettable experience. Of course, the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect.

“The theme of the wedding was ‘love story’,” Jacki says with a smile. She realizes Creek Bend played an important role in that story. “Not many venues were able to book a wedding on a holiday weekend. The place itself was beautiful. I loved every second.” – AG

Learn more at kaneforest.com

Ceremony/Reception: Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles
Catering: Porkchop, Chicago; La Cocinita, Evanston; Grill Chasers, Schaumburg
Cake: Sweet Dreams Desserts, Sycamore
Bride’s Gown: Wolsfelt’s Bridal, Aurora
Photographer: Chrystl Roberge Photography, Geneva
Rental Service: Violet and Pearl Vintage Rentals, Homer Glen
Band: Junkyard Groove, Naperville
Shuttle Service: Spare Wheels Transportation, West Chicago

Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery, Freeport

Taste of Wine Country: Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery, Freeport

Ever since they opened Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery, in Freeport, Ken and Pam Rosmann have been asked about hosting weddings on their beautiful, rolling property in northwest Illinois. For the longest time, it just wasn’t possible to accommodate such a gathering.

But things are changing with the introduction of The Crib at Famous Fossil, a social events space housed inside the winery’s beautifully restored 1930s-era corn crib. The Crib and its adjoining shelter draw together the elegance of wine country with quintessential rustic elements – rusted steel, aged wood, antique equipment, and plenty of Midwestern character.

“It’s got beautiful woodwork and steel siding, which is unusual,” says Pam. “And, we left the elevator and pulley systems that were used to move grain around the crib. The bar is made from these beautiful planks that had been upstairs.”

Families that choose to host a wedding at Famous Fossil can celebrate intimate ceremonies and receptions inside The Crib, which seats about 130 theater-style and about 80 at tables. The area overlooks a bridge and the gently rolling slopes where cornstalks and nearly 2,100 grapevines reach skyward.

Rustic decor around The Crib and the winery leaves brides with little need for extra ornamentation. Pam offers props like candelabras and steel or wicker arches, but she finds that little else is usually needed.

“People come in when hosting showers or corporate events, and they’ll say, ‘I don’t need to do decorating at all,’” says Pam. “We want to minimize your stress and worry, and provide a space that’s ready for you when you arrive.”

To that end, set-up and cleanup services are provided with every space rental. Families that rent The Crib also receive access to wedding coordinator Sarah Thies, tables and chairs, and a customizable menu sourced as locally as possible.

Playing on the winery’s nine-year tradition of serving small dishes or fruit and cheese plates, this menu offers several choices for families. Grilling for these buffet-style meals is provided by a local caterer who serves choice cuts of meat, often sourced from local farms.

This being a winery, Famous Fossil wines and local craft beers round out the bar options. Famous Fossil is best known for its wine blends, which mix varietals of cold-weather grapes – names such as LaCrescent, Marquette, and Frontenac that are well suited for the Illinois climate and fossil-rich limestone deposits feeding Famous Fossil’s grapes.

“You come to our winery and you’re going to taste what’s grown and produced right here,” says Pam. “And, it’s a taste of the true climate and character of the northwestern Illinois landscape.”

Famous Fossil hosts its very first weddings late this summer – the perfect time to capitalize on the rich colors of the vineyard.

“It’s a beautiful setting,” says Pam. “Many people look out at, and even walk through, the vineyard. It’s a way for them to understand what we do here at our winery and to feel closer to nature.” – CL

Learn more at famousfossilwinery.com

Baker Community Center, St. Charles

A New Old Favorite: Baker Community Center, St. Charles

One of the St. Charles area’s newest social events spaces is really more of an old friend with a new face.

Built in 1926, the Baker Community Center, in St. Charles, re-opened this spring after extensive renovations that make it more accessible, more comfortable, and more beautiful than ever before.

“It’s really beautifully renovated, and the character of the building remains,” says Connie Kurr, rental contact.

