A Bride’s Inside Guide to Local Wedding Venues

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.

Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park (Pulse Photography & Design)

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 her 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 with 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.” – Lindsey Gapen


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

Kuipers Family Farm, Maple Park (John Foley Photography)

Fields of Forever: Kuipers Family Farm, Maple Park

Emily and Brian Webb’s love story began online in 2014. Through the first 10 months of their relationship, it was clear the conversations and humor they shared had sparked something more.

“Brian and I agreed from early on that we were dating more seriously, and both of us thought this could lead to marriage,” says Emily of LaGrange Park. “Within that first year, both of us, along with our friends and family, knew the bond we shared was something special.”

By December 2017, Elmhurst native Brian knew it was time to pop the question. The couple had just finished a weekend of exciting Christmas activities with their 2-year-old daughter, Eleanor.

“Brian said I should get an early Christmas gift, and then he asked me to marry him,” Emily says. “Our daughter was there, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect moment.”

The newly engaged couple visited plenty of wedding venues, but couldn’t find anything that suited them – until they paid a visit to Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park. Better known as an autumn destination, this family-owned apple orchard is a hot new destination for nuptials, too.

“We had never been to Kuipers before, so we decided to check it out, and we instantly fell in love,” Emily says. “Between the unique offerings, the themed space, the layout and the staff, we were more than sold. We also liked the fact that we could go there year after year as a family, during the fall, and reminisce about our wedding day.”

Couples who choose to tie the knot at Kuipers have access to all of the farm’s public spaces, including a dedicated outdoor ceremony area that overlooks the orchard, an indoor space that holds up to 200 people and a complimentary day-of event coordinator.

Kuipers holds between 40 and 50 weddings each year, always scheduled for the offseason between November and mid-August.

Couples typically book their weddings at least a year in advance. Dates for 2020 are already filling up.

Since their June 8 wedding, Emily has heard rave reviews about her unique wedding location.

“The majority of our guests had never been there, and so many have said they plan on going back for the fall activities,” Emily says. “People loved the fireplace and outdoor space, which allowed guests to catch up or take in the scenery. People are also still raving about the apple cider donuts we had for dessert, which were provided by the farm.”

Emily recommends booking the train ride for cocktail hour, as she and Brian did. The ride allows wedding guests to take a trip around the farm.
“Kuipers has their own train that your guests can go on during the cocktail hour, and it was such a fun and special activity that our guests loved,” Emily says. “Our wedding was so unique from other weddings, with everything from the train at cocktail hour to the Kuipers wine, to the donut bar to the venue itself.”

In the end, it was exactly what Emily and Brian were looking for.

“We didn’t want an overly formal or casual wedding,” she says. “We wanted something our guests would remember, and Kuipers definitely achieved all of this and much more.” – Jermaine Pigee


Ceremony/Reception: Kuipers Family Farm, Maple Park
Music/DJ: Vince Hilado, Park Ridge
Catering: Catering by Diane, Sycamore
Photographer: John Foley Photography, Naperville
Flowers: Julie Dolezal, Brookfield
Bride’s Gown: David’s Bridal, Lombard
Hair/Makeup: Miranda Trevino, St. Charles

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center (Vanessa Del Carmen photo)

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, with 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.” – Paul Anthony Arco


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, Oglesby (Hannah Persson photo)

A Weekend Event: Starved Rock Lodge

Aubrey Marks grew up in California, but was familiar with the small town of Paw Paw, Ill., where her dad lived. 

“We’d come back every Labor Day,” she recalls. During one of these annual visits, she met Kevin Johnson, a Paw Paw native. For him, it was love at first sight. The two developed a friendship, even though they lived far apart. 

When her dad fell ill in April 2017, Aubrey moved across the country to help take care of him. 

“It was such a difficult time, but Kevin was there for me every step of the way,” Aubrey says. “My dad completely recovered and Kevin and I fell in love, so it turned out to be such a blessing. We got engaged that September.”

Aubrey remembers the proposal being “magical and perfect.” During a beautiful fall day, the couple explored Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park, before going out to dinner. Meanwhile, Aubrey’s sister, Amanda, was busy with setting up decorations. 

