Statement Pieces

By Annemarie Mannion

Naperville resident Deb Collander wanted to wear the pearl choker and earrings she inherited from the mother, but the style of the pieces just didn’t speak to her. After years of not wearing the jewelry, she took them to Sophia Forero Design (, a Naperville-based jewelry studio. Forero used the pearls and incorporated other stones and materials to create a new suite of earrings, plus a necklace, ring, and bracelet that were more in Collander’s style.

“It’s beautiful, and I feel beautiful wearing it,” says Collander, who appreciates how Forero incorporates unique items—recycled from old jewelry or found during her travels to such far-flung places as a Paris flea market or a Native American art show in the Southwest—into her jewelry designs.

Forero, who grew up in Naperville, didn’t always plan on becoming a jewelry designer. She majored in political science in college and got a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Chicago. She made her first necklace in graduate school and her interest in jewelry making grew when she received a book from a friend that delved into the meanings of jewelry and adornment.

“Jewelry is a language,” she says. “It’s a symbol saying who we are, without saying anything at all.”

While serving in Hungary in the Peace Corps she began collecting Czech glass, amber, and other beads.

“I had jars of beads and I started making pieces for people,” says Forero, whose expertise as a designer grew over the years.

“My line has evolved and I’m using many more gemstones with other unusual elements,” she says.

Her Wanderlust collection (“Because not all who wander are lost”), for instance, incorporates micromosaics from Italy, sterling silver feathers from Navajo and Zuni cultures, and Murano glass combined with a variety of other stones and gems, including malachite, turquoise, peridot, and pearls.

“I’m never not looking for materials,” Forero says. “I find materials in the darnedest places.”

Whether incorporating a pocket watch, an antique coin, or religious medal into her collections, all of her creations tell a story.

“My pieces sell best when there is an understanding of who I am,
what the stories are behind the pieces, and the love that goes into them,” she says.

“The elements in jewelry are just amazing,” adds Collander. “The way she adds antique pieces from her travels is unique. Most of her pieces are one of a kind.”

One of Forero’s specialties is creating mosaics with colorful beads that may also feature diamonds or other precious stones that she forms into rings, pendants, or earrings.

Earlier in her career, Forero won a contest hosted by Marshall Field’s to select a designer whose pieces would be featured in its stores.

“That was a time when department stores cultivated new artists. They’d take new artists under their wings and help them develop their brand,” she says of her early years.

Today, the vast majority of Forero’s sales are direct to customers via her website, or from her studio where she enjoys working with customers, like Collander, to create custom pieces.

“We kind of work together to make the pieces,” explains Collander. “She made the jewelry for each of my son’s weddings.” She wore jewelry featuring amber and smoky topaz for one son’s wedding, black stones for another son’s wedding, and rubies and other pink and purple stones for her third son’s wedding.

Forero has a loyal following of customers, whom she has dubbed “Sophanistas.” Purchasing a piece of jewelry isn’t necessary to become part of the group.

“Anyone can be a Sophanista. They just have to ascribe to the idea of feeling beautiful,” Forero says.

The pieces that Collander had made from her mother’s pearl jewelry continue to give her joy. She knew it was time to recycle them when the necklace broke while Collander was visiting Forero to decide what could be remade from the jewelry.

“That was my mother telling me, ‘It’s time you did something with this jewelry,’ ” says Collander, with a laugh.

Just as Collander loves the jewelry made from her mother’s pieces, Forero loves seeing other customers fall in love with the jewelry and how they feel when wearing it.

“If my jewelry can make you feel confident or beautiful, then my work is done,” Forero says.

Green Acres

By Cara Sullivan

In this hypermodern world, where convenience is practically a currency, there are two types of people: those who indulge in the occasional farm life fantasy as a respite from the status quo, and those who are called to turn that dream into reality. On the following pages we’ll introduce you to a handful of the latter—fine folks who have made it their life’s work to grow fresh, healthy, happy, and sustainable food. Every slice of tomato, bite of bacon, and drop of honey they yield is a delicious reminder that, while convenience is indeed a beautiful thing, there’s more to life than hypermarkets and same-day shipping. Here are seven incredible local producers of home-grown goodness.



