Category Archives: Better Together

Home Is Where the Heart Is

On their first date, Kristine Strouse and Christopher King had effortless conversation from the start. But it was their second date at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Naperville that cemented their connection. “After dinner we just stayed talking for another two or three hours,” says King, 31, an account executive with DocuSign in Chicago. “I’m sure the wait staff was really annoyed with us, but being able to just sit with someone and talk for that long and have so many laughs and share so much that easily—that’s when I pretty much knew.”  

They both attended Michigan State University and shared mutual friends, but didn’t officially meet until they matched on dating app Hinge years later. King proposed in July 2019, and they planned a September 2020 wedding for 190 guests at the Chicago Cultural Center. 

When COVID-19 shutdowns hit, they postponed and focused on house hunting in Naperville—which gave way to a different plan entirely. “We bought a house in November … and decided to have [a smaller backyard] wedding here in May,” Strouse, 32, says. 

They finished renovations in time for the big day on May 14. “We were putting on closet doors right up until the last minute, two hours before the rehearsal dinner,” King says. Their vendor team transformed their backyard into an elegant garden party with a clear-topped tent draped with greenery and lights. 

After dancing until midnight, they ordered late-night delivery for two from fast-food favorite Wendy’s. “We sat in the tent after everyone had left, still in our tux and dress, and ate and talked about the evening,” King says. 


Venue The couple’s Naperville home

Planner Brittany Reynolds, Plum & Ivy Events

Bride’s attire Sareh Nouri gown from Bella Bianca Bridal Couture, Oakbrook Terrace

Bride’s hair and makeup Rare Bird Beauties, Chicago

Bridesmaids’ attire Dessy dresses from Bella Bridesmaids, Oakbrook Terrace

Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire Tuxedos from

Invitations Paper Source 

Catering Hearty Boys, Chicago

Dessert Cake by DeEtta’s Bakery, Naperville; sweets table by Hearty Boys, Chicago 

Florist Steve’s Flower Market, Chicago

Rings James & Sons Fine Jewelers, Chicago

Entertainment DJ Mike Kane of Amplified Events 

Transportation Chicago Cloud9 Limo, Elk Grove Village

Photographer Ashley Biess, Artistrie Co.

Rock of Love

Though Veronica Stonis, 50, and Sean Weber, 53, met 11 years ago while working in the software industry, it was their shared love for music that drew them together. They’ve attended hundreds of concerts together and Weber even proposed at BottleRock music fest in Napa Valley in 2017 in front of their favorite band, Foo Fighters.

When their original plans to marry at the House of Blues in Chicago in September 2020 were sidelined by the pandemic, they decided to host the ultimate rock ’n’ roll reception at their Naperville home. Kenneth Burroughs, a longtime host at the House of Blues, officiated the ceremony on May 15.

Stonis and Weber each have three sons from previous marriages who all stood up as groomsmen, wearing guitar lapel pins in place of boutonnieres. “We have this giant brood and it was so wonderful to have our kids at the wedding; they’re all pretty much grown now,” Stonis says.

TukTuk Naperville shuttled wedding guests staying at Hotel Indigo in downtown Naperville to the couple’s home, where they were welcomed with favors such as music fest-style bracelets and record-shaped lollipops with the hashtag #Weberlong, a nod to “Everlong,” the Foo Fighters song that Weber proposed to. Instead of a guest book, family and friends signed well wishes on a turquoise electric guitar.

Surprisingly, one of their favorite moments was a tradition they were reluctant to do: the First Look. Their photographer insisted—and they’re grateful he did. “When we looked at each other, we both just started crying,” Stonis says. “It was a moment for just the two of us.”


Venue The couple’s Naperville home
Planner Cindy Shanholtz of Effortless Events, Naperville
Bride’s attire Vera Wang gown with alterations by Tailoring by Monica, Naperville; Badgley Mischka sandals from Nordstrom; Foo Fighters Vans sneakers
Bride’s hair and makeup Patty McGuire, Aurora
Bridesmaids’ attire
Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire Tommy Hilfiger suits from Men’s Wearhouse and Macy’s
Catering Truffleberry Market, Chicago
Floral and decor Atmosphere Events Group, Elk Grove Village
Rings Tiffany & Co.
Entertainment DJ Clay Mathis
Transportation TukTuk Naperville
Photographer Jason Kaczorowski Photography

Vow and Forever

Event planner Qiana Turner orchestrates elaborate parties for a living, but when it came to planning her own vow renewal with her husband of 10 years, Kenneth, she wanted to keep the guest list short: just the two of them, their pastor, and God.

