Schaumburg police officers throw flash mob wedding

Guests thought they were attending retirement party

Strange things started happening at the retirement party for Schaumburg police officers Mike Conjura and Libby Watkins.

First, the couple disappeared.

Minutes later, their 150 guests were ushered out of the cul-de-sac where the party had been going on for the past two hours, and into the couple's backyard.

A trolley pulled up, escorted by a few police squad cars with sirens blaring. Then dozens of people in white T-shirts emerged and scurried around the backyard, setting up white folding chairs, a canopy, a white runner and flowers.

It quickly became obvious that this was more than a retirement party.

The flash mob wedding caught everyone — including the couple's families and children — by surprise. Squeals of “Oh my God! They're getting married!” and shouts of “You gotta be kiddin' me!” added even more joy to the already lively Sunday night celebration.

Friend Becky Schomer, of Schaumburg, had to fight back the tears when she realized what was happening.

“We're the closest of friends, and I had no idea they were doing this. This is awesome,” said Schomer, whose husband, Schaumburg police officer John Schomer, was asked to be the ring bearer 15 minutes before the ceremony.

“The party is not out of character, but the wedding threw me for a loop,” added retired Schaumburg police officer John “JV” Villarreal, one of dozens of police officers there.

Watkins, 60, and Conjura, 58 (whose friends call him “Con”), have been together for the past 26 years. They've always scoffed at the idea of tying the knot, which is why Conjura's sister, Jill Zawilla, of Hoffman Estates was shocked by the surprise nuptials. She came to the retirement party from another outing, still wearing her bathing suit and a cover-up.

“I wish they could have told me, so at least I could have worn a dress,” Zawilla said, laughing but still teary-eyed from the ceremony. “My mom always wanted them to get married. She would have loved this. I know she is up there (in heaven) saying, ‘Yes!'”

The evening involved far more laughing than crying. Conjura — famous for his casual attire and love of motorcycles — emerged from his patio's sliding glass door wearing a tuxedo, holding his arms up in the air and getting hoots, hollers and wisecracks from the crowd.

Then Watkins appeared in her wedding dress, escorted by her father, retired Cook County Judge Edward M. Fiala, 84, who also didn't know about the wedding until 15 minutes before, when his daughter asked him if he'd walk her down the aisle.

Rather than stand silently like guests might do in church, everyone loudly applauded and cheered as the father and daughter moved down the aisle to the upbeat pop tune “I Do,” by Colbie Caillat.

Minister Kim Panzarella told funny stories about the couple, and singer Daniela Tereza sang the Etta James song “At Last.” During the vows, Conjura grabbed the microphone and complained to the minister, “I didn't hear ‘honor and obey.'”

Panzarella shot back: “She asked me to take that part out.”

Conjura and Watkins were named husband and wife, kissed, and led their guests back to the cul-de-sac in a conga line as the song “Hot, Hot, Hot” blared from the speakers.

During the ceremony, a sit-down dinner for more than 100 people had been set up on the closed-off street. Later, the flash mob volunteers reappeared and did a spontaneous dance routine.

As Conjura greeted guests in a long receiving line, he paused for a moment and looked out at the happy crowd partying in front of his house on a beautiful summer night.

“Look at this,” he said, motioning to the festivities around him. “All of my friends are here. ... It's perfect. I feel like Jimmy Stewart in ‘It's a Wonderful Life.' I feel like the richest man in the world today.”

Added his new wife, Watkins, “It feels like a fairy tale.”

Conjura will retire Thursday after “30 years, 11 months and 2 weeks” as a patrol officer. Watkins is set to retire this fall after 33 years with the department. Her current position is community service officer.

The two met while working at the Schaumburg Police Departmen, and shared a love of long motorcycle trips, hosting big Halloween and summer parties, and working on their elaborate backyard flower garden.

Conjura and Watkins had both been married before, and even though they knew they'd be together forever, they had no interest in getting married again. Now that they're both retiring, they decided the time was finally right — in part, to make sure they could receive each other's retirement benefits in the event of one of their deaths.

The surprise wedding was organized by Panzarella, Watkins' friend, who runs Chandlers, the banquet facility at the Schaumburg Golf Club. When Watkins heard Panzarella was creating a new flash-mob wedding business, she was immediately interested. Together, the two friends hatched the plan for's first event.

“We thought it'd be fun to make it a surprise,” Watkins said.

Panzarella rounded up 40 friends to be flash mob volunteers and was able to get many items donated, including the wedding dress and accessories from Here Comes the Bride in Addison, a trolley from Best Chicago Trolley, and videos and photos from Boke Productions.

“They are loved by so many people,” friend Becky Schomer said afterward. “For the people who love them, this is the best day ever.”

Images: Flash mob wedding surprises Schaumburg party guests volunteers Tara Helton, in the green dress, and Kim Panzarella, in the gray dress, rush out from the trolley to turn Libby Watkins’ and Mike Conjura’s retirement party into their wedding Sunday night in Schaumburg, surprising the couple’s guests and families. Joel Bissell/
  Libby Watkins and Mike Conjura surprised their family and friends Sunday by converting their retirement party into a wedding, using a flash mob. Joel Bissell/
  Libby Watkins and her father, retired Cook County Judge Edward Fiala, walk down the aisle, which was set up only minutes before the flash mob wedding Sunday night in Schaumburg. Joel Bissell/
  Members of the flash mob wedding team pull the runner for the ceremony out of a truck as they quickly set up a wedding for Schaumburg police officers Libby Watkins and Mike Conjura Sunday night in Schaumburg. The couple surprised their family and friends, who thought they were at a retirement party. Joel Bissell/
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