Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park (The Siegers Photo + Video, St. Charles)

Wedding Stories: The Bride’s Inside Guide

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.”

The Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre, Hoffman Estates (

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

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

Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park (The Siegers Photo + Video, St. Charles)

Friends til Forever: Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park

Ashlyn Erickson and Tim LaBud had an instant friendship when they met in college. They studied together, walked to class together and slowly got to know each other better.

“The first thing I noticed about Ashlyn was her beautiful curly hair and genuine smile and laugh,” Tim says. “I was amazed at how outgoing and personable she was, and I knew right away that she would be a great friend.”

Ashlyn was drawn to Tim’s genuine kindness. After two years of friendship, it was time to acknowledge the truth.

“We denied for months that we were actually dating,” Ashlyn says. But when they finally admitted their feelings, it only took one date for the couple to know that they would someday get married.

The proposal took place during a weekend visit to Milwaukee. After a day of touring the city and visiting various breweries, Tim led Ashlyn down a pier by Lake Michigan at sunset.

“It was cold and we couldn’t quite make it to the end, but she cried – a lot – and said yes,” Tim says. “We celebrated the rest of the weekend with friends and family.”

Choosing Acquaviva Winery for their wedding reception was a no-brainer. The couple wanted an outdoor ceremony, and Acquaviva’s vineyard near Maple Park was a breathtaking scene.

“We wanted a unique venue with class and character, and Acquaviva’s winery and restaurant provided just that,” Tim says. “We also loved the fact that this incredible vineyard exists in Illinois. We felt like we were in Italy.”

After they booked the venue, the couple dined in Acquaviva’s restaurant many times and were consistently impressed with the delicious food and warm, welcoming atmosphere. They could tell by the staff’s energy and enthusiasm that it was a family-owned establishment.

“Furthermore, the wedding coordinator, Suzanne, was so accommodating and welcoming,” Ashlyn says. “From the first day we met her and through our wedding day, she was so incredibly helpful and made our experience so delightful.”

Suzanne Read, Acquaviva’s wedding coordinator, says the venue can accommodate up to 230 people. Ceremonies can be held in the vineyard, on a patio or inside the winery under an atrium with hand-painted frescos.

“When we have a wedding, we completely close down the restaurant and winery for the entire day,” Suzanne says. “The timeline of the day is up to each couple.”

Ashlyn and Tim booked their wedding 13 months in advance. Already, Acquaviva is booking weddings into 2020.

“We have heard from so many of our friends and family what an amazing time they had and what a beautiful venue Acquaviva was,” Tim says. “People raved about the scenic ceremony, the incredible food and wine, and kept asking how we found this place.”

The LaBuds recommend that couples visit Acquaviva a few times in advance of their wedding to day to become familiar with the space, try all the food and wine, and scout out the best spots for photos. There’s a tranquil pond with weeping willow trees, a beautiful wooded area, an estate house, an apple orchard and, of course, the vineyard itself.

“It was everything we could have hoped for and more,” Tim says.” – LG

Learn more at

Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park
On-Site Transportation: Midwest Limo Service, Chicago
Music/DJ: Spin N’ Play, Cary
Photographer: The Siegers Photo + Video, St. Charles
Flowers: Doable Flowers by Melissa Erickson, Chicago
Bride’s Gown: Bijou Bridal & Special Occasion, Oakbrook Terrace
Hotel: Comfort Inn and Suites
Cake: Amanda Erickson

Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (Ty Acierto, Prudence Photography, Chicago)

A Big Easy Love: Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles

Karen Braden almost declined when her co-worker and close friend invited her out one evening.

“She suggested I meet her brother, Justin [McQuillan], and I was absolutely not looking for a relationship at the time,” Karen says. “I almost decided not to go.”

But after some convincing, Karen agreed.

“I’m so glad I did, as that’s when Justin and I first met,” she says. “Needless to say we hit it off and ended up talking late into the night until last call. Justin asked for my number and we went out on our first official date the next week.”