“For our generation, it seems like marriage just doesn’t last … so making it to that 10-year mark was so special to me,” Qiana says. Originally, she had envisioned renewing their vows on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. “And COVID put the kibosh on that. I said, ‘Fine, whatever … maybe for our 15th year.’ But my spirit kept saying to me, 10 years is a milestone that needs to be celebrated,” she says. “We wanted to let God know, ‘Hey, we’re in this thing, and because of you, it’s going to be lasting.’ ”

Qiana, 40, grew up in Bellwood and owns Naperville-based Madison Elyse Events. Kenneth, 42, grew up in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood and works in commercial insurance for Zurich North America in Chicago. They now live in Plainfield with their four children, but they actually first met as students at Robert Morris College. “When I saw her, I thought she was the most beautiful person I’d ever saw,” Kenneth says. “But I was getting married then.”

After staying in touch over the years, they reconnected after Kenneth’s marriage ended and their relationship shifted from being just friends to dating. They married June 11, 2011, at Broken Arrow Golf Club in Lockport. “There was no hesitation; there were no second thoughts,” Kenneth says. “We had some challenges—we have a blended family, trying to get the kids on the same page—but I think it’s unfortunate for other people because we make it look easy.”

They decided to renew their vows at the Naperville Riverwalk this spring and immediately knew just the person to officiate: Pastor Dallas Scott from Main Baptist Church in Aurora, who conducted their premarital counseling but didn’t marry them originally because he wasn’t ordained at the time. “He means so much to us and we both call him Dad,” Qiana says. “We just love him to pieces and we were truly honored to have him there to share in our day with us.”

Kenneth donned ruby-hued velvet loafers that matched Qiana’s custom off-the-shoulder gown—and then they changed into matching Air Jordan 35 sneakers for a casual portrait session afterward.

Venue Naperville Riverwalk
Bride’s attire Custom gown by Felicia Hampton of Fe Ma’Le Couture; heels from Jimmy Choo, Rosemont
Bride’s hair and makeup Adodo Robinson of Chez Delali Salon and Day Spa, Matteson
Groom’s attire Alfani suit from Macy’s, Joliet; loafers by Giorgio Brutini
Photography and Videography Jermaine Horton Photography, Naperville

Language of Love

It’s true: Jacqueline Salinas and Jose Perez decided to have a microwedding before the pandemic made it popular. Looking to celebrate their nuptials with a small group of family and friends, they visited the Haight in Elgin in February 2020 and booked the rooftop for a 40-person celebration on September 13. Though shifting guidelines made plans uncertain up until the last minute, they were able to marry as planned—minus the dance floor and plus masks and social distancing.

Officiant Lilian Dircio of Universal Weddings performed a bilingual ceremony for the couple, who met and started dating as high schoolers, she at Romeoville High School and he at Neuqua Valley in Naperville.

Their ceremony also incorporated a lasso ceremony to honor the bride and groom’s Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, respectively. “It’s something that is traditional in a lot of Latino weddings,” says Salinas, 33, who works as an admissions counselor at Illinois Math & Science Academy in Aurora. “It signifies a unification of two people coming together and committing to sharing a life together as partners.” They selected Perez’s godparents to take the role of padrinos, who agree to serve as role models for their marriage. “They were able to see us grow over the years and it felt like the right thing to have them be a part of the wedding in this way,” says Perez, 35, a driver for Jam Trucking in Bensenville.

At the reception, guests enjoyed tasty treats served from an ice cream cart—a throwback to the couple’s early dating years, when Perez would visit Salinas at her after-school job at Oberweis Dairy.


