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 some spectacular options. Here, we highlight some of our favorites, and share the experience of couples who recently said, “I do.”
Franchesco’s Ristorante | Rockford, ILL.
Deidra Tillis didn’t have to look far to find her future husband, Mark Gaseor.
“We were neighbors at Bradley University, in Peoria,” she says.
They dated in college, graduated and moved together to Wheeling. It was in their apartment that Mark got down on one knee.
“I got home from work and noticed the door was unlocked,” she laughs. “At first, I was annoyed, but then he proposed. It was a random Friday night, so he took me by surprise.”
The couple were married on June 18, 2022, in an outdoor ceremony at Klehm Arboretum, in Rockford, where they were surrounded by friends, family and a stunning floral landscape.
“The weather was 76 degrees and sunny,” says Deidra. “I don’t know how it could have possibly been better.”
Klehm Arboretum is a former tree nursery turned botanic garden that’s known locally for its natural beauty. Because of its colorful backdrop and its versatile gathering spaces, the arboretum is a choice destination for outdoor ceremonies and receptions, with accommodations that suit groups as small as 25 and as large as 500 people. Catering and events are managed exclusively by the team behind Franchesco’s Ristorante, itself a premier wedding destination and Deidra’s choice for the rehearsal dinner and reception.
Deidra had already been part of two weddings at Franchesco’s, and her previous experience had left a positive impact. When the time came to plan her own special day, she knew she made the right decision.
“Any time we visited Franchesco’s, the whole team made us feel like family,” she says. “They were always available to check in and touch base. Every conversation was light and happy. We held our rehearsal dinner on the patio, and it was absolutely beautiful.”
On her wedding day, the staff at Klehm Arboretum made sure the ceremony was perfect, and at Franchesco’s every detail was attended to, including the candles – all 200 of them.
“The team told us that we set the record for the number of candles,” she laughs. “They made sure every candle was lit the entire night.”
During the well-lit reception, general manager Michelle LaMay and her staff frequently checked in to make sure Deidra and Mark were comfortable, fed and having fun.
“The food was absolutely fantastic,” Deidra says. “I received so many compliments from my guests.”
Looking back, Deidra is thrilled with the hard work and dedication that Klehm Arboretum and Franchesco’s Ristorante put into her wedding day.
“It was a wonderful full-package feel,” she says. “The whole team is terrific and very attentive.” –JT
Starved Rock Lodge | Oglesby, ILL.
Stephanie Daley met Steven Molenstra in their senior year at Lewis University, in Romeoville, Ill., while hanging out with mutual friends. They knew from the get-go there was something special.
“We just started talking, and before long we were dating,” says Stephanie. “I am so happy with where our journey together has brought us today.”
Eight years later, with the occasional long-distance stint in between, Stephanie and Steven were ready to settle down.
“Steven’s proposal was perfect,” says Stephanie. “I didn’t think I could be surprised, because we had been together for so long, but he caught me off guard.”
Steven timed the proposal to coincide with Stephanie’s birthday. While treating her to a birthday dinner, followed by ice cream, the couple returned home to find their back porch arranged in a romantic setting, complete with candles and champagne.
“He took me into the backyard and asked me to read a card he gave me,” she recalls. “He proposed to me in our first home together.”
When it came time to plan the wedding, Stephanie had only one venue in mind: Starved Rock Lodge, near Oglesby, Ill.
“I wanted the wedding at Starved Rock Lodge for a combination of reasons,” she says. “My husband’s family used to visit there when he was growing up. Also, it was only an hour or so away for us and most of our family and friends.”
Another reason was that Starved Rock Lodge, located inside the popular state park, was ready to handle the ceremony, the reception and overnight lodging all in one location. Available for weddings year-round, Starved Rock Lodge offers venue space both indoors and outdoors.
“Everything was right there for us,” she says. “I wanted it to feel like a weekend getaway.”
There was one more little twist: this was a winter wedding, scheduled for Jan. 21, 2022.
Lucky for Stephanie, the Lodge’s Great Hall was ready to impress. Not only did the team at Starved Rock Lodge exceed the couple’s expectations, but the bride and groom were also treated to stunning views and photo opportunities in the state park.
“Our photos are just so unique,” she says. “We have one of the whole wedding party in front of a frozen waterfall.”
Stephanie remains impressed with how prepared the Starved Rock Lodge staff always was. “Everyone works as a team,” she says. “The day ran seamlessly.”