Step off the road onto this gorgeous sprawl of country, and you’ve officially entered a dream—Marc and Luis Bernard’s dream, that is. Marc, a former chef for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, and Luis, a special education teacher (both pictured at right), had been indulging the occasional #farmlife daydream for years—until one fateful day in 2011 when a home with a barn on five acres in Elburn became their home. Fast-forward nearly a decade and these farmers with a capital F spend their days cranking out eggs, honey, pasture-raised chicken and heirloom pork—think chops, bacon, jowl, and breakfast sausage—as well as (wait for it) more than 100 varieties of fresh produce.

Since its humble beginnings, the farm has nearly quadrupled in size and the Bernards have added a robust CSA program to their mouth-watering menu of offerings. Shares come in three sizes (personal, half, and full) and run for 20 weeks, from June to November, with weekly pickup from a handful of farmers’ markets. A shorter fall share, from late September through early November, makes a great option for lovers of harvest veggies like squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and greens, and pasture-raised eggs are always available as an add-on. Farm-raised turkeys (broad-breasted whites raised on organic pastures with non-GMO feeds, to be precise) and all the fixings can be ordered for pre-Thanksgiving pickup at Rustic Road’s annual holiday market in mid-November. And lest anyone forget Marc began his career as a chef, the farm’s website is loaded with recipes designed to maximize the full potential of everything it yields, from pork to peas (see below for one of our favorites).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bernards enjoy mixing and mingling with members of their loyal community almost as much as farming itself; you’ll see them out in the pasture, chatting up customers at the market, and teaching the tiniest farm visitors the fine art of goat belly rubs. If there’s a veggie you’d like them to grow, just say the word (though to be fair, chances are pretty good that they already are). Need help with your home garden? Just ask—and be prepared for more info than you bargained for. These guys are the real deal, and we’re lucky to call them neighbors.

Elburn Farmstand | 1N292 Brundige Rd.
Wheaton French Market | Main and Liberty Sts.
Aurora Farmers Market | 65 Water St.



There isn’t a family in Illinois that doesn’t at least attempt to squeeze a farm day into the fall schedule—we’re talking puffy vests, matching plaid, apple cider doughnuts, all of it. And nobody nails the family-fun-at-the-farm-thing quite like Keller’s, a sixth-generation sustainable spot in Naperville with an Oswego farm stand that turns into Fallapalooza come September (expect an apple orchard, pumpkin patch, corn maze, farm animals, and plenty of those aforementioned doughnuts). It’s open rain or shine every weekend from early September through the end of October—and because Keller’s fresh produce is every bit as satisfying as their specialized brand of fall fun, we’d be remiss not to remind you to hit up the farm stand while you’re there.

Oswego Farmstand | 2500 Johnson Rd.
Naperville Farmstand | 516 Knoch Knolls Rd.
Plainfield Farmstand | 15066 S. Wallin Dr.


City Bee Savers

Truth: Agriculture as we know it cannot exist without bees—and local beekeeper Bill Whitney and his honeybee farm are here to do something about it. The mission of City Bee Savers is threefold: produce delicious, sustainable honey (at $10 per pound), educate the next generation of bee lovers and keepers ($140 will set you up with everything you need to start a colony of your own), and, ultimately, do its part to save the honeybees—literally. That’s because Bill and his team moonlight as specialist exterminators, bee-removal experts who spend their summers relocating unwanted residential and commercial hives to the City Bee Savers’ happy, productive colonies in wildflower-rich areas of DuPage County (namely West Chicago Prairie, Herrick Lake, and the Great Western Trail).

Abbey Farms Aurora Farmers Market | 2855 Hart Rd.