Venue The Haight, Elgin
Planner Amy Reifenstuhl of Rustique Swan Event Design & Curated Decor, Naperville
Bride’s attire Essense of Australia gown from the Crystal Bride, Geneva
Bride’s hair and makeup Meld Studio, Naperville, and Ivette Prado
Groom’s attire Express,, and Men’s Wearhouse, Aurora
Invitations DIY by groom’s aunt
Catering Chef by Request, Lisle
Dessert The Sugar Path, Geneva
Florist Aysel Cristian Floral Atelier
Rings Joliet Jewelry and BrielleShoppe on
Entertainment DJ and Photo Booth by Shaun Anthony
Photographer Julia Maruyama Photography (Associate Will Johnson)

Budding Partners

First-date jitters just weren’t a thing for Darien residents Alisa Kulhanek and Kevin Skrabacz. After matching on dating app Hinge and realizing they were both Illinois Wesleyan alumni, they met up at Downers Grove wine bar Cellar Door. “I had a really weird feeling about 10 minutes in, like, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m on my last first date right now,’ ” says Skrabacz, 29, who grew up in Woodridge and manages Superior Training aquatic center in Willowbrook. “Everything just kind of clicked,” says Kulhanek, 24, a home health nurse who grew up in Lemont. Five months later in November 2019, he proposed at the same bar, with family and friends secretly waiting to toast their engagement.

They chose Elements at Water Street in Naperville for their 2021 wedding and had just mailed save-the-dates to over 200 guests when news of the COVID-19 pandemic started to break. With the big day still months away, they turned their attention to a new project: going into business together. When a historic building in downtown Lemont became available, they decided to turn it into a wedding venue called the Bridge. As luck would have it, one of the venue’s two event spaces was complete in time for them to say their vows and take photos there.

Though they had to downsize their guest list considerably, they were content to be able to marry on their intended date. “It was just the most perfect day ever,” Kulhanek says. “Even though it was smaller, that just made it more intimate and more in-the-moment.”


Venues The Bridge, Lemont, and Elements at Water Street, Naperville
Cake DeEtta’s Bakery, Naperville
Florals Prairie Honey Floral Studio, Lombard
Rings Bella Cosa Jewelers, Willowbrook
Groom’s attire Men’s Wearhouse, Bolingbrook
Bride’s attire The Bridal Boutique of Naperville, Lisle
Hair and makeup Yes Ma’am Hair & Makeup
Entertainment DJ Shaun Anthony
Photographer Candace Sims Photography
Videographer Vivid Visual

Familiar Venue

After their 2019 engagement, Lindsey Campbell and Eric Russell, both 27, agreed on the perfect plan to suit their laid-back, fun-loving personalities: a destination wedding in Cancun in January 2021. “We are both very low-key … so ‘fun beach party’ was our motto for quite some time,” says Campbell, who grew up in Sterling, Illinois. “And then the pandemic happened.”

With travel off the table, they switched to a different destination: The Russell family’s backyard in St. Charles. Though not south of the border, it was still a trip from Campbell and Russell’s current home in Indianapolis, where she works as a social worker and he as a cardiovascular perfusionist, both at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital.

To keep the headcount low, their photographer Rachael Osborn was the only vendor present during the 33-person celebration. They enlisted a friend to officiate, played music from a Spotify playlist on Campbell’s phone, and set up a margarita and sangria station to complement a Mexican buffet catered by On the Border in Naperville. The DIY approach did result in some snafus that were easily laughed off, such as Lizzo’s “Juice” inexplicably playing instead of the expected instrumental melody when Campbell walked down the aisle.

“Overall, I think downsizing and making it a little backyard wedding was the most intimate thing we could have done,” Russell says. “If we could do it again, 10 times over, that’s how we’d do it.” And though actual sand and surf weren’t involved, both the bride and groom and a handful of guests ended the evening with a fully clothed plunge into the backyard pool.


Venue The groom’s parents’ home, St. Charles
Bride’s attire Ida Torres by Pollardi gown from Marie Gabriel Couture, Indianapolis
Bride’s hair and makeup Focas Salon, St. Charles
Bridesmaid’s dresses
Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire
Catering On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, Naperville
Dessert Cocoa Bean, Geneva
Florist Eden Floral Studio, St. Charles
Rings Reis-Nichols Jewelers, Indianapolis
Photographer Rachael Osborn Photography, Chicago

Go With the Flow

Naperville native Ryan Langer and Lauren Siamis, raised in Western Springs, worked at the same accounting firm and first met at a coworker’s party. But it was actually after a chance meeting at the Country Thunder music festival in Wisconsin that they started to date. Langer surprised Siamis with a proposal in April 2019, and, agreeing they didn’t want too long of an engagement, they planned a June 2020 wedding at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and White Eagle Golf Club in Naperville for 180 friends and family members.

