Love Stories

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The Arellanos Married October 2, 2021 at the bride’s family home in Naperville

No wedding is the same. But in the western burbs, they do share one important thing in
common: They’re entirely memorable. Discover five recent celebrations that reflect the couples’s unique backgrounds and reflect the fascinating narrative of their relationships.

A Blend of Traditions

The Khans
Married September 3, 2021, at the Mecca Center in Willowbrook

When friends ask Safia and Hamaad how married life is going, “I just tell them, ‘It’s a vibe,” Safia says.

After Safia and Hamaad Khan, both 24, met as students at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, it wasn’t long before they developed a mutual admiration for one another. 

“When I saw him, I thought, Oh my gosh, it’s love at first sight. I’m going to marry this man,” says Safia, who grew up in Lombard. “Aside from his looks, it was the way he carried himself. He was always in the library getting his work done, and I love how studious and hardworking he is. I love the fact that he was so driven for his goals.”

Hamaad, who was raised in Naperville, found himself drawn to Safia’s energy. “She’s super goofy, super friendly, super fun,” he says. “She’s so caring and helpful and she’s that one friend that everyone wants because she makes everyone feel like they’re the most special person. … Once you start to feel that way, you realize you can’t
live without that.” After they both transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago to complete their undergraduate degrees, their friendship continued to deepen. 

Safia and Hamaad are both of Pakistani descent and Muslim faith. “In our culture, we don’t date, but I would say our friendship became inseparable and that’s when we realized we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together,” Safia says. “Some people will go with an arranged marriage. … We went the route where our parents were pretty open to us finding someone on our own through school or mutual friends.” 

In summer 2021, their families gathered for a mangni, an engagement ritual that included a celebratory dinner and prayer. “We were born here [in the United States] so we kind of wanted the American traditional engagement as well,” Safia says. So Hamaad surprised Safia with a lakefront proposal in Chicago inspired by their favorite anime series, One Piece, with flowers, a red carpet, and all of their friends there to celebrate. 

Their nikah (Muslim wedding ceremony) took place September 3, 2021, at the Mecca Center in Willowbrook, and their first look beforehand was a highlight for Hamaad. “Seeing her when we were just about to get married, my wife in an hour, there was just something magical about it,” he says. Safia’s favorite moments include signing their wedding papers and exchanging vows in Arabic. “And then our moms put flower garlands over our heads; that’s a cultural tradition to symbolize that we are a married couple,” she says. 

They ended the evening with cake and a bonfire at Hamaad’s parents’ home in Naperville and are planning a larger reception at Lazzat Banquet in Streamwood in July. “That’s where there will be 350 to 400 people,” Safia says. “We have big Pakistani families!”

The Khans currently live in Milwaukee, where Hamaad attends dental school at Marquette University and Safia works as a nurse at Advocate Aurora Health while studying to become a nurse practitioner. After graduation, they plan to move back to Naperville to practice nursing and dentistry—and start growing their family. “We are probably going to get like five cats,” Safia says, laughing. “We already have names picked out.”

They’ll Have Fries With That
As college students envisioning their wedding one day, Safia and Hamaad once joked that they’d likely be starving after their ceremony and would need to stop at McDonald’s for an order of fries. So on their way to the Naperville Riverwalk to take portraits together, that’s precisely what they did.

Photography: (The Khans) Candace Sims Photography


The Garrigans
Married July 10, 2021, at Pinstripes in Oak Brook

“I was just holding out for the right one. I was not going to settle; it needed to be right,” Jennifer says.

When Elmhurst residents Jennifer and Michael Garrigan first met at Taste of Westmont on July 8, 2016, it was hardly an accident. Jennifer’s aunt Colleen and her boyfriend Joe had hatched a plan to introduce Jennifer to Joe’s ex-brother-in-law, Michael, at the festival. To everyone’s delight, it was an instant match. 

“From pretty much that first night, I thought we hit it off,” says Michael, 61, a North Central College grad and a credit and collections analyst for Sysmex America in Lincolnshire. They had dinner the next day, brunch the next, and made plans for another date the following Wednesday. But come Tuesday, they couldn’t wait another day to see each other—so they decided to meet for ice cream halfway between their homes in Elmhurst and Joliet. 

Jennifer, 53, and director of administration for Midwest Sign Supply Co. in Chicago, couldn’t help 

but think they were meant to meet. “My dad had passed away in 2005 … and that July 8 would have been his 72nd birthday, so I’m positive he had something to do with bringing us together,” she says.

Jennifer has two college-aged children, Henry and Hannah, and Michael has three adult children, Sean, Megan and Ryan, as well as three grandchildren, with a fourth due in July. They both feel grateful to have found one another at this point in their lives. “Being single for 15 years [after my first marriage ended], I did my fair share of dating, trying to find ‘the one.’ I just never found someone that I felt like I could risk getting super serious with,” Jennifer says. “I think we both knew right away this was going to be something really special that doesn’t come around often. We are very appreciative of that and we don’t take it for granted. We know how rare it is.”

