Anna Mielke and Zach LaPorte are seen during their wedding ceremony on Sept. 26, 2015, on the rural Preston farm of her parents, Joel and Barb Mielke. The point overlooks the South Branch Root River Valley to provide a beautiful setting. COURTESY NYLON SADDLE PHOTOGRAPHY
Anna Mielke and Zach LaPorte are seen during their wedding ceremony on Sept. 26, 2015, on the rural Preston farm of her parents, Joel and Barb Mielke. The point overlooks the South Branch Root River Valley to provide a beautiful setting. COURTESY NYLON SADDLE PHOTOGRAPHY

EDITORS NOTE: Lisa Brainard sent these questions to Anna (Mielke) LaPorte, daughter of Joel and Barb Mielke of Preston, about her Sept. 26, 2015, wedding to Zach LaPorte. It was held on the Mielkes’ 350-acre farm overlooking the South Branch Root River on Fillmore County Highway 17 east of Preston. (Questions and answers have been edited.)


The bride and groom met at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. “We were both in different engineering programs, and we met through a course, Stats 224: Statistics for Engineers,” Anna LaPorte recalls. “We started doing homework together, and a year later, we were dating.”

The couple graduated from the university and resides in Forest Park, a suburb just outside of Chicago proper.

The groom graduated with a degree in engineering mechanics, and he is now a product development engineer for Newell Rubbermaid. He works in their writing division, supporting the design of Sharpie and Expo markers.

The bride graduated with a degree in food and bio-process engineering, and is a technical applications specialist for Nestle. She works in the product development lab at Nestle’s Willy Wonka facility, supporting innovation and renovation of candy.

Share a memory or two of visiting the farm... and why you wanted to be married there.

The first time Zach came home with me, we visited the farm. The farm is a very special place for me. It was my second home growing up. We spent countless weekends there working –planting trees, clearing hiking trails, conducting controlled burns, collecting native seeds – as well as relaxing  – hiking, kayaking, sitting by the campfire, catching butterflies, picking flowers, wading the river, snowshoeing, and more. It’s a part of me!

We have an annual camping weekend event there, called FARMOUT, which is going on 27 years in 2016, where we have had up to 125 people and 15 dogs. It’s a big party with family.

At FARMOUT 2014, we had just finished the big potluck on Saturday night. Zach asked me, if I wanted to go for a walkout to Cedar Point.

It was a beautiful summer evening. On our way out to the point and its cabin, Zach stopped me and proposed. Of course, I said, “Yes!” We excitedly walked back to the campsite. Telling the family the news was easy, because most of them were already there. That was the first year Zach’s family attended FARMOUT, too, so it was really the merging of two families at a very special event. 

What did you have in mind as a “theme” for the wedding? Did you have specific color(s) in mind?

A lot of thought went into the wedding, but it was also very “natural,” you know, whatever moved us. We love the farm, and we wanted to share that space.

We wanted the natural landscape to be our décor, and the beautiful Root River valley to be our backdrop. We tried to achieve that by choosing our wedding site on the farm. We got married on a bluff overlooking the South Branch Root River.

When asked if we wanted flowers or an arbor where we would be standing, I recall Zach saying, “But that would ruin the view!”

And so our backdrop was the beauty that the earth decided to share with us that day, and she performed – during our vows, we had two eagles soaring overhead.

We chose navy for our wedding party to wear with accents of mustard, as we felt the rich colors would be a nice color for a wedding the first Saturday in fall.

What items did you and Zach (and anyone else) create?

Zach and I had little touches that were displayed throughout the day.

I had found bookends at the thrift store “A” and “Z,” so I painted them navy, and they were displayed on the buffet at the reception.

My dad came up with cute parking lots where each was named for an animal, from the smallest parking lot coordinating with the smallest animal — The Mouse Lot, to the biggest parking lot coordinating with the biggest animal — The Badger Lot (as UW Alum — Go Badgers — it was fitting).

We made wood-burn “name tags” for everyone attending. My dad cut the trees (including many invasive buckthorn, according to Barb and Joel Mielke) from the farm and made wood tags, and then Zach and I burned everyone’s initials into them.

The idea was to use them to save seats/spots for the reception, as we had communal tables for the reception with family-style service for food. We let guests decide where to sit. 

We had a toast, but we did not have champagne. We had homemade mead. Zach brewed the mead himself. It fermented for nearly a year. Then, a few weeks before the wedding, Zach and I bottled it ourselves. We also made personalized labels.