The newly renovated venue now boasts air conditioning, elevators, handicap-accessible bathrooms and a modernized kitchen for caterers and event chefs. Located just off Illinois Route 31 is a ramp to help visitors more easily reach the elevator that rises to the main level.

Brides can rent two spaces at Baker Community Center: The Collins Auditorium and The Peterson Lounge. The auditorium seats up to 150 people and is ideal for gatherings of all kinds, with its high ceilings, a raised stage and ample daylight spilling in from several banks of windows. The lounge, complete with a fireplace, seats about 40 people for small receptions, business meetings and gatherings, but it can also be arranged to host intimate wedding ceremonies.

Facility rentals come with custodial services including set up and take-down, in addition to equipment like tables, chairs and a sound system. The kitchen and a piano and are available upon request, with a small one-time fee.

The Baker Community Center has long been popular for get-togethers of all kinds, including wedding receptions, graduations, business meetings, anniversary parties and birthday parties. Conveniently, the facility has no restrictions on food and catering, leaving families to choose the most optimal meal options for their event.

Dates fill up fast at Baker Community Center, so Kurr recommends booking at least six months in advance. Spring and fall are often the most popular times for bookings of all kinds.

The attractive Tudor-style architecture outside the Baker Community Center offers just a hint of what’s inside. Dark wood tones and classic 1920s-era architectural detailing create a classic, formal backdrop for weddings. Recent facility improvements have preserved and enhanced those classic features while adapting to modern needs. The scenic terrace, for example, is now more readily accessible from the lobby, which also received an update and now combines classic architectural detailing and fixtures with a more modern touch.

“The entire entranceway is open and inviting to our guests,” says Kurr. “The transformation is perfectly fitting to the era, in keeping with the architectural structure and focal points of the Baker Community Center.”

The building was dedicated in May 1926 as a memorial to veterans of World War I and Henry Rockwell Baker, son of local businessman Edward J. Baker and his wife. For almost a century now, the building has hosted civic events, programming and social gatherings.

“A lot of people remark on the warmth of the building, how it’s friendly and welcoming to guests,” says Kerr. “Some people have connections to Baker Community Center, and they tell us this is where they had a dance recital as a child, had their high school dances, and had a baby shower – and now they’re returning for their babies’ first birthday party.” – CL

Learn more at stcparks.org

Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park (Pulse Photography & Design photos)

My Secret Crush: Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park

Kelly Clayton had a crush on her older brother’s best friend, Cody Klingberg. She was attracted to his sense of humor and kindness toward others.

“We always just hung out together as friends,” Kelly says. “It wasn’t until a couple of years after college that we decided to begin our relationship.”

Cody found himself attracted to Kelly’s work ethic. “She’s dedicated to anything she puts her mind to,” Cody says.

After a year of dating, Cody planned an elaborate scavenger hunt on a chilly day in February 2015. From morning until night, Kelly opened envelopes that determined what activity the couple did next. After enjoying a romantic dinner followed by frozen yogurt, the couple went for a walk around the neighborhood with their dog, Harleigh.

When they got home, Cody said he had to get something from his truck.

“He came back with a wrapped gift, which was a picture of Harleigh and I turned into a magazine cover,” Kelly says. “It was really special. At the bottom, it said, ‘Kelly, will you marry me?’ I didn’t realize it at first, but once I did, Cody was already down on one knee. It was the best night because I wasn’t expecting it.”

Within weeks, the couple had booked their wedding reception at Acquaviva Winery, in Maple Park. They had been there before for a wine tasting and loved the property, as well as the wine. Neither Kelly nor Cody wanted a typical banquet setting, so they loved the unique vineyard atmosphere and outdoor patios, which gave the wedding a destination-style feel.

Kelly loved taking pictures at the winery and around the vineyard.

“Have your photographer scope out the area,” Kelly advises. “There is just so much culture inside Acquaviva that makes for great pictures.”

Meeting with Joe and Shelly Brandonisio of Acquaviva Winery helped to make the planning process less stressful for the couple. Though Acquaviva Winery hosts up to 100 weddings per year, Joe and Shelly made themselves available to help the couple plan their special day, which happened on June 25, 2016.