After Karen “survived” a week-long vacation with Justin’s family, he knew he wanted to get married. Karen remembers the proposal as a “whirlwind dream come true.”

“Justin had it secretly and thoughtfully planned out for months,” she says. “From the ring he had chosen to all the travel details, it was definitely more of what you’d consider a surprise proposal vacation.”
With only three days notice, Karen packed her bags for a surprise getaway to New Orleans – one of the couple’s favorite places. Justin had even contacted Karen’s boss to make sure she could have the time off.

“My boss decided to oblige, even arranging a fake schedule to help Justin carry out his surprise plans successfully,” Karen says.

On the second day of the trip, Justin got down on one knee during a romantic walk in the French Quarter.
“It was truly an amazing engagement vacation that we’ll always cherish and remember,” Karen says.

Early on in the wedding process, the couple knew they wanted a “one-stop-shop” wedding venue. They pictured themselves enjoying an entire weekend with family and friends while their rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception all took place at one location. They also wanted their accommodations, day-of preparations and photo opportunities to all be on-site.

“There weren’t many venues fitting our checklist that also stayed on par with our budget,” Karen remembers. But then, she discovered Pheasant Run Resort.

The golf course was an added bonus.

“What really got us excited about choosing Pheasant Run, though, was when we saw the New Orleans Bourbon Street replica,” Karen says. “Having recently gotten engaged in the actual city of New Orleans, this struck us as the perfect place to have our wedding day.”

The couple booked the venue a little over a year in advance and were married on Sept. 29, 2017. They received nothing but positive feedback from their guests.

“They definitely enjoyed the beautiful lakeside ceremony, as well as our cocktail hour on Bourbon Street, which was so fun and unique,” Karen says. “We received so many compliments on the beautiful reception room and how excellent the food was. I also think they loved everything the resort had to offer as far as amenities and convenience. And of course, all the children in our family and bridal party had fun in the multiple swimming pools. We truly didn’t have to leave the resort at all for the three days we stayed.”

The McQuillans remember Pheasant Run’s staff as accommodating, kind and helpful.

“They 100 percent delivered on what they promised,” Karen says. “They were so on top of everything the entire weekend, and we were just treated so well. Everything turned out perfect and it truly made our wedding experience a dream.” – LG

Learn more at

Reception/Ceremony/Catering: Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles
Photographer: Ty Acierto, Prudence Photography, Chicago
Music/DJ/Photo Booth: An Enchanted Evening, Schaumburg
Bagpiper: David Johnston, Chicago
Flowers: Laura Rice
Bride’s Gown: Eva’s Bridal International, Orland Park
Videographer: Our Wedding Movie Inc., Schaumburg
Hair & Makeup: Tamara Makeup & Hair Artistry, Oakbrook
Travel Agent: Megan Amelio, Romance & Leisure Travel, Chicago

FoxFire Restaurant, Geneva

Oh, Foxy Lady: FoxFire Restaurant, Geneva

There was never a doubt where Deborah Byrd wanted to marry Eric Wendt. It’s the same place they enjoyed their first date five years ago, the same place where they became engaged one year ago, and the place they love to go for a night out. And when they asked if they could host their wedding there, the team at FoxFire Restaurant, in Geneva, couldn’t help but say yes.

Did she look anyplace else?

“No,” she says. “This one always stood out.”

It was the same way she knew that first night that Eric was a keeper. They’d found each other online through and after a little chatting decided to meet. FoxFire was an easy midpoint for Deborah, who lived in Geneva, and Eric, who lived in St. Charles.

“We spent hours just talking with each other,” Deborah recalls. “It was amazing how many things we had in common.”

They found their birthdays were just a week apart, and they realized their personalities were almost the same.

“I can walk into a room and just start making friends with everyone I meet,” says Deborah. “He’s the same way. And, it helps that I think he’s extremely handsome.”