Michael proposed in 2019 on a trip to Hawaii with Jennifer’s family. They originally planned to marry in August 2020, but after the onset of the pandemic, decided to wait until July 2021. “When things started shutting down, we made the decision right away just to postpone to the following year,” Jennifer says. “I didn’t want to spend the whole summer going, ‘Is it on? Is it off?’ ”

Their first look at York Woods in Oak Brook was among the most emotional moments of the day for Michael. “I turned around and I got all choked up,” he says. “I thought, Oh my gosh, she looks so beautiful.” They hosted their ceremony and reception at Pinstripes in Oak Brook, with their five children and Jennifer’s sister Melissa standing up as their attendants.

They honeymooned in Sedona, Arizona, in October and are enjoying their shared love for walking, running, and biking—often with a restaurant as their destination. They recently completed their first mini-triathlon in Lisle and are training for the Naperville Sprint Triathlon in August. “We love being active together,” Michael says.

A Very Close Call
Jennifer and Michael performed a wine ceremony, combining two carafes of wine to symbolize their blending families. Michael accidentally spilled his carafe across the table and floor, but thankfully, it narrowly missed Jennifer’s gown. 

Photography: (The Garrigans) Chelsey Joy Photography


The Reules
Married October 2, 2021, at Emerson Creek in Oswego

The rustic setting of Emerson Creek in Oswego was the ideal backdrop for all the festivity.

Oak Forest residents Michelle and Rachel Reule met through mutual friends in 2014 and found themselves gravitating toward one another during gatherings. “Hanging out with Michelle, it was like a breath of fresh air,” says Rachel, 29, who is originally from Lemont and grew up in Crestwood. “I was falling head over heels, ready to go, waiting for her to catch up.” During that time, though, Michelle always seemed to be dating someone else. “I was in a couple of relationships that I shouldn’t have been in,” says Michelle, 29, who grew up in Tinley Park. “[Rachel and I] would always have these really intimate, deep life talks, like, ‘Why aren’t we together?’ And I was always just afraid to jump in. In 2018, I was like, OK. Let’s do it!” They moved in together shortly after and credit their friendship for giving their romantic relationship a strong footing. 

“Michelle cares more about others than anybody I’ve ever met before,” says Rachel, a clinical social worker at UCAN Academy, a therapeutic day school on Chicago’s West Side. “She was always making me feel like I was the most important person in the room … and I’m a Sagittarius, so we like the attention!” Michelle, who is set to graduate with her special education degree in May, felt that everything fell into place with Rachel. “I always needed my life to be planned out a certain way and that just kind of changed when I met her,” Michelle says. “Rachel has always had the best sense of humor. She can make light of any situation. Any time I felt down or stressed, she always had such great words of comfort. She has a very genuine soul.” 

They were both on the same page about wanting to get married. “One of the reasons was because we are able to, and we felt like our people fought so hard for this, we need to do our part as well,” Michelle says. Rachel adds, “[We felt] we needed to represent and shift the culture of heteronormativity and we are proud of it.” In December 2019, Rachel proposed at Christkindlmarket in Chicago, which they both grew up visiting as a holiday tradition with their respective families. 

In their search for a rustic wedding venue, they fell in love with Emerson Creek in Oswego. Surrounded by a bridal party of childhood friends and family members on October 2, 2021, they recited their own vows and danced their first dance to “Keep Me Safe,” a song by Olivia Panacci, a lesbian vocalist they discovered on TikTok. “We want to make her really famous and love that there was some lesbian representation,” Rachel says. Michelle adds, “I tweeted about it and tagged her in it and she was like, “Oh my gosh, that makes me cry!’ ”

After the wedding, Michelle and Rachel honeymooned in Tulum, Mexico. They are looking forward to celebrating Michelle’s graduation this spring and, in the next few years, hope to kick off the search for their first house together.

Highlight of the Night
Michelle and Rachel honored Rachel’s Austrian and German roots by gifting their guests hand-etched glass beer steins. They’ll both never forget the moment when their DJ played a German drinking song and Rachel’s Oma ran out on to the dance floor to sing and dance with her stein held high.

Photography: (The Reules) AJ Abelman Photography

a LYRICAL romance

The Peronas
Married May 23, 2021, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle

“It was like nothing we could have imagined,” Christa says.

Jim and Christa Perona of Wheaton both work as professional musicians, but they didn’t cross paths until they were booked for the same wedding in summer of 2017. 

Christa—the lead singer of Chicago-based band Hey Jimmy—had just arrived at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn to perform at the reception when the cocktail hour music played by Jim, a classical guitarist, stopped her in her tracks. Jim caught her glance from across the room and fumbled the notes on a song he could otherwise play in his sleep.

Though Jim had to rush off to another gig, he left his business card with a friend to give to Christa, in hopes that she’d contact him. She did, and a few days later they had their first date and first kiss. They both saw fireworks, literally: It was July 4 and from the parking lot of Rock Bottom in Warrenville, they could see the fireworks ceremonies of neighboring towns surrounding them on all sides. 

