Groom with a view

Mike Warren and his girlfriend, Brooke Lawrence, check out a tux at the Duckys booth at the Northern Illinois Wedding Expo.
Mike Warren and his girlfriend, Brooke Lawrence, check out a tux at the Duckys booth at the Northern Illinois Wedding Expo.

He’s not planning on getting married any time soon, but James Gilbert of DeKalb attended the 10th annual Northern Illinois Wedding Expo at Northern Illinois University last Sunday anyway.

“A friend dragged me here,” he said, laughing.

His friend, Mike Warren, isn’t engaged, either. He was there because his girlfriend, Brooke Lawrence, wanted him to go. She was working at the expo, and he didn’t want to walk around the displays alone.

“I don’t think she’s giving me hints,” Warren said, apparently serious. “If she is, they’re very subtle.”

Lawrence, a junior at NIU, said she wants to graduate before getting married.

“But I wouldn’t mind getting engaged in college,” she said.

A “groom’s room” had been set up in the student center, offering alternative activities for men, but it remained empty for most of the expo, as the men in attendance generally chose to stay with their brides-to-be instead.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Roberto Cruz of North Aurora, who was at the expo “finishing up the details” of his upcoming wedding to Melissa Allison. “I didn’t know there was going to be this much stuff.”

Jacob Grady of DeKalb said he would just “tag along” with his fiancee, Marie Cox, as she searched the packed ballroom at NIU’s Holmes Student Center for their wedding needs.

“It was her idea,” he said, but Cox said Grady had wanted to go. If he hadn’t, she said, her maid of honor would have gone with her instead.

While brides mulled over flower arrangements, dresses, music and photographers, most of the grooms at the expo lagged a step or two behind, chatting with each other and sampling the abundance of free food offered by the more than 60 vendors.

“I love the food,” Jeremy McCabe of DeKalb said, after finishing a piece of chocolate cake. “I love trying the desserts.”

Jeff Bjerklie of St. Charles attended with his daughter, Allie, and her fiance, Mike Lawless of Batavia. He said he didn’t remember there being wedding expos when he got married 31 years ago. He was particularly paying attention to the food vendors.

“Their presentation shows how they would do it at a wedding,” he said.

Karen Villano, director of conference and special events at NIU, said the expos started when local vendors asked if NIU would host such an event.

“I didn’t even think about it. I just said sure,” she said.

About 40 percent of the displays and activities at the expo are from vendors in the DeKalb area. The highlight of the afternoon was a fashion show, which lasted about 40 minutes.

“I think it’s been good for NIU, naturally,” Villano said. “It’s like one big open house. It’s also good for the community.”

Villano said past expos have drawn 1,500 to 2,000 people. She said the January weather doesn’t impact attendance.

“When we’ve had bad weather, (brides) still come out and drag their fiances,” she said.

“It’s actually incredible,” Warren said. “I didn’t think it would be this open and active.”

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