Is it technically a farm? Not exactly. But what it lacks in baby animals and haystacks, it more than makes up for in gardens. Lots of gardens. A fixture of the community since 1936, the Growing Place is split between two locations—one in Aurora, and one in Naperville. Each is unique and well worth a visit, but there’s one glorious similarity: Both have an acre-wide learning garden designed for green and black thumbs alike to explore and study more than 800 labeled plants. On-site demonstrations are designed to educate guests on common garden situations—things like sunny borders or dry shade—and themed areas include plantings meant to attract hummingbirds and butterflies and miniatures for visiting kids to explore (hot tip: littles will love the hidden garden atop the bridge at the Aurora location, which just so happens to be available for birthday parties).
Landscape and container design, native plantings for wildlife, and delivery and installation services are available, and here’s where it gets really good (tasting): The Growing Place is the place to go for vegetable, fruit, and herb plants, which are grown and sold in the centers’ production greenhouses. All plants rely on organic soil and fertilizers, and a beneficial insect program ensures pest populations are managed within the greenhouse. Perhaps most important, on-site experts are committed to matching customers with plants that will live happily ever after in their home gardens.

Aurora Garden Center | 2000 Montgomery Rd.
Naperville Garden Center | 25w471 Plank Rd.



Before we dig into the heavenly fruits and veggies, we’re going to let you in on a little secret: Heritage Prairie’s honey latte is on a whole other level of deliciousness. Try it at the farm store this fall, and you’ll never stand in line for a pumpkin spice latte again.

But we digress … This small but mighty Elburn farm churns out produce and microgreens good enough to line the shelves at local markets, including Whole Foods, Blue Goose, and Plum. The four-season operation employs Eliot Coleman methods (a name and concept worth Googling) to maximize its low acreage, and features a robust CSA program to ensure the surrounding community is involved at every level. In addition to scoring first dibs on seasonal veggies each week, CSA members receive 10 percent off tickets for the farm’s in-demand monthly dinners that feature partnerships with many local brewers and distilleries.

In between the rows of garden-fresh goodness, there’s something else growing here: love. Since 2008, Heritage Prairie has been hosting all-inclusive weddings at their onsite venue—and if there’s anything more romantic than saying “I do” on the farm, we don’t know what it is.

Elburn Farm Store | 2N308 Brundige Rd.
Wheaton French Market | Main and Liberty Sts.
Geneva Green Market | 327 Hamilton St.
Geneva French Market | South and Fourth Sts.


Anderson Tree Farm

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches … especially when they hail from Anderson Tree Farm, the coziest spot on Earth (seriously, they hand you a steaming mug of hot chocolate while they wrap your tree). Choose from Norway spruce, Colorado spruce, or white pine at this Plainfield farm, chop it down yourself or leave it to the pros, and—this is the best part—opt to have it planted in your yard when the holidays are over. Don’t celebrate Christmas? Don’t worry: Anderson sells beautiful pines, birch, maple, and other varieties of tree for home landscaping, plus fresh firewood, too.

Plainfield Tree Farm | 508 W. Route 126



Little in this life is more idyllic than a flower farm, as anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting Mayneland can attest. Sitting pretty on a 15-acre plot nestled between subdivisions in Naperville, the entire shebang is run by second-generation farmer Jeremy Mayne, whose family purchased the land in 1976 with humble intentions of starting a family garden. Whether by luck or green thumb, it didn’t take long for the garden’s bounty to exceed the Maynes’ needs, and a profitable produce stand was born. The farm’s operations have expanded considerably since then, but the old-school (read: cash-only) store remains tucked into the corner of Mill and Bauer, spilling over with fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Which brings us to our next point: omigodtheflowers.

Yes, the wide variety of produce is as fresh and delicious as it gets, but Mayneland’s Farmhouse Flowers ( showstopping blooms—all grown from seed—are what keep in-the-know locals coming back for more. Even so, grab-and-go stems are just a small part of Barbara Landiak’s flower show. In addition to running a wholesale program that services local florists, the farm’s talented designers lead innovative workshops throughout the year; guide private parties in the art of arranging (think birthday or bachelorette party); and love nothing more than creating inspired arrangements for events, both big and small.

Naperville Farmstand | 27W265 Bauer Rd.