That first night, they also bonded over the challenges of raising kids as single parents – Eric’s three and Deborah’s four. Once the families finally met, there was an instant connection among the kids. “Eric is a wonderful father,” Deborah says.

The pair would usually find themselves at FoxFire for a casual night out. In August 2017, as the pair were getting ready to celebrate their 50th birthdays, Eric prepared to take his girlfriend for a fancy night out. She thought they were going somewhere else, but Eric and the children were conspiring. His oldest daughter called and invited the pair for a quick drink at FoxFire.

“We walk in and we start talking, and Nicole says, ‘Have you ever seen this cool room they have back here? Let me show you,’” recalls Deborah. “We walk over there, and all my family and all of his family are there. It was a surprise birthday party.”

But the best was yet to come. The cake came out, and Eric offered to make a birthday toast.

“He starts talking about the day we met, and how, on that night, he asked me if he could call me his girlfriend the next day,” Deborah recalls. “And then he says, ‘Today, I have a different question. Will you marry me?’”

The couple later approached event coordinator Samantha about hosting a wedding at the “fine casual” steakhouse in downtown Geneva, where six other couples have already tied the knot. The main dining room typically accommodates 100 to 120 wedding guests, though it’s held as many as 150. An outdoor patio and a private party room are also popular places for rehearsal dinners.

Deborah loved the stylish interior, with its stained concrete floors and exposed architectural elements, but it was the people that really sold her, including owners Curt, K.C. and Jim Gulbro.

“They recognized us, and when we asked if they’d host the wedding, they were thrilled,” says Deborah. “They’re helping us to plan and going out of their way to make everything happen.”

For one Sunday afternoon this August, the entire restaurant will be converted into a wedding chapel and reception venue. Deborah plans to stand near the fireplace for the ceremony, and after a cake-cutting, crews will prepare for a reception.

Deborah loves that so many services – including venue, catering and place settings – are being handled all in one place.

“We’ve felt so secure in picking the venue, knowing that they’re taking care of everything and everyone,” she says. – CL

Ceremony/Reception: FoxFire Restaurant, Geneva
Catering: FoxFire Restaurant, 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

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

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, St. Charles (Vanessa Del Carmen photos)

Going with the Flow: Hickory Knolls Discovery Center

Daisy Gonzalez of Crystal Lake still chuckles when she recalls the story of how she met her husband, Luis.

She was a junior and he was a sophomore at South Elgin High School. At lunch one day, Daisy brought a shirt to the cafeteria that she had just made in fashion design class. Luis happened to be sitting behind her at another table.

“I didn’t know who he was,” she says. “I was showing my friend the shirt; Luis saw it and offered to model it. He took off his shirt and got up in front of everyone to wear the shirt I made. He was pretty annoying.”

Luis doesn’t disagree. “I was a goofy kid, and I had a little crush on her. I never thought at the time we’d end up together. But after we started talking more, I really fell for her.”

The couple dated for seven years before they were married on June 16, 2017, at the pergola located at Mt. St. Mary Park, a St. Charles Park District facility. The happy couple was surrounded by family, friends and even Luna, their Siberian husky.

“She’s like our baby,” says Luis, a groundskeeper. “There was no way we weren’t going to have her there. That was one of the highlights of the day.”

Unfortunately, rain poured during the ceremony. “It looked like I took a shower,” says Daisy, a legal translator for an attorney’s office. “We all got soaked.”

Despite the rough beginning, the skies cleared in time for the reception, which was held at another park district facility, the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a 10,500 square-foot building featuring a spacious lobby that’s 20 feet tall, and floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of the oak savanna, wetlands and prairie located just outside the front doors.

Daisy’s advice to other couples is to remain calm. “Things are going to go wrong,” she says. “We forgot to bring our plates and silverware for the reception. But you deal with it, move on and enjoy the day. Just go with the flow.”

