I met Megan at Let's Camp 2017 - a creative retreat at Camp Wandawega - and we instantly bonded over our lake-love, Milwaukee-burb, UW-Madison grad roots, and she sealed the deal of my obsession with her when she told me that she was married at this very Camp, and canoed in her dress in the lake we were sitting adjacent to - I repeat, in her wedding dress, on her wedding day. GOALS. Now all I can imagine is my own lakeside wedding day, and how I'm just going to HAVE take this a step further and launch myself off a pier, in my dress, hand-in-hand with my new hubby. I digress. In the post below, she walks us through her decision to get married at Camp, and in upcoming posts, we'll get the real scoop of what the experience was like.
I never saw myself as someone who wanted a big, fancy wedding. The hotel ballroom, the church ceremony, going around to every table of guests to say “thank you for coming” … It just never felt like it fit for me.
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t even sure I wanted a wedding in the first place. I thought I might elope or have a small destination wedding. I even considered it for a little while, but I knew my family would be heartbroken and disappointed. I couldn’t do that to them.
Alas when my now-husband Sam and I decided to get married, I had to start thinking about what kind of wedding would fit me. How would I begin to pick a venue when I didn’t even know what I wanted?
Well, that’s kind of a sweet story.
Growing Up on the Lake
As a child, I spent many, many weekends at my grandparent’s lake house at Apple Canyon Lake near Galena, IL. My family has always been very close. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, kids all running around the lake house-- these small moments of chaos and togetherness fill my memories from childhood.
I was lucky enough to meet a man with the same kind of family history as me. Sam had those same memories with his cousins from childhood. His family had a lakehouse outside of Oshkosh, Wisconsin that he frequently visited on summer weekends.
When you grow up on the lake, it becomes a part of who you are. That is a part of myself that I never had to explain to my partner. We understood this about one another immediately and implicitly. The smell of the fresh air, the poor phone reception, the taste of burnt marshmallows -- it all floods back into my memory as staples of my young life. It deeply shapes my relationships with my extended family and still today, we all try to go up to the lake at least once per summer.
Building Memories Together at the Lake
Lake life was such an integral part of each of us so naturally, as our 10-year relationship progressed through our 20s, we started to build our own memories together at various lakes and lake houses around the midwest. It seemed that every summer and fall was peppered with moments made at the lake.
On my first trip to Sam’s family’s lakehouse, we were celebrating his grandfather’s 80th birthday. We drove a golf cart around their acres of forested land exploring the woods and soaking in the northerly vibes. It was a homey feeling. His family welcomed me into their sacred family space almost immediately. It felt like I had been there before. The old couches, the cramped sleeping quarters, the laid-back afternoons that turn into evenings -- it all felt so comfortable. So easy. So fond.
My family though, well… they had some informal family hazing planned before Sam was “in” with the relatives. The Arzbaecher clan is super tight-knit and we do not take new family members lightly. It’s a pretty serious step to meet the whole group but the natural place to do so is Apple Canyon. Nearly all of the new girlfriends and boyfriends that have come into our lives have been first introduced at the lake. It’s our most cherished family space.
Sam and I were a few years into our relationship when he first came out to the lake. In keeping with tradition, my family put him through the ringer. There were lots of jokes at Sam’s expense, family dynamics to navigate and little tasks for him to complete. Everything was going really well, but the cherry on the “welcome to the family” cake was the breakfast Sam cooked for everyone on Sunday morning. That was the moment when he became part of our group. He was officially in.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now it seems almost inevitable that our eventual wedding would be at a lake in the Midwest. It was us. It has always been us.
The Lake Venue That Chose Us
I was scrolling through a Wisconsin photographer’s blog one day when I stumbled upon a wedding venue that actually interested me. Camp Wandawega. This blog post was my first introduction to Camp Wandawega and I proceeded to spend the next hour internet stalking this venue. I read everything on their website about the history of the camp, looked at previous weddings there, and found a map of the grounds.
This was the first wedding venue that had stuck with me. It stayed at the front of my mind. I let the idea of a Wandawega wedding percolate in my mind for a few weeks before I told anyone about my bright idea. It seemed like a cool spot, but it was totally out of the ordinary. It was not the type of wedding I had ever really envisioned for myself.
On one perfect October afternoon, I surprised Sam with a little road trip. Our destination was Wandawega, but he didn’t know that yet. I had arranged a tour with the camp’s caretaker, Joe, to see the space. It was the kind of decision that I made on a whim.
I hadn’t expected to fall in love with Camp Wandawega on that October day.
When we pulled up, we caught our first glimpse of the famous two-story tree house and large lawn of Wandawega. The vibes in the air at this historic place spoke to me right away. While surprised by the destination, I could tell Sam felt it too. There was an instant connection between us and this space. A Midwestern lake is a place where we both feel comfortable. It was familiar. It was home.
The tour of the camp grounds with Joe lasted about an hour, but within 5 minutes of being there, I knew it was the place. Camp Wandawega was the only wedding venue we looked at. We submitted a deposit for the venue the following day. Wandawega made the decision for us. It chose us. It made perfect sense. It fit.
So really, I didn’t choose to get married at the lake. The lake chose for me to get married at it. It fit us. It fit our families. Now all we had left to do is plan the damn thing.
Stayed tuned for the remaining two parts of this three part series on choosing, preparing and planning for a dream lake wedding.