Rescheduling their celebration to October 24 because of the COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult decision—one that didn’t become any easier in the weeks leading up to the big day. “There was an email saga to our guests, keeping in communication with them as things changed,” says Langer, 30. Just days before the wedding, state guidelines tightened, forcing them to halve their reception invitees from 50 to 25. “It was heart wrenching … but if you asked me the evening of, I was on cloud nine,” he says. “It was very intimate.”

To the ceremony, the bride wore a custom-made lace gown and a veil trimmed with lace from her grandmother’s wedding dress. “She’s my only grandmother left living and I really wanted her to be there,” says Siamis, 30. “That was really special to me.” For the reception, Siamis changed into a dramatic party dress with a ruffled train and surprised her guests with the reveal.

The couple recently bought a home in Naperville, which they are settling into with their beloved Lab-cattle dog mix, Lexi.


Venue and catering
Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago and White Eagle Golf Club, Naperville

Wedding planner
Plum & Ivy Events


Sweet Creations by Tracey, Channahon

Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, Chicago

Creative Design Jewelers, Orland Park

Groom’s attire
Formally Modern Tuxedo, Chicago

Bride’s attire
Dresses by Bri’Zan Couture, Naperville

Hair and makeup
Rare Bird Beauties, Chicago

Bonphotage Fine Art Photography, Chicago

Where the Heart Is

From holiday gatherings to summer cookouts, if there was an important event in Katie Martin’s family, you can bet it took place at her grandparents’ home in Minooka. So when her longtime boyfriend Nick Liberatore decided to propose in October 2018, it made sense that he’d pop the question there—and that they’d decide to host their wedding at the family farm, too.
Both 29 and living in Westmont, Martin and Liberatore—an attorney and a physical therapist, respectively—enlisted wedding planner Amy Harloe of Happily Ever After by Amy to orchestrate all the details of turning the sprawling 20-acre property into a proper event venue for a June 2020 wedding.

But as the pandemic wore on, it became apparent that their plans were going to have to change. And so, they rescheduled for September 11. They winnowed the 270-person guest list down to 30 (only immediate family and their bridal party), and swapped out the full band for a solo guitarist—among many, many other changes.

Though the uncertainty of replanning a wedding during a pandemic loomed up until the weekend itself—including their priest canceling at the last minute due to COVID-19 exposure—they were able to revel in some unforgettable moments. For Liberatore, it was looking out at his family and friends as he watched Martin walk down the aisle. For Martin, it was walking hand in hand into their clear-topped reception tent, with candlelit glass globes dramatically suspended from the ceiling. “It wasn’t until that moment, walking in … that was when it hit me: We did this. We made it happen. 2020 doesn’t have anything on us!” Martin says.


The bride’s grandparents’ home, Minooka

Wedding planner
Amy Harloe of Happily Ever After by Amy, Naperville

Lilly Photography, Naperville

Bride’s attire
Sottero and Midgley gown from Martellen’s Dress and Bridal Boutique, Lemont

Bride’s accessories
Badgley Mischka shoes from; jewelry,

Bride’s hair and makeup
Divas Salon & Spa, Shorewood

Bridesmaid’s dresses

Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire

Invitations and signage
Kelly Reif Stationery Studio, Naperville

Catering and cake
My Chef Catering, Naperville

Floral Events, Naperville

Marquee Event Rentals, McCook

Guitarist Neil Dixon Smith, Chicago

Paolucci Diamond Center, Joliet

Reason to Celebrate

It was love at first lunch for Nancy Smentek, 39, and Rocco Salerno, 38. “We were both in previous relationships that didn’t work out and both took a chance with online dating,” says Smentek, who grew up in Naperville and works as director of talent acquisition for Senior Lifestyle in Chicago. In July 2019 they met for lunch at On the Border in Naperville and made plans for a second date the very next day. “We were pretty much inseparable from the time we met,” says Lombard native Salerno, owner of Drivers Golf Car Rentals, which supplies golf carts for Naperville’s Last Fling and other local events.