Night to End Hunger

Loaves & Fishes Community Services celebrated 35 years of fighting hunger at its annual Night to End Hunger fundraiser on September 6. Over 225 guests enjoyed dinner, cocktails, and live entertainment at Elements at Water Street in downtown Naperville. Guests celebrated the incredible growth and inspiring moments in the nonprofit’s history. More than $335,000 was raised to support those in our community who are seeking relief from hunger and poverty. ABC-7 Eyewitness News Sports Team weekend anchor and reporter Dionne Miller served as the evening’s emcee.

“We are honored and grateful to have received our community’s tremendous support for 35 years,” says CEO Mike Havala. “Every single day Loaves & Fishes is committed to providing healthy food and impactful programs to help struggling families become more self-sufficient.”

In celebration of its 35th anniversary, Loaves & Fishes has created an online guestbook; visit to read the entries, or find information on volunteering or making financial or automobile donations.

Beautiful Music

Doug Beach calls jazz “America’s gift to the arts,” but the veteran trumpeter and director of jazz studies for the acclaimed program at Elmhurst College knows that most Americans don’t necessarily appreciate that fact. Unfairly saddled with labels like “complicated” or “challenging,” and deprived of the mainstream attention afforded more popular musical genres, jazz often struggles to connect with new listeners. But Beach says learning to really hear what’s going on in a jazz tune is to discover a brilliant new musical world.

Understand the elements
All music consists of three elements, and Beach says getting familiar with them can help unlock the beauty of a jazz song. Melody is the tune or the theme, and is likely the most prominent sound one hears. Harmony supports the melody and consists of multiple notes happening at the same time, often supplied by the piano or guitar. Finally, rhythm determines space and time by defining the duration of each note—drums are a good listen here, since everything a drummer does is rhythmic.

Identify the instruments
Instruments are from families, including the brass (trumpet, trombone, tuba, etc.), the woodwinds (saxophone, clarinet, etc.), and the rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass and drums). “As you listen to a recording, try to focus in on each instrument and listen to the role it plays in the music,” Beach advises.

Follow the improv
While most jazz players love the freedom to create spontaneously in the moment, improv can be one of the most challenging and confusing parts of the music to a nonmusician. Beach says a good way to better understand improvisation is to start with an album that is more approachable, such as the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue. To put these listening tips to the test, try one of Beach’s five favorite jazz recordings:

Miles Davis
“This is arguably most famous album in the history of jazz. Recorded in 1959, it is a doorway to jazz history, featuring not only Miles, but also John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, and others.”
Shirley Horn
“There has to be a vocalist on this list, and this is the perfect choice. This recording features great songs, with arrangements and orchestrations by the incomparable Johnny Mandel.”
Count Basie and his Orchestra
“Essential Basie. No big band swings like Basie, and this recording was made by a band that consisted of some of his greatest players performing many legendary arrangements.”
Louis Armstrong
“Louis was the first great genius of jazz, and his Hot Five and Hot Seven groups created some of the greatest music in the genre’s early years.”
Duke Ellington
“This recording, from one of America’s greatest composer-arrangers, features one of his greatest bands playing some of his most important works.”

Photograph by Olivia Kohler

Just a Minute

By Jim Hughes

GOAL Increase strength, endurance, and coordination with this cross-training program guided by the clock.

PLAN Warm up by doing 20 seconds of lateral jumps, 30 seconds of arm swing scissors, and 20 seconds of forward-and-back line jumps. Starting with Block A, perform each exercise superset (e.g., 6–8 rows and 6–8 squat thrusts), starting every minute on the minute for 6 minutes (each block will be performed 6 times, then you move to the next block). Complete each rep range and then rest until the next minute begins, and repeat. When all four exercise blocks are completed, cool down with 45 seconds of hip flexor and shin box stretches on each side.