We made a guestbook with engagement photos and displayed a bunch of black and metallic Sharpies for our guests to sign the book. This was set up on an old incubator my parents had purchased with my grandpa.

During the cocktail hour, we had a friend run around and take Polaroids of our guests. Then, the guests were given the picture to hang on a display at the wedding. It was fun for us to go through those photos the next day. I have them all sitting in a dish at home, and I scroll through them on occasion for a smile.

We also had a display of local postcards, that we self addressed and stamped before the wedding. Our guests could pick up a postcard and take it home, and drop us a line later. It was fun to get mail the weeks and months after the wedding. We may still have more coming.

I also put out a Jenga with markers for guests to write on each game piece with a date night recommendation for us. We have some good ones at home — from “Curl up on a Pendleton with Wild Turkey,” to “Sleep under the stars,” to “Hike the Arboretum,” to “Go out for sushi and beers” and on and on.

We got personalized coloring books made on Etsy, to keep the little ones content.

I work in candy, and it’s widely known I have a sweet tooth and enjoy cooking. So I made my homemade caramels for the wedding with my mom’s classic recipe. Zach and I wrapped them at home, and I used my mom’s 3M washi tape as a final decorative touch to dress them up. 

We purchased heart sparklers for later in the evening. Shortly before our send-off, we had everyone grab a sparkler, and we all went over to the fire my dad was keeping to light our sparklers. It was a fun way to end the night. 

We also have a friend, who is an artist and enjoys making pottery, and he made all of the mugs for the wedding party, which were gifted to the groomsmen and parents. He stamped them with everyone’s personal initials. They turned out great in green, brown and natural colors.

We had bottle openers made with our colors and wedding date on them. They were put on display at the bar for anyone to grab if they so chose. They were a cute touch. 

My dad set up a cast-iron fireplace outside the barn. The day was lovely – 70s and sunny – but when the sun set, it cooled down quickly, and he was right there stoking the fire.

Can you talk about the decision to have a wedding planner?

A friend of the family recommended Christina Welke of The Creative Side in Elgin. I knew there would be challenges with coordinating a wedding long distance, so I thought it would relieve some of those distance gaps.

Additionally, we had her onsite the day of the wedding. That was a total relief. It allowed me (and my family) to really enjoy the day, so that we weren’t directing people here, there and everywhere, but instead taking in the day. I slept in. Zach went for a bike ride. We did hair and make-up off site. It was a good morning.

Barb Mielke also noted you need a “Plan A” and “Plan B” for an outdoor wedding. They had a tent ready to use in case of rain, but the weather was beautiful.

Share what activities happened at the farm after the ceremony.

Everything happened at the farm; it was a one-stop shop!

My dad set up several parking lots along the driveway and near the barn. Everything was within a few minutes walk from each other, but we also rented golf carts for those who preferred the assistance.

After the ceremony, we had a receiving line along side the cabin, where people naturally passed through and carried on along the walking path to the barn.

We had a cocktail hour, which allowed people to mingle, sign the guest book, get their picture taken, grab a beer, and so on.

We had a family-style dinner served followed by dancing in the barn, and to close the night, we had a sparkler send off. 

Is there something that worked quite well that you’d like to mention?

The day of the wedding, Christina told us to just let things happen and not get stressed out. There were a few times, when we got a little stressed, but we remembered her words of wisdom, because we knew she had seen her share of weddings.

At the end of the day, we were both very exhausted, but we were able to look back on the day with a positive outlook.

We had a great time with our family. Everyone was really there for us – to celebrate “US” – and any snags that happened weren’t going to get in our way. Overall, Christina’s guiding hand helped us a lot. 

Any tips for someone planning a wedding? For someone who’s planning from afar?

Set a budget! And prepare to blow through your budget. There were so many different things that we didn’t realize were going to cost extra.

Luckily, we were able to save (and borrow) during the year to help us pay for the big day, so we weren’t overwhelmed with debt.

Don’t be afraid to do something outside of the norm. We ditched several traditional things like having a cake. Instead, we had cupcakes from a local shop in Preston and beignets from Johnny Mango.

The cupcakes were phenomenal, simple and fresh. We had none left over after the wedding, even after ordering extras and having two desserts.

It’s definitely a good idea to find a local planner/coordinator that knows all of the right people, especially if you are planning from a distance.

Preston is a six- to seven-hour drive from our home, and we could only make it back to the area a couple times to meet face-to-face with vendors.

Because we had Christina, many of the more tedious logistical issues like tables, flowers, lighting, etc., were in her hands, and she would call us, and we would give her a “yay” or “nay” response.