Because Salerno proposed the following year on Smentek’s birthday, May 1, it seemed fortuitous when they discovered Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, had an opening on Salerno’s birthday, September 6. They loved the rustic vibe of the resort’s Ski Chalet and appreciated its ample outdoor space for guests to safely celebrate during the pandemic. “Times were kind of dark all around us, and it was a bright light for our families to look forward to,” Smentek says.

As an homage to his late mother, Salerno made all of the decorative signage and floral arrangements. “My mother was a very artistic lady … and if she was here, she would have been doing it for us, so this way, my mom’s presence was felt there,” Salerno says. And of course, the day wasn’t complete without a ride around the resort in a golf cart with a “Just Married” sign on the back.


Venue and catering
Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.


Costco flowers arranged by the groom

D. Diamante Limited, Chicago

Groom’s attire
Liz Claiborne suit from JCPenney, Lombard

Bride’s attire
Madison James gown from Here Comes the Bride, Glendale Heights

Hair and makeup
Julie Jump, J&M Hair Studio, Naperville; Allina Macko of Pure Addiction Cosmetics, Naperville

Grand Geneva Trolley and Lake Geneva Cruise Line (rehearsal dinner cruise), Lake Geneva, Wis.

Photos by Matt Mason Photography

From fireworks to Forever

Summer flings fizzle out for most, but not for Aurora residents Cathy Diaz and Xavier Garcia, both 27. They had briefly crossed paths as sophomores at Waubonsie Valley High School before Garcia transferred to Naperville North. Years later, they met at a mutual friend’s Fourth of July barbecue, and it wasn’t long before their summer romance blossomed into a serious relationship.

Garcia, a writer, and Diaz, a service coordinator at Lisle nonprofit DayOne PACT, bonded over their shared love of gaming and spent their early dates playing Mario Kart and other Nintendo 64 faves from their childhood. “Instead of being forced to stare at each other across a table, [our conversation] flowed naturally, and that’s how we’ve been ever since,” Garcia says. “We can do nothing together, we can do anything together, and it’ll lead into a conversation or complete silence and we will both be comfortable throughout.”

After they discussed marriage as their next step, Diaz predicted a summertime proposal on their anniversary in 2019. So when Garcia proposed months earlier in January, she was caught completely off-guard. Garcia brought Diaz to her family’s church, Our Lady of Mercy in Aurora, under the guise of picking up her mother, and then popped the question right in the center aisle. “I let her walk in front of me and told her to stop and turn around and I was on one knee,” Garcia says.

And so, they planned to return to the church to marry on July 3, 2020. “We had a family friend offer their beautiful house and backyard in Oswego [for the reception],” Diaz says. “We thought about it, but eventually said no because we didn’t want to impose.” Instead, they fell in love with Elements at Water Street in Naperville and booked a 100-person reception. But when forced to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to make some tough decisions.

“We had a conversation about what is important to us. It’s getting married in our church. As long as it’s on July 3, we are getting married, even if it’s just the two of us and our parents,” Garcia says. “The party part was just extra. We had set our hearts on not doing anything [for a reception] because it just wasn’t worth the headache.”

When the state’s reopening plan began to allow small gatherings, they decided to plan an intimate reception for 30 with about a month to spare. Luckily, their friends’ offer to host in their backyard was still on the table. Their DJ was still available, and their florist reworked her designs to suit a casual outdoor soiree. Diaz booked a taco bar, ordered cupcakes, and mined her forgotten “Backyard Wedding” Pinterest board for decor ideas. “It was everything I’ve ever wanted and ever imagined for my wedding, even though we had other plans,” she says.


Venue Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, Aurora; private residence, Oswego
Bride’s attire Maggie Sottero gown from Wolsfelt’s Bridal, Aurora
Bride’s accessories Badgley Mischka shoes from Macy’s; Olive + Piper earrings; headband from A Goddess Divine on
Hair and makeup Sophia Bella Bridal
Bridesmaids’ dresses Jasmine Galleria, Lombard
Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire The Black Tux
Catering Carmen Macho/Machos Tacos, Aurora
Cake Sweet Temptations Dessert Company, Yorkville
Florist Jasmine Galleria, Lombard
Entertainment DJ Jesse El Grandote
Rings Hers from Brilliant Earth; his from Jens Hansen

Photos by Candace Sims Photography