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Rural Chapel Turned Into Profitable Business
When Donna Petersen asked her husband, Howard, to build a chapel on their small farm near Sycamore, Ill., she had no idea it would lead to a full-time "hobby business" of hosting weddings.
  As soon as the steeple went up in 1994, people started stopping by to ask if they could get married there. Fifteen years and 1,200 weddings later, the chapel has become a popular destination for local couples.
  Seating was expanded to 100 people in 1998 and Howard built a gazebo and restroom/changing building with a live feed monitor so the bride can see what's going on in the chapel.
  Donna says they often serve couples who don't have church affiliations, but have past religious connections and want more than a civil ceremony at a courthouse.
  The Petersens work hard at making the wedding special, from beautiful landscaping on the 7-acre property, to always being available to give chapel tours and plan weddings any day of the week. Though they can schedule up to four weddings on a Saturday, the Petersens make sure "that no bride sees another bride."
  "It has to be a passion," Petersen says. "You have to absolutely love people." The Petersens have experience working with people, first cleaning homes with ServiceMaster, and then having more than 4,000 guests when they had a bed and breakfast in their home. They've always opened their door to visitors - exchange students, local college students, and guest speakers at the local museum.
  To meet local regulations, the Petersens followed ordinances regarding parking, installing restrooms and business zoning.
  "There are lots of hoops to jump through in some counties," Petersen says, as well as marriage license policies to deal with. In Illinois, couples must buy the license in the county that they'll be married, and it's good for 60 days starting the next day.
  Many of the Petersens' clients buy a license the day before, get married in the chapel and then leave for their honeymoon. "We've had people fly in from North Dakota, get married and then go to a Cubs game," Petersen says.
  The Petersens simply provide the wedding site and perform the ceremony (Howard and son, Jeff, are licensed to marry couples). Couples receive a book with local vendors that offers accommodations and other wedding services.
  The Chapel in the Pines offers a variety of types of wedding services. Prices start at $350.
  Word-of-mouth testimonials and a website have attracted couples from all over the country and even overseas.
  When the Petersens married 45 years ago, they had no idea they would end up helping others get married. Since they were teens, family members questioned whether their marriage would survive. It has not only survived, but also thrived. Howard finished the chapel as a gift to his wife in time for their 30th anniversary.
  Now they hope they're starting other couples on a lifelong journey.
  "I want them all to stay married," Donna says. "I tell them all, ŠI wish you the best life together.' "
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Howard and Donna Petersen, The Chapel in the Pines, 15165 Quigley Rd., Sycamore, Ill. 60178 (ph 815 895-4797; www.chapelinthe pines.com).


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2009 - Volume #33, Issue #3