EQUIPMENT TRX straps, dumbbells, medicine ball, fitness step

Block A (6 minutes)

Table top row
Arrange TRX straps high and move into a tabletop position under the straps. Keeping knees bent at 90 degrees, hold body parallel to floor. Pull elbows to side, pinching shoulder blades together, pulling chest toward the ceiling. Do 6–8 reps.
Squat thrust
Using dumbbells held at shoulder height, squat down by sitting back into an imaginary chair. As you return to standing position, drive dumbbells toward the ceiling, then return them to shoulders as you squat for the next repetition. Do 6–8 reps.

Block B (6 minutes)

TRX Pull-Ups
Sit under TRX straps in a crisscross position, with arms fully extended. Pull chest vertically up and between your hands, while pulling elbows to your side. Do 6–8 reps. Tip: Use your feet as much as you need to, your back and arms as much as you can.
Push a medicine ball over your head, while fully extending body toward the ceiling. Forcefully drive the ball into the ground. Pick the ball up off the floor and repeat. Do 6–8 reps. Tip: Pick a medicine ball that is challenging, but not impossible, to lift overhead.

Block C (6 minutes)

Hot Steps
Straddle a 6-inch step, then jump onto the step, tapping the top quickly, then jump back off the step and land in a smooth squat position. Do 8–10 reps. Tip: the goal is to minimize time on top of the box, spending more time on the floor as you absorb the momentum and descend into a squat.
Using the floor, step, box or stability ball place your hands on the floor and perform the required amount of pushups keeping your torso tight and rigid. Do 8–10 reps.

Block D (6 minutes)

Triceps Over Head
Hold each end of a dumbbell with the weight extended over your head. Keeping torso tight, lower the weight behind your head, wrapping elbows behind ears. Keep elbows pointed high and return weight to fully extended arm position. Do 10–15 reps.
Using a dumbbell or barbell, stand with knees slightly bent. Hinge waist while keeping back straight. Drive hips back, placing load/stress on hamstrings and glutes. Return to the upright position, squeezing glutes and hamstrings as you stand up. Do 8 reps.

Illustrations by Ievgenii Volyk

White Night

One hundred forty guests in summer whites enjoyed a six-course meal with wine pairings, served on tables glowing with patio lights set down the center of Naperville’s Water Street on August 25. After a strolling bubbly reception hour, chefs from Water Street restaurants served courses such as tuna tataki, shrimp and jicama taquitos, crispy pork belly, and polenta cake.

Proceeds from the inaugural event will benefit the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign and Artful Impact, providing arts experiences to special needs youth and adults. “We are delighted to have such great support for Artful Impact and the Y from the Water Street community,” says YMCA board member and Artful Impact chair Deb Newman. “This unique event will support youth programs and help young people with special needs experience the liberating power of the performing arts firsthand.”—MD

Photo Courtesy Artful Impact

In Good Taste

Pink ribbon sugar cookies from Beatrix

Celebrating its 12th year, the Lynn Sage Foundation’s In Good Taste campaign will bring together Chicago-area restaurants and bars to raise awareness and support for local breast cancer research during the month of October. Participating eateries will donate proceeds from select dishes, desserts, and drinks to help find a cure:

Burr Ridge
The Hampton Social

Fuller House

Nickson’s Eatery

DOC Wine Bar
Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse
Holy Mackerel
Weber Grill

Old Town Pour House
Rosebud Italian Specialties & Pizzeria

Oak Brook
Michael Jordan’s Restaurant
Old Town Pour House

Western Springs
Davanti Enoteca

Deep Routes

Whalon Lake Loop

While many people tend to think of biking as strictly a summertime activity, true enthusiasts know it can be a year-round passion—with fall being one of its most comfortable and scenic windows of opportunity. So don’t sentence that two-wheeler to an off-season on the garage ceiling hooks just yet—get out there and pedal the ’burbs on one of these great trail recommendations from a few biking veterans.

Whalon Lake Loop

With almost 33 miles of well-maintained and scenic pathways accessible from multiple points throughout several suburbs—and with plenty of great stops along the way—the DuPage River Trail is one of the area’s true standard-bearers for bicyclists of all ages, abilities, and interests. Naperville Bicycle Club member Umesh Tawari has been riding parts of the trail for the past several years, and his favorite portion, the 3.5-mile loop around Whalon Lake, is likely high on the list of many area riders. 