“We looked at other places, but Hickory Knolls was the right fit for what we needed,” she adds. “I wanted something with a vintage look, along with neutral colors and a woodsy feel. We found that in Hickory Knolls. It was spacious and surrounded by nature. Other places didn’t have that same feel.”

Another appealing feature at Hickory Knolls is the indoors wildlife exhibit that includes turtles, snakes, spiders and other creatures. It captured the attention of the couple’s younger guests. “The staff was very friendly, and everything was beautiful,” says Luis. “As long as we were with our family, we were happy.” – PAA

Learn more at

Ceremony: Mt. St. Mary Park, St. Charles
Reception: Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, St. Charles
Catering: Provided by family
Music/DJ: Provided by family
Photographer: Vanessa Del Carmen

Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill. (Jess Gretencord photos)

Love at First Click: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica

Five years ago, Hayley and Manuel Villafuerte started talking through a dating website. Four months later, they finally met in October 2012. They hit it off – “he was a very kind and funny man,” says Hayley, and, after nearly six years of dating, she said, ‘I do’ on March 30, 2018.

While the happy couple, who live in Grundy County, Ill., had many decisions to make, selecting a wedding and reception venue wasn’t difficult at all. They selected the only venue they visited: Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, in Utica, Ill.

“Starved Rock has always held a special place in my heart,” says Hayley, a teacher. “I love that you can stay where you have your ceremony and reception. An all-in-one-place is very convenient not only for the bride and groom, but your guests. Starved Rock was so easy to work with; they made everything go very smoothly.”

Starved Rock offers two indoor ceremony venues for couples. The Great Hall can accommodate up to 200 guests and the ceremony takes place in front of the largest two-sided fireplace in Illinois. Because they were married in early spring, Hayley and Manuel got married in front of that fireplace. For more intimate ceremonies, the Canyonside Cabin can hold 30 guests. Both locations are backup locations in the event of rain.

Starved Rock Lodge also has two outdoor venues. The Sunrise Shelter is located east of the lodge and has room for 200 guests. Couples exchange vows surrounded by towering pines, while overlooking the top of Starved Rock. The Canyonside Courtyard holds 30 guests while still displaying the beauty of the great outdoors.

Admittedly, Hayley and Manuel, a correctional officer, had wedding-day jitters, but they found some funny moments during the ceremony. “I was so worried about repeating the ring vows during the ceremony,” says Hayley, “that I never dreamed while saying my vows that my husband’s ring would not fit. But in our wedding video, you can hear my nervous laughter while I continued to repeat my vows and struggle with the ring. We still laugh about it months later.”

The couple also decided to make their wedding a cellphone-free zone to avoid any distractions during the ceremony. The groom apparently didn’t get the memo. “I typed my vows on an index card,” says Hayley, “but when it was my husband’s turn to speak, he reached inside his suit jacket and pulled out his phone. Our guests laughed as he read his vows from his “‘forbidden’ cellphone.”

Hayley’s advice? Keep it simple. “In the long run, it will be just as perfect as someone who had an extravagant wedding, and you will thank yourself in the long run. Remember, it’s your wedding day. Cherish every moment of it because it really goes fast.” – PAA

Learn more at

Ceremony/Reception: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Catering: Starved Rock Lodge, Utica, Ill.
Music/DJ/Photo: Matt Makeever, a local high school teacher, was the piano player for ceremony and cocktail hour. Location musician Steve Sharp played for the reception instead of a DJ.
Photographer: Jess Gretencord
Videographer: Matt Klein
Flowers: Mary’s Special Touch Floral Studio, LaSalle, Ill.

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

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

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

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

Woodbine Bend Golf Course, Stockton, Ill.
(Tonia Blair Photography photo)

A Nice Ring to It: Woodbine Bend Golf Course, Stockton, Ill.

Ben Blair tried finding love online, but he wasn’t having any luck. So, he went to a friend and co-worker for some help.

“She said I should talk to her friend Julia,” says Ben, a Stockton native. “I initiated a conversation with Julia and we went on a couple of double dates with my co-worker.”