“They were so down-to-earth about everything,” Kelly says. “Joe was very thorough with his answers when he gave us a tour of the venue. Any questions I had about my vision, Acquaviva made a reality. We met with Joe in person a couple of times to go over things, and I was in constant communication with Shelly.”

Shelly takes pride in having attention to detail, whether the wedding is casual, elegant or a combination.

“We’re a family-run business, and we care about every one of our customers,” Shelly says. “We want their day to go beautifully.”

Kelly and Cody were pleased to find how much their 230 guests enjoyed Acquaviva. Kelly wishes she could relive the experience.

“It was a blast – I’d do it every weekend if I could,” Kelly says. “For anyone thinking about Acquaviva – do it. Nothing else compares.” – LG

Learn more at acquavivawinery.com

Ceremony: Salem Lutheran Church, Sandwich
Reception: Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park
Catering: Sweet Dreams Desserts, Sycamore
Music/DJ: True Sounds Entertainment, Aurora
Photographer: Pulse Photography & Design, Yorkville
Flowers: Sandwich Floral, Sandwich
Bride’s Gown: The Crystal Bride, Geneva
Limo: Emperor Limousine, Addison
Videographer: Red Cap Productions, Chicago

The Standard, Rockford (Mindy Joy Photography photos)

Something Worth Seeing: The Standard, Rockford

Rockford native Libby Leatherby’s wedding was a happy occasion for many reasons, especially because her son, Noah, was there to see his mom get married.

Just two months after Mitch Leatherby proposed to Libby on Mother’s Day, in 2015, Noah was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that forms in muscle tissue. The couple cancelled their wedding plans to take care of Noah.
“We decided to put the wedding on the back-burner and get our son through treatment,” Libby says. “Our son’s health was our first priority and always will be.”

As the months progressed, Noah’s health started to improve. The more his health improved, the more his parents planned that wedding they’d left behind.

In the spring of 2016, when it came time to search for a wedding venue, the couple learned of The Standard, a wedding venue that was then still in the works. It’s owned by Brent Hughes and his wife, Betsy – both personal friends of Libby’s. Their new venue, which opened late in 2016, takes advantage of the decades-old building by putting on full display its beautiful concrete and red brick skeleton.

“When we booked The Standard, it was pretty much a construction site,” Libby says. “We were able to see their vision through photos on an iPad, and we used our imagination to envision what the end result would look like. Knowing Betsy for so many years, I knew she had an eye for art and style, and I knew it would be beautiful.”

Libby says their May 20, 2017, wedding couldn’t have gone better.

“Our wedding happened at a venue we didn’t even know about when we were engaged,” she says. “It’s the most beautiful venue I’ve ever been to. Even the bathrooms are beautiful.”

Whether it’s weddings or another social occastion, The Standard’s crew helps to eliminate many of the hassles and stresses of a wedding day. The rooftop patio is equipped for outdoor weddings, and it provides a sweeping overlook of downtown Rockford’s rooftops and riverscape. An adjacent conservatory and full bar provide a great location for cocktail hour.

Down on the second floor is a 260-guest dining hall with all of the amenities for dinner and dancing. Food is provided by Chef Paul Sletten, who owns several downtown Rockford staples.

London Avenue Designs, which specializes in interior decorating, wedding planning and event design, is stationed on the building’s first-floor retail area.

Libby, her bridesmaids, her mother and mother-in-law had their hair and makeup done at Arch, a beauty boutique also located on the first floor of The Standard.

“Everything that we needed was taken care of inside one building, which was extremely convenient,” Libby says.

The Standard’s many amenities proved helpful when it rained on the day of the wedding. The ceremony was easily relocated to the conservatory

“A lot of brides who have an outdoor wedding would panic if it rains, but there was never that feeling because we had a solid backup plan,” Libby says. “We got married in The Standard’s conservatory, and it wound up being just as beautiful.”

Noah, who has now been in remission for nine months, served as the ring bearer.