“She makes me feel cared for and just comfortable and safe and she makes me feel incredibly lucky—and all of that has only grown stronger,” says Jim, 38, who grew up in Wheaton. “I couldn’t believe how easy this relationship was and how strong my feelings were,” adds Christa, 35, who was born in Buffalo, New York, and grew up in Chicago. “There were no games, just time together—and time together just got longer and longer until it was like, I kind of want to do this for the rest of our life.”

In addition to their own separate careers, Jim and Christa also perform as an acoustic duo together, and during a holiday gig in 2018, Christa dropped some heavy hints during their rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Every time the lyrics “five golden rings” came around, she snuck in a cheeky remark, from “By the way, I prefer a cushion cut” to “I’m not getting any younger!” Jim proposed on Christa’s birthday in fall of 2019, and thanks to a friend who had recorded that fateful holiday gig, he got the ring just right. 

With their 2020 schedules booked solid (or so they thought), they set a 2021 wedding date and moved in together in Wheaton. For two musicians used to spending nights and weekends apart for their respective gigs, the pandemic lockdowns and canceled events of 2020 gifted them with unprecedented quality time at home together. But they also suffered the loss of work and loved ones, including Christa’s grandmother. “A lot of our relationship we were trying to be our best selves for each other, constantly. All of a sudden, we got to see each other at less than our best,” Christa says. “It was scary at the time because I didn’t know if this was going to change everything. … We had to deal with me being depressed that my grandma died and him loving me through that, and me seeing him with his head in his hands doing finances during the pandemic and seeing money going down the drain.” 

They both say their relationship is stronger after weathering those challenges, and they joyously joined hands in marriage at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle on May 23, 2021. “We had all just been vaccinated and everyone was feeling safe and relaxed,” Jim says. “A lot of people were saying, ‘This is so amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been out in a year.’ ” They enjoyed a mountain mini-moon in Colorado and eventually want to take a trip to Europe, their original honeymoon destination. “We are now looking forward to traveling and expanding our family,” Jim says. 

She Said Yes
Ever since watching Something’s Gotta Give together, Christa and Jim wanted to visit Paris in the winter.
So on the day he proposed, Jim turned his house into a Parisian winter wonderland with faux snow, the Eiffel Tower on TV, and a harpist playing background music.

Photography: (The Peronas) Wes Craft Photography


The Arellanos
Married October 2, 2021, at the bride’s family’s home in Naperville

Surrounded by family and friends, the couple united.

Over a decade ago, Lisle residents Kassandra and Sergio Arellano were students at Loyola University and Northern Illinois University, respectively, when they happened to end up at the same ugly sweater-themed holiday party on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. 

“I remember walking in and seeing him from across the room, like something from a music video,” says Kassandra, 28, a nutritionist with the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County’s Women, Infants
and Children program. “But I was so chicken, I literally thought: He’s so cute, I probably will not say anything to him all night. I’m just going to watch from afar.” 

But moments later, Sergio walked right up to her. He had recently gotten out of a relationship and was determined to make a bold move that night. “I was telling myself that I was going to find the cutest girl in the room and ask her to take a shot with me,” says Sergio, 29, a retail manager for Consume Cannabis in Oakbrook Terrace. “I remember seeing Kassandra walk in … and I took a breath, counted down from three, two, one, and I did it—and the rest is history.”

As they got to talking, they realized they recognized each other from Neuqua Valley High School. Coincidentally, both their families were originally from California and had moved to Naperville within a year of each other, in 2007 and 2008. They started dating but ended up breaking up when their paths diverged—with Sergio transferring to Hawaii Pacific University and Kassandra studying abroad in Costa Rica—later reconnecting once they were both back in Naperville. 

Over the years, Sergio has come to appreciate Kassandra’s curiosity and open-minded nature. That, combined with Sergio’s dauntlessness, has led to plenty of shared adventures, including spending three months together camping and hiking all over Colorado. “It was a lot of him leading the way and me praying that we didn’t fall off the side of a mountain,” Kassandra says. “He has a very kind spirit and he’s also very brave and adventurous, and I think that’s a really good combination.”

Sergio proposed on New Year’s Eve in 2017. They considered an elopement or destination wedding in California but settled on marrying in the backyard of Kassandra’s parents’ home in Naperville on October 2, 2021. With neither one of them very keen on planning, they hired event planners Victoria and Dan Schultz of Wedding Whisperer in Naperville to help take the reins in the lead-up to the big day. 

Pouring rain threatened to put a damper on the festivities, but it lightened up just in time for the ceremony, officiated by Sergio’s godparents. “The whole rest of the day, there wasn’t any rain,” Kassandra says. “It just felt like a magical start to the ceremony.” Their favorite part about the day was celebrating with their loved ones after so much time apart because of the pandemic. “We always talked about how cool it would be if we were the reason that everyone was able to finally get together,” Sergio says. 

They mini-mooned in Door County, Wisconsin, and hope to take a bigger trip together at some point, perhaps to Mexico, Italy, or India. In the next few years, they are looking forward to househunting and moving from their condo to a larger home with space to garden. 

As Luck Would Have It
When it poured on the morning of Kassandra and Sergio Arellano’s wedding day, their family assured them it was good luck; however, they were thrilled when the rain subsided.

Photography: (The Arellanos) Stephanie Lang Photography