For anyone planning a wedding at Starved Rock Lodge, Stephanie advises going with the venue’s recommended vendors.
“They’ve all worked together so closely, and everyone knows everyone,” she says. “They were fantastic at putting together timelines, communicating with one another, and knowing where everything was. It was so nice to not have to worry about anything.”
Stephanie has no regrets with her decision to choose Starved Rock Lodge for her special day. She and Steven have even made it an anniversary tradition to return.
“Now, we have a place to go back and visit every year,” she says. –JT
Goldmoor Inn | Galena, ILL.
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 photos of Goldmoor Inn, a luxurious retreat in Galena, Ill. 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 singing 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. Under normal circumstances, the pavilion can hold up to 175 guests, and if it rains, protective siding can be added. A roomy patio situated behind Goldmoor overlooks a wooded area and the Mississippi River, which creates a perfect gathering space for cocktail hour.
A smaller gazebo that fits up to 10 people can be used for elopements, and during the cooler months, Goldmoor can host up to 50 guests for an indoor wedding.
Each spot on the property showcases sunning Galena landscapes that make for a perfect wedding day backdrop.
Hannah says the guests who attended her wedding loved everything about 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 had rave reviews 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. – JP
Illinois Bank & Trust Pavilion | Rockford, ILL.
From the moment Danae Savitski 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, but their relationship took off when Sonny, of Rockford, visited Danae when she worked at Tavern on Clark in Rockford in November 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 Illinois 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 Illinois 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.” –JP
The Funderburg House | Belvidere, ILL.
Since Funderburg House opened to the public, this restored mansion has become one of Belvidere’s crown jewels.
Previously owned by the Funderburg and Fuller-Rhinehart families but now owned by the Boone County Historical Society, the Tudor Revival-style home takes visitors on a travel through time, within rooms lovingly restored as they might have looked in the early and middle part of the 20th century. Best of all, it’s also an intimate setting for couples to celebrate their love in a truly vintage space.
“For a typical rental, we offer our entire ADA-accessible first floor, the surrounding porches and the garden,” says Anna Pivoras, executive director and rental manager for the Boone County Museum of History. “We also offer full-house rentals on request.” A bridal suite is also available.
Funderburg House offers a kitchen for caterers to assemble prepared foods while a rolling bar supports beverage service.
The house itself can accommodate up to 100 guests, but the large garden area just outside adds even more space for social events.“Our beautifully appointed lawn is the perfect place for a tent and outdoor seating,” says Pivoras. “We also have a third-floor party room that can seat up to 25 people.” –JT
Creek Bend Nature Center | St. Charles, ILL.
Natalie Stewart is pretty sure her marriage to Ryan Stubben was destiny.
“We met because he was a friend of my brother’s,” she says. “But we grew up a town apart and were friends with a lot of the same people, so we’re pretty sure we would have met anyway.”
The couple were together for almost 10 years before Ryan got down on one knee for an emotional proposal.
“It was very casual. We were hanging out on the couch when he did it,” Natalie laughs. “I had already set the wedding date, so he knew he’d have to propose.”
Once the engagement was official, it was time to seek out a venue. That proved to be a simple task. LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, in St. Charles, was a favorite dog-walking spot for the couple. Inside the preserve is Creek Bend Nature Center, a spot that’s familiar to schoolkids but is also an increasingly popular destination for weddings with a natural backdrop. Individual rooms, like the Savanna Room, Prairie Room and Meadow Room are available on their own, or families can reserve the entire facility for a party of up to 175 guests.
“I took one look at the oak trees there and immediately thought, ‘That’s where I want our wedding,’” says Natalie. “So, we made an inquiry and booked the venue.”
For Natalie, the best feature of Creek Bend Nature Center is the flexibility.
“The forest preserve provides the facility and the grounds, but everything else, from the vendors to the decor, was up to us to create,” she says. “I was looking for a venue that would let me use my creativity.”
Natalie was also taken in by the natural beauty of the venue’s surroundings, as well as nearby historic gems like the Durant House Museum and Pioneer Sholes School.
“It’s such a beautiful setting,” she says. “It was wonderful being amongst the trees, with all of that history around us.”
Natalie recommends setting aside time the previous day to load items into the building. That way, wedding planners can hit the ground running on the day of the wedding.
“We took some time the day prior to make sure everything was ready for our big day,” she says. “Having one less thing to worry about the day of really made a difference.”
While Creek Bend Nature Center does not provide additional vendor services, the staff do maintain a list of vendors they’ve worked with in the past. For Natalie, the freedom to work with vendors of her choice played a big role in making everything special.