“He was definitely the star of the show at the wedding,” Libby says. “This was so emotional, for more reasons than marrying my husband. It was just so great having Noah there.” – JP

Learn more at standardonstate.com

Ceremony/ Reception: The Standard, Rockford
Catering: Paul Sletten, Abreo Restaurant, Rockford
Music/DJ: Jason Glidden, Rockford
Photographer: Mindy Joy Photography, Rockford
Flowers: Event Floral, Loves Park
Bride’s Gown: BHLDN, Chicago
Wedding Planner: Backyard Soirée Events, Rockford
Pastor: Gregg Giamalva, Stateline Church, Rockford
Hair/Makeup: Arch, Rockford

The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates (www.noelleadams.photography)

In Perfect Taste: Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates

It was a high school romance of a different sort that blossomed when Robert and Francesca Murphy met in 2014 at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. Like two teens in love, the pair instantly fell head over heels.

There was only one difference: Robert and Francesca weren’t students. They were teachers for Township High School District 214 when they met at work through a mutual friend. The couple knew they were meant for each other after their first date in June 2014. “It was pretty much a done deal,” says Robert.

After they’d been together for almost a year, the pair traveled to New Buffalo, Mich., for a romantic getaway. “It’s a very romantic lakeside town,” says Robert. “We spent the whole day doing a 20-mile bike ride around the lake and through all the wineries. Later that night, on a scenic beach by the lake, I proposed.”

Robert and Francesca were married on July 16, 2016, at Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Arlington Heights. The pair had grown up just minutes from each other in Cook County. Francesca, whose parents were born in Italy, had one request when selecting a wedding venue. “For an Italian family, food is really important,” says Robert.

The couple found what they sought in The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Center in Hoffman Estates, which could accommodate the couple’s 330 guests and their culinary expectations. The Stonegate served dishes that were made entirely from scratch, including crab and seafood appetizers.

“The food exceeded all of our expectations,” says Robert. “With so many guests, it baffles my mind that everybody was so ecstatic about it.”

The Stonegate hosts nearly 150 weddings each year and offers flexible reception options, allowing couples to customize their wedding experience. Francesca and Robert started the night with a cocktail hour in The Stonegate’s foyer and lakeside pavilion. There, guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and live music by Big Al Wetzel Band. “Everybody there who wasn’t married said they wanted to use that band for their wedding,” Robert says.

After cocktail hour, the party moved to the Ballroom, a large, elegant banquet hall attached to the pavilion tent. Around 11 p.m., the remaining guests moved back to the tent for a late-night after-party with an open bar and snacks.

“We wanted a really cool after-party,” says Robert. “Moving from the big space to a smaller space kept the intimate atmosphere going.”

The couple received plenty of remarks about the friendly service and professionalism. They know The Stonegate played a large role in their wedding day’s success.

“There are a lot of places to have a nice wedding, but Stonegate’s flexibility was amazing,” Robert says. “They are a family-owned business, and they were able to meet all our requests right away. I’m a laid-back guy, but like most people, we were pretty particular about our wedding. The last few weeks before the wedding day can be stressful, but The Stonegate was so patient and accommodating with us. Our guests were blown away by the ambiance, attention to detail and presentation of everything.” – AG

Learn more at thestonegate.com

Ceremony: Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church, Arlington Heights
Reception/Catering: The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates
Bride’s Gown: Doris Bridal, Highwood
Rings: Mitchell’s Jewelers, Arlington Heights
Photographer: Noelle Adams Photography, Chicago
Videographer: Four Eye Productions, Arlington Heights
Music: Dance Party DJ, Chicago; & Big Al Wetzel Band, Lake Geneva
Floral: Yanni Design Studios, Wheeling
Limo: M&M Limousine Services, Des Plaines

Oak Lane, Oregon (Bailey Lynn Photography photos)

Smitten at First Sight: Oak Lane, Oregon

Brittney Kulisek was impressed with Tom Chambers when she met him on a blind date. He was cute and chivalrous, and his great sense of humor kept her laughing for hours.