“We got back to my dad’s house and Kevin said my sister had a surprise for me,” Aubrey recalls. “He led me into the backyard – where there’s cornfields as far as the eye can see – and when I opened my eyes there were twinkly lights and candles everywhere, and the prettiest pink sunset.”

Kevin got down on one knee, and Aubrey cried as she accepted his proposal. 

Initially, Aubrey booked a large cabin in Tennessee with the idea of making her wedding a full weekend event. But after having lunch at Starved Rock Lodge, in Oglesby, Ill., she revised her plans. 

“The second I walked in I just knew that this was the perfect place to have the wedding,” she says. 

That very day, she booked the venue for Dec. 15, 2018.

Once the wedding arrived, Aubrey was pleasantly surprised that her wish for a whole weekend event panned out. On Friday night, the guests gathered at the Lodge’s Backdoor Lounge to enjoy live music, drinks and dinner. 

“It was so amazing to see all of my favorite people combined in one place,” Aubrey says. 

Guests stayed up late, enjoying the Lodge’s comfy couches in front of a large fireplace. 

The wedding day was a long and happy occasion, from mimosas in the morning to an afternoon ceremony at Saint Mary’s Parish to dancing the night away at the Lodge. 

“The whole experience was magical,” Aubrey says. “We had an open bar all night and it was so reasonably priced I couldn’t believe it. Once the reception ended, we all headed right back to the Backdoor Lounge for another hour of fun, laughter and love.”

On Sunday, the newlyweds hosted a brunch for their guests.

“My whole dream of having everyone in one central place for a whole weekend perfectly came true at Starved Rock Lodge,” Aubrey says. “My husband and I stayed for a couple more days, and it was such a special way to start our new life together.” – Lindsey Gapen


Ceremony/Catering: Starved Rock Lodge, Oglesby
Ceremony: Saint Mary’s, Utica
Photographer: Hannah Persson Photo, Wheaton 
Lighting: SueZ’s Linens & Things, Blackstone

Creek Bend Nature Center, St. Charles (Chrystl Roberge Photography)

Sparks Fly: Creek Bend Nature Center

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 members 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. 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.” – Anna Girgenti


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

Goldmoor Inn, Galena (Samantha Behling photo)

Worth Every Penny: Goldmoor Inn, Galena

Hannah Plickebaum knew her boyfriend, Jason, would propose to her, but she didn’t know when or where.

So, when Jason got on one knee and proposed to the girl he met at the University of Iowa in front of her entire family at Christmas, she was blown away.

“I thought he was going to do it in private, because he’s shy and a very private person,” Hannah says. “I also called him a butthead before answering.”

As she searched for a wedding venue, Hannah came across some photos of The Goldmoor Inn. She was hooked from that moment on.

“I saw the pictures online and I fell in love almost immediately,” she says. “After meeting [Birgit Radin, co-owner of The Goldmoor], I didn’t even want to look at other venues. She was amazing and the property was amazing. I was practically signing on the car ride home because I was so excited.”

To make sure they got the date they wanted, Hannah says the couple booked their wedding date about 18 months early.

“We set the date for June 22, 2019, since it was close to my late aunt’s birthday,” Hannah says. “It’s also my sister’s birthday, but she graciously let us share.”

The Goldmoor grounds can accommodate intimate weddings and elopements. The pavilion can hold up to 175 guests, and if it rains, protective sliding can be added. A roomy patio situated behind The Goldmoor overlooks a wooded area and the Mississippi River, which creates a perfect gathering space for cocktail hour.

A smaller gazebo that can fit up to 10 people can be used for elopements, and during the cooler months, The Goldmoor can host up to 50 guests for an indoor wedding.

Each spot on the property showcases sunning Galena landscaping that makes for a perfect wedding day backdrop.

Hannah says the guests who attended her wedding loved everything about The Goldmoor, especially the food.

“They were seriously amazed,” she says. “The property was gorgeous and the food was a hit. Every guest I spoke to was in awe of how perfect the food was.”

One of those guests who also gave rave reviews of the facility was Hannah’s mother, Sharon Murray.

“Everything was just as my daughter and her husband wanted,” Murray says. “I would highly recommend The Goldmoor Inn to any bride who’s looking for a perfect wedding venue.”

Hannah gives Radin and the staff at The Goldmoor a lot of praise because they made sure the day went according to plan.