“I loved that the venue was a blank canvas,” says Natalie. “That’s what I was looking for to design my dream wedding. Creek Bend Nature Center helped me make that dream come true.” –JT
Copper Fox | Geneva, ILL.
There’s an event space in Geneva that has everyone talking, especially couples who are looking for a fresh new venue to celebrate their special day.
Copper Fox, 477 S. Third St., is the latest endeavor of Curt and K.C. Gulbro, the father and son team and who also own another Geneva favorite, FoxFire Restaurant, 17 W. State St.
With more than 18 years of combined experience in hospitality, the Gulbros have brought that same great quality and expertise to Copper Fox, making it an ideal event space for weddings small and large.
The Gulbros opened Copper Fox, a newly renovated venue, in April 2020. Guests are treated to an elegant interior setting that’s optimal for private events, including wedding receptions and corporate meetings.
Accommodating between 75 and 200 guests in their banquet hall, Copper Fox is a large, versatile event space with white walls, crystal chandeliers, beautiful lighting and a state-of-the-art audio/visual system, perfect for showing presentations during a wedding reception. With a private bar and private bridal suite included, the banquet hall has much to offer a couple on their big day.
For something a little more intimate, like a rehearsal dinner or wedding shower, Copper Fox’s board room can accommodate up to 80 guests.
The team at Copper Fox can help to assemble a menu specifically for each couple’s wedding, building upon choices that appeal most to their and their guests’ preferences. The experienced kitchen and wait staff can create dishes to please any palate, including traditional entrees along with vegan and vegetarian dishes. Everything from appetizers and entrees to cocktails and desserts are tailored to the event’s unique theme.
Copper Fox is conveniently located close to the Metra station on a block with multiple locally owned shops and attractions.
To learn more about booking your next special event at the Copper Fox, contact the event coordinator at [email protected]. You can also stop by or call (630) 526-7800. –BH
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa | Galena, ILL.
For Sarah Thole, hosting her wedding at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, in Galena, was a dream come true – quite literally.
“I wanted to get married at Eagle Ridge since I was 16 years old,” she says, recalling the time when she stumbled upon the Eagle Ballroom being decorated during a visit to the Galena-area resort.
Little did she know her dream would come true, not once but twice.
“Our first wedding ceremony was Aug. 1, 2020,” Sarah says. “When COVID hit, we decided to book a second date at Eagle Ridge for the reception.”
For their second reception, held in July 2021, Sarah and Logan were joined by a very special guest, their son, Auden.
Sarah met Logan on the very first day of their very first class at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Both were pursuing a degree in early education.
“We were friends for a couple of years, then we started dating,” says Sarah. “He proposed to me on my birthday, in front of our Christmas tree.”
Since Sarah and Logan are both teachers, Logan added a little something special to his proposal.
“He gave me a laminated answer guide,” she laughs. “It only had one answer, which was ‘yes.’”
No sooner were they were engaged then Sarah contacted Eagle Ridge to book a date for their wedding. Nestled amongst 6,800 acres in the breathtaking Galena Territory of northwest Illinois, the luxurious resort and spa is known and loved for hosting destination weddings, with four venues to choose from.
“We ended up booking the first ceremony about a year-and-a-half out,” says Sarah, who recommends giving ample notice to wedding manager Maggie Truppa, due to the resort’s popularity.
The ceremony itself was held on the Point Patio, the ballroom’s wraparound deck overlooking Lake Galena.
“The view was absolutely gorgeous,” Sarah says.
Sarah was also pleased with the way that, despite added COVID restrictions, both weddings went off without a hitch.
“Maggie and her team did a wonderful job,” she says. “She was kind and checked in often, which I really appreciated.”
It was no surprise to Sarah that the day went so smoothly.
“As soon as I met Maggie, I realized that I wouldn’t need a wedding planner,” she says. “It was a huge relief to know that I could rely on someone who works right there, at Eagle Ridge.”
For Sarah and Logan, both days were a spectacular realization of a long-held dream.
“When I first saw the room decorated when I was a teenager, it was like seeing something from a magazine or movie come to life,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow. That’s attainable. I could have this for my own day.’”
And she did. Twice. –JT
Acquaviva Winery | Maple Park, ILL.
Kelly Clayton had a great big 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 typically 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.” –LGL
Oscar Swan Country Inn | Geneva, ILL.
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 acphen 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,” she says, “and that’s exactly what it was.” – LGL