Tom was similarly smitten at first sight.

“Brittney was beautiful,” he says. “When we met, I loved that she spent most of the time talking, so I didn’t have to. She drank good beer, and not only insisted on paying for herself, but did so with a Chicago Bears card.”

Though Brittney lived in DeKalb and Tom lived in Rockford, Tom knew after only a week that he wanted to someday marry Brittney. He proposed a couple of months later when the couple were on vacation in San Antonio, Texas.

“We met my best friend, Courtnie, for dinner on the river walk,” Brittney says. “Courtnie insisted on taking photos, so we proceeded to walk up and down the river walk trying to find the perfect place. Eventually, Tom found a bridge and got down on one knee while I was turned away. When I turned around, I couldn’t hold back the yes.”

The couple began searching for a wedding venue immediately. Tom’s sister recommended Oak Lane in Oregon – a unique 1800s dairy barn remodeled into a chic reception hall. Set on 16 acres, Oak Lane offers five outdoor ceremony locations as well as an indoor space that can accommodate up to 180 guests. Receptions are held in the barn’s hayloft upstairs. Adding character to the venue are two potbelly pigs, Baconette and Hambone; two llamas, Dilly Dally and Tessa; a Belted Hampshire sheep named Lucy and a lamb named Lambchop.

Oak Lane was the first and last venue the couple looked at.

“We loved the space, the barn and the ambience that it all had,” Brittney says. “We knew it was the one. We literally booked it a week after we got engaged.”

Brittney and Tom were married on May 13, 2017. Oak Lane’s owner, Jodi Horner, was always quick to respond whenever the couple emailed with questions. She even provided intentionally mismatched wooden chairs, tables, linens, bartenders and decor items. Guests could dance the night away upstairs, hang out at the bar downstairs, or venture outside to enjoy a “bride’s cigar bar” set up by Brittney’s dad.

“We feel like we got way more than we paid for,” Brittney says. “We loved that we had the outdoor ceremony followed by the reception in the barn. We feel like this was unique among our friends and family. The animals at the farm were a fun part, too. Truly, the day was more amazing than we could have even dreamed of.”

The couple made their wedding unique by setting up lawn games and by catering woodfire brick oven pizza. Brittney’s advice is to trust Jodi to make your day perfect.

“She’s even the one who recommended our DJ,” Brittney says. “She definitely knows what she is doing.” – LG

Learn more at oaklaneoforegon.com

Ceremony/Reception:  Oak Lane, Oregon
Music/DJ: Phil Eicksteadt
Catering: Veebo’s Woodfire Pizza, Rockford
Photographer: Bailey Lynn Photography, Oregon
Flowers: Etsy shop NovelExpression
Cupcakes: Cakes by Dea, Marengo

Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, Oregon (Erica Pospeshil Photography photos)

Master Planners: Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We booked about nine or 10 months in advance, just because we knew it was the place and we wanted to have it,” Ken says.
The venue can accommodate 110 people on its paddleboat, 250 on the sprawling pavilion and gazebo, and 280 in the restaurant.

Ken especially enjoyed that the whole wedding party could arrive at the reception by boat.

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

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

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

Learn more at maxsons.net

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

Barnacopia, Polo (ellAdele Photography photos)

Love’s No Drag: Barnacopia, Polo

When it comes to rubber meeting the road, Chelsey and Randy Simpson know what to do.

Chelsey, a Stillman Valley native, grew up around drag racing and the Byron Dragway, which her family owns. Streator native Randy was a general manager for Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis when he spied Chelsey and her signature blue Camaro at an Indy race in September 2015.

Soon into their first date, the pair found they had a surprising amount in common.

“Our joke was that we realized we were both left-handed drag racers who drive Camaros,” Chelsey says.

When Randy eventually moved back to Illinois, their romance charged ahead. Just before Easter 2016, Randy had a surprise waiting for Chelsey on a romantic getaway to Shawnee National Forest, in southern Illinois.