“The entire staff asked what we needed and how they could make things better,” Hannah says. “I don’t think they let me worry about a single thing. When I mentioned to Birgit that I was scared of rain, she said, ‘Don’t be,’ in such a way that I was convinced that she’d keep the rain away herself.”

Hannah says getting married at The Goldmoor was worth every penny.

“They provide everything – it’s completely worth it,” she says. – Jermaine Pigee


Ceremony/Reception/Catering: Goldmoor Inn, Galena
Music/DJ: The After Party, Guttenberg, Iowa
Photographer: UnPosed Photography, Galena
Flowers: Valley Perennials Florist & Greenhouse, Galena
Bride’s Gown: Zazou’s Bridal Boutique & Tuxedos, Dubuque, Iowa
Hair/makeup: Tonic Salon & Day Spa, Dubuque, Iowa

Cliffbreakers Events and Conference Center, Rockford (Mindy Joy Photography, Rockford)

Elegant & Affordable: Cliffbreakers Events and Conference Center

Alanna Cieslek knew what she wanted, so she went after it.

Instead of waiting for John Kveton of Berwyn, Ill., to ask her out, Alanna, of Palatine, Ill., took the bull by the horns and asked John out when they were both students at the University of Illinois Springfield.

“We met through the dodgeball club and through mutual friends,” Alanna says. “John was president of the club, which caught my eye and we’re both very athletic. I’m so glad I listened to my intuition because once we started dating, all the pieces seemed to fall into place.”

After the couple dated for four years, Alanna knew she was ready to marry John. But, it took John an additional three years to pop the question. He proposed when the couple visited Portland, Ore., in the summer of 2017.
The couple rented a house and in the backyard was a garden with a beautiful archway. The first night in town, John asked Alanna if she wanted to get some snacks at the store. She agreed and John walked out of the room and into the backyard. Alanna went to the car thinking he was there. Once Alanna saw an empty car, she went looking for him.

“I saw a glimpse of him in the garden and I went over there thinking ‘what the heck is he doing?’” she says. “He took my hand and we went over to the bridge and he proposed. After saying ‘Oh my God’ several times in pure shock, I said ‘yes.’”

When it came time to select a wedding venue, the couple knew Cliffbreakers was the right place for the reception.

“Cliffbreakers oversees the scenic Rock River has an outside porch so guests can go outside if they want to, and mingle,” Alanna says. “It also has a ton of new renovations.”

Cliffbreakers allows couples to get married in an elegant setting without breaking the bank. All-inclusive wedding packages start at $59 per person and include hors d’oeuvres, meals and an open bar, says Andy Bridwell, general manager.

Last year, Cliffbreakers went through an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation, which included updated guest rooms along with refreshed ballrooms and corridors.

Bridwell says dates for 2020 are filling up fast.

Cliffbreakers can accommodate two weddings on the same day or host a large wedding for up to 800 people.

The stunning venue overlooks the Rock River, which makes for some beautiful wedding photos.

“We have some picturesque views of the Rock River, so it’s a natural setting,” Bridwell says. “This outdoor setting definitely sets us apart from other venues.”

Alanna and John married on June 23, 2018. They were the first couple to get married in the updated Cliffbreakers and the couple received rave reviews for their choice.

“Our guests enjoyed the food, drinks and atmosphere,” Alanna says. “People came up to me several times near the end of our reception telling me this was one of the best weddings they’ve been to.”

The staff at Cliffbreakers turned Alanna’s wedding dreams into a reality that ran smoothly and problem-free.

“It was the best day of our life,” she says. – Jermaine Pigee


Ceremony: Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford
Reception: Cliffbreakers Hotel, Rockford
Music/DJ: Jeti Entertainment Wedding DJ Services, Rockford
Catering: Cliffbreakers Hotel, Rockford
Photographer: Mindy Joy Photography, Rockford
Flowers: John’s Mom, Jacqueline Wawrzyniak-Kveton
Bride’s Gown: David’s Bridal, Rockford

Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford (Mark Peterson photo)

A Second Home: Burpee Museum of Natural History

The Burpee Museum of Natural History means a lot to Rachel Seger. While growing up in Rockford, she went to the museum often, especially for special events like Paleofest and the Burpee for Animal Hours. She was even there for the unveiling of the new location when the museum moved to Riverfront Museum Park. 

