Planning a wedding may seem like trying to keep millions of plates spinning all at once while riding a unicycle on a tightrope over the Grand Canyon.
Fortunately for Emily and Michael Holland, their special day went off without a hitch. The Burlington, Iowa, couple exchanged vows June 5, 2021, at Maxwell Mansion in Lake Geneva.
“I wish we could relive it 1,000 times,” Emily said. “We had so many people behind us, supporting us and helping us the whole way. There was no way it could have been anything short of amazing.”
Their wedding experience was such that, when the time comes, they plan to retire in Lake Geneva.
But an incredible amount of work goes into a wedding. Once again, the Hollands were fortunate, as Emily is an assistant event coordinator at Barn on the Ridge, a wedding venue in Burlington, Iowa.
“I think she enjoyed it,” said Michael, of Emily and her working on their wedding. An assistant general manager of Catfish Bend Casino, also in Burlington, Michael helped her with the planning. “Was it a little overwhelming at times? I’m sure, but whenever she needed help, I made sure to step in and take on some of the communications.”
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Michael was born in Australia, where his father played professional basketball. After his dad’s career, they moved to Oshkosh, where Michael lived from ages 7 to 18.
Emily was born outside of New Orleans, moving to Southeast Iowa when she was a baby.
In the following Q&A conducted through emails, the Hollands discuss their wedding, including how they decided to have it in Lake Geneva and how the COVID pandemic made the road to their big day longer than anyone could have predicted.
Note: The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Bridal Guide: How did you two meet?
Emily Holland: Michael and I met through work. At the time I was waiting tables at a sports bar that was part of an entertainment complex attached to the casino where Michael works. We were always friendly and would have small talk in passing, but it wasn’t until years later that we got to know one another and discovered we shared an amazing connection.
Michael Holland: She was the one to ask me out. I was shocked but obviously agreed to the dinner. We had an amazing night at a restaurant that became the place we got engaged — La Tavola, an amazing Italian restaurant in Burlington, Iowa.
Bridal Guide: How did you know that marriage was the next step?
Michael Holland: We have a wonderful connection. We are both very different, but it has worked very well for us. I think we both knew how special our relationship was and we were ready for that next step in our adventure.
Emily Holland: We truly enjoy spending time with each other and always have fun. Michael makes me laugh every day, I love that. I can’t really describe how we knew it was time to take the step into marriage other than saying it just felt right.
Bridal Guide: How many people were at your wedding? What types of services did you hire?
Emily Holland: We originally thought we’d have around 150, then COVID happened and a year of postponement later, we ended up with a much smaller number. We never wanted to have a really big wedding, but it was important to have our closest family and friends there with us if possible. With this being a destination wedding, we were really happy so many people could make it! We had several vendors, all who were wonderful. We had caterers, a DJ, a pianist, hair and makeup, a florist, and a photographer. I can’t stress enough how wonderful and supportive they all were. We had vendors who traveled from several places in Iowa, as well as different parts of Wisconsin. They all worked so hard to give us a beautiful wedding. We are especially thankful for Taylor, our photographer. Her and her husband own Lost Pine Photo and Film out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Taylor and I have known each other for quite some time and she actually did our engagement photos. We were blown away and knew we wanted her to photograph our wedding. She spent all day with us taking the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen. Our wedding photos are something we will cherish forever!
Bridal Guide: What else went into planning this wedding?
Emily Holland: Oh gosh, a lot goes into planning a wedding! As simple as we tried to make our day, it was still no easy task. You have to kind of take a step back from it sometimes because people and the internet will tell you every little thing you need to do or have at your wedding and it can become overwhelming. Throw COVID in the mix and you really start to question your sanity! Luckily for us, we were able to pick a new wedding date around a year out from our original and keep all of our same vendors. A wedding really just takes a lot of time. The big thing for us was finding vendors in the area and basing most of our decisions off of reviews and conversations. Burlington, Iowa, is about 3.5 hours away from Lake Geneva, so anytime we wanted to meet with vendors or scope things out we had to plan a trip that worked around both of our schedules. We’ve stayed at several hotels, eaten at different restaurants and explored the area so we could reference all these things to our guests when the time came for our wedding.
Bridal Guide: Out of everything that went into the planning, what was the biggest surprise?
Michael Holland: COVID was the biggest surprise in planning our wedding. We had to postpone, like many others, and pushed our date to June 5, 2021. My mother lives in the Netherlands and was not able to enter the states, so that was also heartbreaking for us but we understood.
Emily Holland: We were originally scheduled to get married May 30, 2020. Michael has family in the Netherlands and when the travel ban wasn’t lifted, we knew we had no other choice than to postpone. We waited as long as we could in hopes the ban would lift and things would clear up in time but they didn’t. We were upset, but we like to think good things came out of it. Unfortunately, the travel ban still wasn’t lifted this past June and Michael’s mom wasn’t able to attend, but I think at that point people were more at ease with traveling and being in social situations versus our original wedding date. Another positive of postponing our wedding was the gift of Luke and Monica Pfeifer. During our postponement, Maxwell Mansion was actually sold to the Pfeifers. Michael and I were scared new owners might come in and change things, but we were so relieved to be wrong. Monica really took the reins and helped us navigate through every obstacle and helped plan a more beautiful wedding than we ever imagined. We are so grateful for them. They are truly wonderful people and we couldn’t imagine our wedding day without them.
