- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

COLLINSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Kimmy Anderson and Nick Nasti love nature, animals and the outdoors. What better place to get hitched than a farm?

The Belleville couple exchanged wedding vows at Willoughby Heritage Farm in Collinsville, surrounded by tall trees and blue skies. They danced the night away in a big red barn.

Guests sipped cocktails next to pens of roosters, goats and pigs, and roasted marshmallows over a fire. One-year-old Jameson Hebert got his first look at rabbits.

“He keeps calling them dogs,” said his father, Patrick Hebert, 30. “That’s like the only word he knows.”

Patrick and his wife, Allison, flew from Magnolia, Texas, for the fall wedding. Like many guests, they wore cowboy boots.

Family friend Mary Farrell, 51, of Palatine, went all-Western in a denim skirt, lace top, black cowboy hat, turquoise accessories and boots with peacock stitching.

“She probably spent a year shopping for this outfit,” said her boyfriend, Scott Origer. “Doesn’t she look good?”

Farm turned party venue

Willoughby is owned by Collinsville Area Recreation District (CARD), which uses it to teach visitors about rural life in the early 1900s. People can stroll through a vegetable garden or hike on wooded trails.

The farm also has become a popular venue for weddings and other private events, such as birthday, graduation and anniversary parties.

Renters have access to the farmhouse, barns, picnic shelter and other amenities.

“We had a wedding here yesterday with a same-sex couple,” said CARD employee Tim Childers, 31, of Collinsville. “They wanted a small, quiet affair, just close friends and family. And then we’ve had groups with 1,000 people. They bring in busloads.”

One Cajun-themed wedding included a crawfish boil. Some couples grill burgers and brats.

Kimmy and Nick straddled the line between tradition and new ideas, elegance and country charm, a catered meal and homemade decorations.

“I gathered 200 place settings of mismatched china (for the reception),” said Kimmy, 27, who bought most of it at thrift stores.

Football injury leads to love

Kimmy and Nick grew up in the Chicago area and met in 2009 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

She was a physical education major working as an athletic trainer, and he was finance major playing football.

“I hurt my knee during sophomore year and, of course, she wanted to take care of me,” said Nick, 25. “It’s really about a three-week recovery process, but she dragged it out to about five months. Lots of ice and massages.”

The couple lived in Minnesota for a year while Nick trained for his job as a marketing representative for Federated Insurance. They moved to Belleville in 2012.

Today, Kimmy manages an animal shelter for Gateway Pet Guardians in St. Louis, which rescues stray dogs.

Nick got the hint he should propose when Kimmy’s mother, Tricia Bednarski, gave him her mother’s engagement ring.

“She said, ‘You’ve been together for a while. What are you dragging your feet for?’” he recalled. “Well, she didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what she meant. It was pretty blunt. I didn’t know what to make of it. She gave me the ring and said, ‘Do with it what you will.’”

A hike to remember

Nick had the ring’s main diamond put into a new setting, then came up with an inventive plan for popping the question.

D-day was a year and a half ago. Nick and Kimmy went hiking near Valmeyer with their two dogs, a chocolate Lab named Moose and a pit bull named Campbell.

Nick left the ring in the middle of the trail, knowing the couple would be doubling back shortly. As expected, Kimmy saw the sparkle among dirt and rocks.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Someone lost their engagement ring,’” she said. “And he said, ‘No, it’s yours.’ And I said, ‘No way.’ I thought he was just joking. I was like, ‘Should we call the police?’ I just didn’t believe him. Finally, he got down on his knee and tried to put the ring on the wrong hand.”

The couple considered getting married in Chicago but balked at high prices on everything from banquet rooms to catering.

“And it was so stressful for me to try to plan something five hours away,” Kimmy said. “So we figured we’d just have it here, and everybody else could travel. We’ve traveled to so many weddings. It was time for people to come to us.”

Sequins and cowboy boots

A winding mulched path led to a grassy clearing where Nick’s friend, Cory Leman, officiated the 4:30 p.m. ceremony.

About 140 guests walked through an entrance made of old wooden doors and hay bales to reach rows of white folding chairs. Tree stumps served as pedestals for Mason jars filled with baby’s breath.

An electronic keyboardist played “Over the Rainbow,” ”Your Song” and “I Will Wait,” thanks to a 250-foot extension cord from the barn.

“I’ve been deejaying for 7 1/2 years, and I deejay all kinds of weddings,” said Jeff Baker, who ran the sound board. “Compared to some of them, this has been pretty simple.”

Kimmy walked down the aisle in a strapless wedding gown with crystal beadwork, while Nick and his groomsmen wore tan suits. Bridesmaids picked out their own short ivory dresses to go with cowboy boots.

Nick’s mother, Karen Nasti, was fancier than most guests in her silver sequined dress and satin wedgies with rhinestone buckles.

“My daughter picked this out for me,” said Karen, 53, of Yorkville. “She said, ‘Mom, you’re too old for the cowboy thing.’ She probably meant, ‘You’re the mother of the groom. You need to be more traditional.’”

Barnyard celebration

The ceremony was followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the picnic shelter, with a checkerboard and golf-tee triangle game for added entertainment.

Groomsman Evan Zalders, 27, of Belleville, sat with the metro-east minority, as most guests had traveled from Chicago.

“I really like (the venue),” he said. “It’s just so laid-back. It’s almost like you’re at your own private festival, or a giant picnic.”

Wedding decorator Heather Hayden, also a CARD event coordinator, helped Kimmy make her reception dream a reality in the barn, where antique tools hang on knotty-wood walls.

They draped beams with white twinkle lights and brown paper hearts strung with twine. Mason jars doubled as candle holders and flower vases on round tables with lace cloths.

“It’s vintage lace,” said Heather, 27, of Granite City. “All the china is a different pattern, and we used slices of logs (as bases) for the centerpieces.”

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Online: Belleville News-Democrat, http://bit.ly/1xgUAzY

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Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com

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