“It was like a second home to me,” Rachel says. 

So when she got engaged to Marc Ruiz – a Streamwood, Ill., native who she met through mutual friends – it was a no-brainer that they’d choose the Burpee for their wedding ceremony and reception. 

The proposal was simple, but sweet.

“We were at our home getting ready to run a few errands, and he just knelt down and proposed,” Rachel recalls. “He said he felt it was the right time.”
The couple were married on Nov. 17, 2018. They booked the venue a year in advance.

Rachel appreciated the way Burpee provided unique entertainment for wedding guests. 

“They were able to roam the museum while enjoying the wedding festivities,” she says. “Everyone had a wonderful time.”

The couple included some special dinosaur-themed touches in the decor in honor of the location.

Throughout the wedding planning process, Rachel relied on the Burpee staff to help with “anything and everything.” 

“They went above and beyond to help our day go off without a hitch,” she says. “The staff was very friendly and available to answer all the questions we had before and during the big day.”

The museum has a variety of rooms to utilize, depending on the total number of wedding guests. Rachel and Marc decided to host their festivities in the Mahlburg Auditorium, which impresses with high ceilings and large windows. The space, located right off the front entrance, is ideal for about 150 guests. 

Smaller rooms are available for more intimate weddings, while The Riverview Room & Terrace, located on the riverfront, can accommodate up to 250 guests.

Now that the Barnes Mansion has been restored to its Victorian glory, couples can use the space for photo shoots and/or pre-ceremony preparations.  

“I feel like most venues don’t offer those kinds of options,” Rachel says. 
The couple continued the magic of their wedding day with a honeymoon in Disney World. They’ll certainly be back to the Burpee Museum to make even more memories together. – Lindsey Gapen


Ceremony/Reception: The Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford
Music/DJ: Flipside DJ Entertainment, Rockford
Catering: ABC Catering, Rockford
Photographer: Mark Peterson (bride’s brother-in-law)
Photobooth: Spotlight PhotoBooth, Rockford

Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion (ellAdele Photography)

Easy on the Eyes: Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion

From the moment Danae Savitski first met her husband Sonny, she knew the two would create lifelong memories together.

“I wanted to marry him almost as soon as I met him,” says Danae, of Stillman Valley, Ill. “He says he had this feeling from the start as well, but the process of getting to know each other over the next couple years confirmed everything we felt from the beginning.”

The couple initially met at City First Church in Rockford and through mutual friends more than four years ago, but their relationship took off when Sonny, of Rockford, visited Danae when she worked at Tavern on Clark in Rockford in November of 2015.

“I heard of his reputation and I knew he was humble and genuine, and when I got to know him, he had a great sense of humor and he was so easy to talk to,” Danae says. “He was also easy on the eyes.”

After they dated for just under two years, Sonny made his move on March 29, 2018. He asked one of Danae’s friends to plan a girl’s trip to Chicago. When Danae arrived in the city, she was surprised to discover Sonny waiting for her outside of Adler Planetarium, a breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline behind him.

“That’s where he proposed,” Danae says. “I was shocked. He says everything went exactly according to plan, except it was much colder than he anticipated, so he felt like he had to say what he was going to say quickly.”

The couple started searching for wedding venues, but at first didn’t find anything that spoke to them. Then they discovered the Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion.

“We loved it because it’s in Rockford, we had the reception and ceremony in the same location and it checked off all of our other boxes,” Danae says.

“The staff was so great to us from the start and they really worked with us on pricing. We knew it was the right spot.”

The Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion features 5,500-square-feet of elegant space with a large stone fireplace, giant glass windows that overlook Aldeen Golf Club and an outdoor pergola.

It holds about 250 people for weddings and 300 for social events. The venue hosts 50 to 70 weddings each year, says Taneel Fraley, director of operations. Fraley suggests booking 10 to 14 months in advance. Danae booked about one year in advance.

The couple got married on June 8, 2019. Guests raved about the wonderful venue, Danae says.

“They loved it. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful the space was, inside and out,” she says. “It was convenient, it’s a great part of town and everything was easily accessible. It was an incredible experience for everyone, and most people had not been there before, so they were very impressed.”

Looking back, Danae says she wouldn’t change a thing.