“The river trail to Whalon Lake is a particularly pretty ride with a lot of shade,” Tawari notes. “And the nearby Knoch Knolls Nature Center is a fun stop for kids and adults.”

Greene Valley Forest Preserve to Warrenville Historical Society 

As a member of the Downers Grove Bicycle Club for the past 10 years, Susan Hayse has worked out a number of favorite routes across the western suburbs, but one of her go-to options has long been this roughly 12-mile street/trail combo trip over parts of the DuPage River Trail north through downtown Naperville. 

“This route is good for new riders, good for families with older children, and fun for experienced riders looking for a ‘rest’ day,” she says. “And Naperville offers plenty of nice spots for refreshments along the way!”

Waubonsie Creek Trail

Despite having biked over 100,000 miles in his lifetime, it’s extremely rare for Ed Barsotti to load up his bike on the car and drive somewhere for the sole purpose of going for a ride—almost all of his rides tend to start and end at his house, thus dictating his “favorite” routes. But portions of several of those favorites do take the chief programs officer of Ride Illinois ( on popular area trails, including this almost-daily trip:

“My favorite route is a short 7.2-mile round trip, six miles of which are on the Waubonsie Creek Trail in Aurora,” Barsotti says. “I ride it at the end of my work day at the home office, or for a short ride on weekend days when I don’t go for a longer ride somewhere else. I ride this trail five times a week, and maybe three times per week during winter (when it’s not covered by snow). Over 17 years, I’ve probably been on the trail over 3,000 times.”

Springbrook Prairie

Other Area Favorites

Springbrook Prairie

Don’t be fooled by the seeming ease of the six-mile crushed-gravel loop—several challenging uphill stretches help turn this short-distance ride into a really decent fall workout.

Fox River Trail

The portion of this 43-mile trail that hugs the river and passes through Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles offers ample opportunities to stop for a relaxing coffee—or, better yet, a cone at the iconic Batavia Creamery. 

Illinois Prairie Path

The mother of all area rails-to-trails efforts is this 61-mile, three-county behemoth skirting Naperville’s northernmost sections and connecting to dozens of nearby (and not-so-nearby) communities.

Photos courtesy Will County Forest Preserve and by Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune

Fourth Down

By Bob Asmussen

Since taking over in 2016, Smith is 9–27 and has failed to reach a single bowl game for the University of Illinois. The football team has been at its worst in conference games, going 4–23, including the first 0–9 league finish in school history. 

When Smith first arrived at Illinois, he signed a six-year contract. After three losing seasons, athletic director Josh Whitman gave him a two-year contract extension—likely in part due to the amount of money it would cost Illinois to terminate Smith. If the school decides to make a change, it is going to be costly: $4 million after the 2019 season, $2 million after 2020, and $1 million after 2021.

In 30 years covering University of Illinois football for the Champaign News-Gazette, I’ve seen five coaches fired and one leave for another job. What’s it going to be for Lovie Smith? This season will help decide if the former Bears coach can turn Illinois football around.

Memorial Stadium — Photo courtesy University of Illinois Athletics


If the freshman phenom is ready.

St. Louis Trinity’s Isaiah Williams is the most highly anticipated quarterback to join the Illini since Isiah “Juice” Williams in 2006. The new Williams is expected to help right away. 

If Reggie Corbin hits 1K again.

The tailback gained just 78 yards in 2017 before romping for 1,085 in 2018. Corbin is on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back.

If the offensive line keeps drilling.

Four starters are back, and the lone departee, Nick Allegretti, is being replaced by Alabama transfer Richie Petitbon. Center Doug Kramer and tackles Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski are Chicago-area products.

If he sweeps nonconference games.

Akron, UConn, and Eastern Michigan went a combined 12–25 last season and lost gobs of players to graduation. Smith has never started 3–0 at Illinois. It’s time.

