Local lesbian couple Connie Pare and Jessica Shagena won this year's eleven eleven WEDDING Giveaway sponsored by Greatest Expectations Special Events and Weddings, Inc.
The giveaway is in its third year, and Pare and Shagena are the first same-sex couple to win, although other same-sex couples have applied in the past. Greatest Expectations Special Events and Weddings, Inc. owner/event director Heather Lynne Vickery said, "Connie and Jessica are amazing, funny and dynamic women. They have a beautiful love story and a zest for life that just lights up a room. We couldn't be more excited to work with them!"
The couple tied the knot Nov. 11 at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in front of about 75 people. Pare and Shagena's guests, they explained, included close family and friends who have been an active part of their relationship.
Originally from Michigan, both Pare and Shagena now call Chicago their home. Pare, who is 32, grew up with a younger brother in a small town in Michigan. She moved to Kalamazoo, Mich. for eight years prior to arriving in Chicago a little less than five years ago. Shagena, who is 26, grew up in Port Huron, Michigan as an only child and made the move to Chicago about four years ago.
Both women plan on becoming teachers. Shagena is currently finishing her teaching degree while Pare works at Capital Grille. Pare plans on going back to finish her degree when Shagena graduates.
Although it was harder for Pare's family to adjust to her coming out, she was 26 at the time, they are completely supportive of her relationship with Shagena as is Shagena's family. Shagena came out to very supportive parents at that age of 16.
The couple met in a Kalamazoo bar where Pare worked. A friend of Shagena's introduced them, however, neither woman was ready to date other people. Shagena shared that they hit it off right away and that Pare makes a mean cocktail.
Since Pare moved to Chicago first the beginning of their relationship was long-distance, however, Pare said it made them appreciate each other more. "When Jessie moved here it was great and it hasn't stopped being great," said Pare of their relationship.
When Pare and Shagena got engaged last October, they didn't think they would be able to have a wedding due to lack of funds. They originally planned to do something small but when Pare was reading The L Stop website she came across the giveaway.
At first, Pare didn't think anything of it but after she read about the giveaway they decided to enter. They answered some essay questions; then a small group of sponsors and Greatest Expectations officials picked the 10 semifinalists. After Pare and Shagena were selected, they had to get the public to vote for them. Since the voting took place during Shagena's spring break she spent all of her time on the computer reaching out to people to get support. The voting, Pare and Shagena shared, went up and down that entire week. When the voting ended they were chosen, along with three other straight couples, as this year's finalists. From there all of the giveaway sponsors had to vote by secret ballot for this year's winner.
To announce the winner, Greatest Expectations held a live reveal party in May at Nellcote with the four finalists, their family and friends. (Shagena's mom attended.) The company showed videos of each couple sharing their story; then last year's winners announced Pare and Shagena as this year's winners. Shagena said she was shocked when their names were called and both women said the support from the crowd was the best thing about winning. One of the other couples who competed against Pare and Shagena started a standing ovation when their names were announced.
Greatest Expectations planned the wedding, coordinated with the sponsors and oversaw the rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception. "In our meetings with everyone we found them to been wonderful, generous people who do this contest to give back to people who wouldn't normally be able to plan a wedding with all the trimmings," said Pare. "They really just care and want to give back. All of the sponsors love working together and they told us that during one of our wedding planning meetings. Everyone we met during this journey was so selfless and giving," said Shagena.
Many companies supplied the brides with everything necessary for their big day. The Left Bank Jewelry and Shoes, Joy Millinery, Mignonette Bridal and Bella Bridesmaid supplied the bridal attire, shoes and jewelry for the brides and bridesmaids. Beauty On Call did the bridal hair and makeup. The bridal bouquets, bridesmaids bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, ceremony flowers, reception flowers, cake flowers, and toss bouquets were supplied by Fleur, Inc. Black Tie Formalwear outfitted the men in the bridal party with tuxedos and shoes.
Amy Beck Cake Design provided the custom designed wedding cake while Pure Kitchens Catering supplied the rest of the food and an open bar of beer and wine. Custom wedding favors for all the quests came from Truffle Truffle and all the linens and napkins for the reception came from Private Label Linens. Chicago Lighting Design handled the lighting and draping at the museum.
Magnificent Milestones were responsible for the wedding invitations, RSVP postcards, ceremony programs and rehearsal dinner invitations. Rosemary Hall Calligraphy hand-addressed the wedding invitations. A custom written wedding ceremony was written by celebrant Anita Vaughn.
All of the day's events were captured by Poetic Productions and Amanda Hein Photography. (Hein also took the engagement photos.) Shutterbooth was also on hand with a photo booth where guests could take unlimited photo strips. They also had a custom guest book using guests' photo strips, and will be giving out a CD with all the images to each guest. During the ceremony and cocktails a solo pianist performed and at the reception a six-piece live band from the Becca Kaufman Orchestra played. The brides also received 10-one-hour personal training sessions, a one-hour bridal party boot camp and a one-hour nutrition consultation from Rappatone Boutique Training leading up to their wedding day.
Of their win and recent wedding Shagena said, "Thanks to our Twitter followers who voted for us. ... We wouldn't want to live anywhere else but Chicago." Pare said, "I am just grateful and thankful for this city and the community as a whole because the community is so supportive and amazing."
For more information on the giveaway, visit www.elevenelevenwedding.com/category/eleven-eleven-wedding-giveaway/ and www.greatestexpectations.com .