“Our wedding was honestly a dream come true and the best day of our lives,” she says. “We wanted to enjoy every moment with each other and with our family members and best friends and that’s what we did. Everyone we worked with was incredible and we would recommend their services to anyone.” – Jermaine Pigee


Ceremony: The Rockford Bank & Trust Pavilion, Rockford 
Music/DJ: Greg Saunders Big Day DJ, Rockford
Catering: Giovanni’s, Rockford
Photographer: ellAdele Photography, Rockford
Flowers: London Avenue Designs, Rockford
Bride’s Gown: Vera’s House of Bridal, Madison, Wis.
Hair of bride & mother of bride: Kayla Bucey, Rockford
Hair of bridesmaids: RD Artistry, Rockford 
Makeup: RD Artistry, Rockford  
Ceremony Arch: Built by Ben Carter, Rockford 
Videographer: Nate Carter, Rockford 
Cake: Stacy Lidvall, Rockford

The Standard, Rockford (Mindy Joy Photography)

Worth Seeing: The Standard

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 canceled 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 any 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 occasion, 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, 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.” – Jermaine Pigee


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

D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, Crystal Lake (Fox + Ivory Photography)

The ‘I Do’s’ of March: D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center

March 10 is a special day for Alex and Megan Diakoumis. It’s the day they met in 2017, the day they were engaged in 2018, and the day after their marriage this spring.

Things have a way of clicking for this couple, who met by chance through a phone app.

“She replied to my original message with a waving kitten that says, ‘Checking in and saying hello,’” Alex recalls, noting that the message is now framed on the living room wall. He quickly responded and arranged a date.

“I surprised her with flowers, and she told me no one ever gave her flowers before.”

A year later, Alex arranged a proposal at the same bar they’d enjoyed a year earlier. “And I had no clue,” Megan laughs.

When it came time to pick a wedding venue, there was no question where they’d go: D’Andrea Banquets & Conference Center, in Crystal Lake. The spacious and elegant venue boasts several options and a wedding planner who can execute an event from conception to cleanup.

Megan, a Crystal Lake native, had attended other events there. She knew the owners were Greek, just like Alex. She also appreciated Lynnette, who was always organized and kept things on track through the year-long engagement, accommodating Alex’s work schedule as a night-shift police officer in west-suburban Chicago.

“She made it so easy for us,” Megan says. “We procrastinated a little bit, but she just made us feel so comfortable with everything.”

Megan and Alex recently returned to D’Andrea for another family party and reconnected with their favorite bartender, Ken. “He said, ‘You guys still have had the best, most fun wedding,’” Megan recalls. “It’s good to know they felt like we did – that it was perfect.” – Chris Linden

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden (Michael Cullen Photography photo)

Surrounded by Beauty: Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden

It was love at first sight when Megan Rush and Michael Buchman met.

“The person who actually introduced us is the same person who married us – our officiate Kyle Arwood,” Meg says. 

 During a trip to Colorado, Mike was able to pull off a big surprise. 

“We set off to hike through the park with a couple of our close friends. Toward the end of the hike, when the sun was setting, Mike dropped on one knee and proposed,” Meg recalls.

The rest of the trip was full of celebration. 

The Illinois natives looked for a wedding and reception venue close to home. They toured several places before deciding on Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Rockford.

“The main thing that drew us to this venue was the beautiful setting and privacy it provided,” Meg says. “We wanted it to feel like we weren’t even in Rockford during the wedding. We got married on June 15 and the grounds were absolutely amazing at that time.”

A flowing water fountain added a nice touch during the couple’s ceremony, which took place right on the grounds. Guests mingled indoors and out during the reception. 

“The patio was a pure delight for so many people,” Meg says. “If our guests got too warm outside, they just came back in to cool down.”

Meg encourages future brides to “just ask” if they have any questions while planning a wedding at Klehm Arboretum. 

“They’re eager to help with whatever you need,” she says. – Lindsey Gapen

Oscar Swan Country Inn,Geneva & Galena

A Cozy Celebration: Oscar Swan Country Inn

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

“I had known 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 joined her 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 immediately knew 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 accommodated her guest list of 150 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’d ever had.”

Jenn appreciated how flexible the venue was in allowing her to hire some 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,” she says. – Lindsey Gapen