If Lovie loses the beard.

The coach’s thick, white facial hair is a hot topic among Illini fans on social media. The consensus: Please shave. They hope the beard has been part of the problem.


If the defense can’t stop anybody.

In 2018, the Illini gave up 63 points to Penn State, Maryland, and Iowa. The unit finished 123rd (out of 129) in points allowed. Yuck.

If another star player gets hurt.

The Illini are already without defensive end Bobby Roundtree, who suffered an off-season injury. Depth is an issue. 

If the crowds turn against him.

When Smith was hired before the 2016 season, he had the full support of the Illinois fans. But after a 9–27 start, their patience is running out.

If the staff changes don’t work.

Bob McClain is taking over the offensive line. Former Illini Mike Bellamy is now coaching the running backs. Miles Smith, Lovie’s son, is working with the linebackers. Keynodo Hudson is now in charge of the cornerbacks. And, most important, Lovie Smith is now the defensive coordinator. Nobody else is to blame if the team continues to struggle.

If the schedule is too difficult.

The Illini face eight teams that played in bowls last season. Finding wins against Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern won’t be easy. The Illini figure to be underdogs in all those games.

High School Sweethearts

It just so happens that at East Aurora High School, a lot of students in band also happen to take French. That’s a crucial detail in the story of how French teacher Sarah Birdsall, 33, and band director Joe Kulick, 27, came to meet. 

“The kids would kind of start teasing me, being like, ‘Hey Ms. Birdsall, you know that new band director? I think you guys are soulmates,’ ” she says. “It became a running joke the entire school year, but I never saw him because our school is so big.” 

When Birdsall volunteered to help chaperone the band’s trip to Disney World, Kulick’s colleague took fate into his own hands and assigned them to the same bus. It seemed their dear students were onto something: They became fast friends and later on a trip to Cuba with mutual friends, discovered they had a romantic connection.

Kulick planned to propose on a Columbus Day weekend trip to New Buffalo, Michigan, but when Birdsall became suspicious, he decided instead to re-create one of their favorite early dates—a dinner at La Sorella di Francesca and dessert at Le Chocolat du Bouchard—a week before the trip. Kulick recruited their parents to decorate the balcony of their Naperville condo with roses, candles, and a garland of photos that chronicled their relationship. When he and Birdsall returned home, he popped the question. “It was truly like a fairy tale,” she says. “I was totally blown away.”

They married June 8 at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville. “We loved the intimacy of the space. During the ceremony, it felt like everyone there was so close,” Kulick says. “Our pastor, Lucas King, wrote this incredible sermon about how being in love and being in a marriage is being both a teacher and a student,” Birdsall says.

When the couple arrived at their reception at Arrowhead Golf Club in Wheaton, they were greeted by friends and family at a surprise patio cocktail hour arranged by Birdsall’s mother, and dancing ensued once the party continued inside. Naturally, this musically inclined groom did extensive research before landing on Blue Water Kings for their wedding band. “They blew it out of the water. It was unbelievable,” he says.

For their honeymoon, the couple took a Mediterranean cruise with stops in Barcelona, Spain; Florence, Italy; Mykonos, Greece; and Malta. 


Venue: First Congregational United Church of Christ, Naperville; Arrowhead Golf Club, Wheaton

Bride’s attire: Justin Alexander gown from Wolsfelt’s Bridal, Aurora

Bridesmaids’ attire: Jasmine Galleria, Lombard

Hair and makeup: Kim Piech Makeup & Hair

Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire: Wolsfelt’s Bridal

Music: Sue Flaatten (ceremony organist); Bluewater Kings (reception)

Catering: Arrowhead Golf Club, Wheaton

Cake: Oak Mill Bakery, Niles


Decor: Tina Gregus, Twisted Vintage Decor, Chicago

Florist: Dean Futris, Phillip’s Flowers, Westmont

Rings: Tiffany & Co., Oak Brook

Transportation: Agapi Limousine, Naperville

Videographer: Petit Four Films, Chicago

Photos by Wes Craft Photography