Bridal Guide: Why was Maxwell Mansion the perfect place for your wedding?
Michael Holland: Maxwell Mansion was a place we found online. We made a couple trips up to Wisconsin to look at other venues in the Milwaukee area. Being from Wisconsin, I truly enjoyed growing up there and always respected its beauty. When I first took Emily up there, she fell in love with the nature and beautiful lakes Wisconsin had to offer. Emily and I didn’t even visit Maxwell in person. We knew from the photos that it was the perfect place for our wedding day. We wanted somewhere that had a story and history. Maxwell being the first mansion in Lake Geneva, and knowing President Grant once stayed there, was a very cool story to us.
Emily Holland: I remember one day Michael texted me from work and was so excited. He stumbled across Maxwell Mansion in Lake Geneva and sent me a YouTube video of the property. He said he felt it was the one and wanted me to check it out. Instantly, I knew this was the venue for us. I loved the classy look of the beautiful white brick with black accents. It was so charming and unique, I’d never seen any place like it. The apothecary was so intriguing, the ballroom was timeless, the back terrace was beautiful and the history was interesting. I reached out immediately. After shooting a few messages back and forth about setting a date, we sent our deposit in without ever stepping a foot on the property or visiting Lake Geneva. We couldn’t be happier with having our wedding at Maxwell. Michael and I really wanted something beautiful yet out of the ordinary for our day. The whole place is so exquisite, it really took away any need to add any extra decoration, which was great for us because we really didn’t want to bring more than we needed while traveling. It really is a great perk to having your wedding at the mansion. You can dress it up from top to bottom, or, you can do next to nothing and still have the most beautiful and unique wedding. Monica, Luke, and their staff all worked diligently to make our day special. All of our guests really loved the venue, especially the ones who stayed on property. They still talk about how much they enjoyed it and how they can’t wait to go back.
Bridal Guide: What was it about Lake Geneva that drew you to the area?
Michael Holland: Lake Geneva brought back all the feels of laid-back lake life. Emily and I fell in love with the small town feel and all the beauty that surrounds Lake Geneva. The sunsets around Lake Geneva are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in the Midwest, and we both agree we would love to retire somewhere up in the area someday.
Emily Holland: I love how some places you go have kept the 80s/90s feel of going on a weekend lake trip. The town is so beautiful. We love the beaches, the walking paths along the mansions, downtown and the colorful sunsets. Michael really enjoys the golf courses, too. Once we’d visited a few times, we knew our friends and family would love the area. For our wedding, we planned a three-day trip with our wedding party and some close family and friends. Thursday, we had a combined bachelor/bachelorette party, where we bar-hopped and explored downtown. Friday, the guys golfed while the girls were pampered then had a rehearsal dinner on the lake where Michael’s dad had rented a big house for some of his family to stay. Some guests made a small vacation out of it and did things like boating, horseback riding, sightseeing, etc. We had family tell us they can’t wait to come back, or even bring their future children and spend summers there. We’re so happy the place where we started our lives as husband and wife is going to be a place many of our friends and family also cherish and will continue to visit and make memories.
Bridal Guide: What about your memories? Was the wedding a success?
Michael Holland: The wedding was an absolute success. Everything went so smooth and the weather was perfect! Monica and her team at Maxwell made it so easy for everyone who attended and we can’t thank them enough for all of their efforts. Emily and I feel we made lifelong friends with Monica and the Maxwell team.
Emily Holland: From the beginning, we wanted a unique and beautiful wedding where we were surrounded by our family and friends while keeping it laid back and fun. Our wedding was just that. It was the best day of our lives.
Iowa couple’s Lake Geneva wedding: ‘I wish we could relive it 1,000 times’
Michael and Emily Holland were married last June at Maxwell Mansion in Lake Geneva.
The Big Day
“A wedding really just takes a lot of time,” said Emily Holland.
Walking down the aisle
“I think we both knew how special our relationship was and we were ready for that next step in our adventure,” said Michael Holland, about marrying his wife, Emily.
Cutting the cake
“From the beginning, we wanted a unique and beautiful wedding where we were surrounded by our family and friends while keeping it laid back and fun,” Emily Holland said. “Our wedding was just that.”
At the Riviera
Michael and Emily Holland, sitting at the Driehaus Fountain at the Riviera, Lake Geneva.
On choosing Maxwell Mansion for their wedding, Michael Holland said, “Emily and I didn’t even visit Maxwell in person. We knew from the photos that it was the perfect place for our wedding day.”
“Lake Geneva brought back all the feels of laid-back lake life,” said Michael Holland, pictured at the right of his wife, Emily.
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