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A year ago this month I was in the throes of planning my wedding for the summer of 2015. At the time I lived in Green Bay and spent my weekends in Sister Bay with my now husband, Tim. The task of planning a Door County wedding was daunting, but I told myself that people do manage to plan weddings in countries they’ve never visited. I got to work.
The first thing I learned about planning a Door County wedding is that lots of people want to get married here. Its scenic vistas and extremely short season put Door County’s wedding venues in high demand. Finding the perfect location with availability on our dates was tricky work indeed. This part of the planning process was discouraging at first, as the venue we’d had our hearts set on was booked before Thanksgiving. Over the following weeks, the further I dug, the more places I discovered that would host our party. One can reserve a public park, rent a tent and invite a caterer for a budget-friendly outdoor experience. Many options exist for a formal affair on one of Door County’s many picturesque waterfront golf courses. I wasn’t comfortable with not having a shelter in case of rain, and Tim and I don’t golf much. We kept hunting for the perfect place that could accommodate our 100-plus guests that would still reflect our rustic sensibilities. I talked and emailed with many, many patient and helpful folks who spent time explaining their offerings, pricing and locations to me. A theme I heard repeated in every conversation was humility: the potential hosts were completely aware of the appeal of their property as a wedding location, and they were just happy to share the beauty of their corners of Door County.
Still, the dates weren’t right, or the setting was too formal, or the price was just too high. It wasn’t until we drove up to Rowley’s Bay on a chilly January morning that we landed at the perfect place. A large though homey lodge faces Rowley’s Bay, part of Lake Michigan horseshoed to the south by the resort, to the north by Newport State Park, and interrupted by the Mink River. The resort was snow-covered and quiet. We parked the car in front of the lodge. We climbed out and took in the view of this bay of Lake Michigan. Quickly chilled through from the wind, we went up the steps into the lobby. We noticed immediately the massive stone fireplace, the chimney of which loomed a story above us. The railings of the stairs and second floor balcony were made of thick-cut beams. Populated on that day by a few ice fishermen, the place had the rustic charm we sought. We sat down with the owner and manager, Jewel Peterson-Ouradnik, who, over steaming cups of coffee, helped us plan what our day would look like. On this winter morning, our wedding seemed like it would come together.
Tim and I are both native Wisconsinites, and we wanted our wedding to reflect our home not only in locale, but in flavor and scent. We worked with Jewel to include local options on our menu, like Lake Michigan whitefish and several Wisconsin beers, including one brewed in Door County.
Choosing a florist was intimidating for me, as I had only vague ideas of what I wanted and no knowledge of flower arranging myself. Happily, the flowers proved the easiest part of the event to plan. There are many excellent florists to be found on the Door. I found Sarah Cilley’s website through a Google search and was immediately smitten with her photographs of simple, elegant arrangements. Best of all, I learned she grows most of her flowers at her home, Door’s Fleurs and Orchard, in Gardener. In the spring, my sister and I toured her floraculture farm. We met Sarah next to an old dairy barn she has converted into a workshop. Inside the barn, the air smelled faintly of honey. Sarah had several example arrangements to show us, and she was full of ideas about how to use local flora to accent our event. She explained that the sweet smell emitted was from the sweet peas, which would unfortunately be out of season by my wedding date. After talking flowers, all three of us piled onto a golf cart for a tour of her orchard. She showed us apple and pear trees and her greenhouse where she coaxes beautiful and rare blooms from the soil. She was passionate and knowledgeable about her business, and she sent us on our way with some sweet peas to enjoy.
Planning a wedding also brought to light the many talents of people I know. Besides including the beauty and talent in Door County, Tim and I wanted to draw on the talents of our friends and family as well. In fact, nearly every facet of our day was influenced by someone who had known us as individuals or a couple for many years. Tim’s cousin, a professional photographer, took our photos. Tim’s high school roommate presided over the ceremony, and his mother made our delicious wedding cake. Tim’s father built us an arbor to arch over us as we spoke our vows. My longtime friend, Sam Brown, who is half of the Wax Addicts, a Milwaukee DJ duo, spun only funky and very danceable Motown vinyl at our reception. My cousin, a professional aesthetician, traveled from Chicago to do my makeup. As August approached, every detail fell into place.
Our Door County wedding actually went as smoothly as I could have hoped. I was humbled by the number of guests who traveled to the tip of the thumb to attend. While our marriage was a ceremony about us, it became a celebration of our new home as well. My dad’s sisters who grew up near Chicago reminisced about vacations they’d taken to Egg Harbor as kids. The entire wedding party lingered in the resort restaurant late into the next morning, unwilling to leave the captivating magic of great friends and the lodge by the bay. The planning and realization of our wedding embodied the culture of what Door County has become for me: a place whose beauty and charm bring out the best in the people that live and visit here.
All photos used with permission of Jeff Koser.
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