A month into the relationship, Ben knew Julia, also of Stockton, was “the one.”

“The first month into dating, I knew I loved her,” he says. “I know it’s crazy to say that, but we hit it off early on and things were going really well. She has a great smile, she’s a genuinely nice person and she’s beautiful.”

In September 2016, Ben knew it was time to propose. The couple had recently bought a house, and in the kitchen was a brand-new countertop.

“Someone had set a glass on the countertop and it left a water ring on the counter,” Ben says. “Julia was not happy about that.”

One day, Julia left to run a casual errand. Once she was out the door, Ben set his great-grandmother’s wedding ring on the counter – right on top of the blemish.

“She came back from the store, and I told her there was another huge ring on the counter,” he says. “She came in upset, thinking there would be another ring of water on the counter, and when she looked down, she saw the actual ring. I asked her if she would marry me and she said yes.”

When it came time to select a wedding venue, Ben knew he wanted to use Woodbine Bend Golf Course in Stockton. It offers several outdoor spaces, including decks and event areas on the course, making it an ideal venue for weddings and receptions year-round.

To make sure they secured the location, the couple booked the venue about eight months in advance.
“It’s inexpensive, I know owner Sam Stoddard pretty well and the venue is in Stockton,” Ben says. “We also got married there, so we were able to do everything in one location.”

The couple were married on Dec. 9, 2017, in front of 180 people, the capacity of the banquet hall.
Ben says the staff at Woodbine was very flexible, so the couple could truly customize their experience.

Since the wedding happened a little more than two weeks before Christmas, their decor took on a Christmas theme.

The cake had red and green Christmas decorations, Julia wore a red dress and Ben wore a red vest. The maid of honor wore a green dress and the best man wore a green vest. The ceremony was held in front of a fireplace surrounded by decorated Christmas trees.

“I think everyone had a good time,” Ben says. “There was a dance floor on one end of the room and a bar at the other end. If people wanted to dance, they could do that, and if people wanted to hang out and enjoy a few drinks, they could do that as well.”

Looking back, Ben says his wedding at Woodbine couldn’t have gone better.

“The wedding was pretty relaxed, and we tried to keep everything simple,” he says. “We wanted to enjoy ourselves, and we did. Everything was perfect.” – JP

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Ceremony/ Reception: Woodbine Bend Golf Course, Stockton, Ill.
Photographer: Tonia Blair Photography, Stockton, Ill.

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Rockford

Friend Zone to Fiancé: Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Rockford

Many years ago, Derek Peach asked Andrea Hannaford to their high school’s homecoming dance.

“I actually said no,” Andrea laughs. “But he ended up becoming my best guy friend in high school.”

The couple lost touch during college, but occasionally they’d see each other around their hometown of St. Charles. After graduating, Andrea decided to reach out.

“He was a firefighter and I had just graduated from nursing school,” she says. “I texted him and we’ve talked every day since then.”

After many years of dating, Andrea was itching to get married. She was thrilled when Derek proposed during a hike at Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, Ill.

“I was complaining because I wore brand new leggings and white shoes, and our new puppy was jumping all over us,” Andrea remembers. “But when Derek proposed at this ledge overlooking the river, it was perfect. I forgot all about my shoes.”

Andrea visited numerous wedding venues, but it was Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, in Rockford, that won her over. She knew she wanted an outdoor wedding in a beautiful setting, and Klehm’s 155-acre campus of majestic trees and gardens fit her vision perfectly.

Not only that, but the wedding coordinator, Mary Pat Muzzarelli, was a delight to work with.

“She went above and beyond to answer all of my questions,” Andrea says. “If I needed something, she was there in two seconds.”

Klehm’s recent renovations can accommodate 25 to 400 guests for ceremonies and receptions. A classic, white tent with an adjoining terrace sits just steps away from beautiful scenery.

“They even let us stay a little bit past closing time,” Andrea says. “Everything was perfect.” – LG

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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