“He had this backpack with him all day, and I had no idea why, because we’re not serious hikers,” Chelsey recalls. “I kept asking him, ‘Why do you have that backpack?’ And he just said we were having a picnic.”

At the top of a rocky outcrop, Randy pulled something from the bag and turned to Chelsey.

“He said to put on this blindfold and put in these earplugs. I’ll be right back,” she says.

What she couldn’t see or hear was Randy removing from his backpack a tripod, a camera and a velvety box. As the blindfold and earplugs came off, Chelsey saw him down on one knee.

“It was a total surprise,” she says.

Soon, the couple were looking for wedding venues close to home. They admired the rustic barn look and quickly discovered Barnacopia, in Polo. The barn-like building is part bed-and-breakfast, part museum and part social gathering space. Its three floors include displays of antique tractors and old cars, in addition to several settings that are ideal for wedding receptions and ceremonies. One look inside was all it took to sell Chelsey and Randy.

“We just said, ‘This is the place,’” Chelsey recalls. “Both of our families are really into hot rods, and we felt right at home.”

The venue is owned and operated by a family who farms the surrounding land, so the couple were treated like family throughout the planning process. Any time Chelsey had a question, she received quick responses from events planner Rachel Davis. Owner Gary Bocker welcomed the couple any time they visited – including the day before the wedding, as the family arrived to decorate.

“Gary might be working the farm, and so he’d see us and stop in to talk,” says Chelsey. “It just made us feel like we were at home, like it was our barn, too.”

Chelsey and Randy were married April 1, 2017, at a nearby Catholic church. Before they arrived at Barnacopia for the reception, their guests strolled the displays inside.

By the end of the night, the new couple were headed to a private suite inside the barn’s silo, where they planned to stay the night. They awoke the next morning to find breakfast prepared downstairs – just another of many family-like touches.

“It was so nice that you get your first breakfast together as husband and wife in the dining room on the first floor of the silo,” says Chelsey. “We came down to see pancakes, bacon and a plate of fruit waiting for us. It just makes you feel like you’re right at home.” – CL

Learn more at barnacopia.com

Ceremony: St. Mary Catholic Church, Byron
Reception: Barnacopia, Polo
Catering: Penguin Foods, Rockford
Music/DJ: DJ Felix Entertainment, Lake Geneva
Photography: ellAdele Photography, Rockford
Flowers: Event Floral, Rockford
Bride’s Gown: Brandi’s Bridal Galleria, New Glarus, Wis.
Limo: Hollywood Limo, Byron

Oscar Swan Country Inn, Geneva (photo provided)

A Big Celebration: Oscar Swan Country Inn, Geneva & Galena

Jenn and Steve Fernandes grew up only a mile apart in West Chicago. The high school sweethearts developed an attraction over time.

“I knew Steve since middle school, but we never had much interaction,” Jenn says. “Once I got to know him better in high school, I saw his awesome character and genuine kindness. There are very few people like Stephen in this world.”

Steve orchestrated an elaborate proposal for Jenn during a concert at the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, Mich. Jenn was “randomly” called to the stage where Steve, in front of nearly 1,000 people, dropped to one knee. After Jenn said yes, her entire family ran from the crowd to celebrate.

“Everything went according to plan,” Steve says. “She was completely surprised.”

Jenn quickly got to work searching for a wedding venue. After touring Oscar Swan Country Inn in Geneva, she knew immediately it was what she wanted. The 8-acre estate with a cozy bed-and-breakfast reminded her of her grandmother’s home. The backyard and garden space accommodated all 150 of the couple’s guests for the June 4, 2016, wedding.

“We had a huge dance party, and all the children were able to run around in the yard,” Steve says. “Our guests loved the space. They also enjoyed the food – Oscar Swan catered in a buffet-style fashion and many of our guests said it was the best wedding food they ever had.”

Jenn appreciated how flexible the venue was in allowing her to bring in outside vendors. Not having to stick to a pre-planned package was important to her.

“We wanted our wedding to be relaxing and fun, and that’s exactly what it was,” Jenn says. – LG