The Schaus Sisters: Sisterly LoveOctober 14, 2017
Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Sarah Ann Jump
Ashley and Hannah Schaus take sisterly love to an entirely elevated level.
At a wedding ceremony Saturday, Oct. 7, on a hilltop in rural Rockport, Hannah walked down the aisle to her forever friend, Will Seaton, as he stood at the altar, waiting.
Soon after, her sister, Ashley, walked down the same aisle — to Will, her soon-to-be husband.
Ashley purposely had Hannah walk in first as Best Sister, the one to be honored. To make sure that the focus stayed on Hannah, Ashley stayed seated in Will’s classic pickup truck with her father, Paul, until Hannah was in place at the altar; then she made her entrance.
“This day is as much about Hannah as it is about me,” Ashley has said continuously over the last year. “She may not get the chance to get married, so I want to make sure she does get to have this experience.”
Ashley, the older sister at 23 years old, is very protective of Hannah, the 15-year-old little sister who has Down syndrome. The sisters, who live in Evanston, spend most of their time together when Ashley isn’t working. They seek each other out if they are in the vicinity of each other, which is the majority of the time.
Hannah is a little shy, and tends to giggle and lean away from people she’s not used to. But she is at complete ease around Ashley.
The two visited a park near Santa Claus in September, letting their two dogs run around the park for a while before going to pick up pumpkin decorations for the wedding. Together, they completed most of the wedding details — from decorations, to food, to the cake design, to music, to the wedding’s overall outdoor rustic theme. This summer, they went wedding dress shopping — first for Hannah, then for Ashley.
“I want Hannah to be the biggest part of this,” Ashley said. “I want her to be the star.”
Hannah played with one of the dogs that wandered back to her while Ashley checks her list of wedding to-dos. “We’re going to get our hair done before the wedding. And we’ll look so pretty won’t we Hannah?” Ashley asks her sister.
With a smile and giggle, Hannah responded, “Yeah.” She beamed and then laughed some more when Ashley talked about getting a tan as well. When someone asked her if she is excited about the big day, Hannah looked to Ashley first before answering yes. Ashley is her comfort place, her person, her big sister.
And for Ashley, seeing how she makes sure Hannah is taken care of first is the tell-tale sign that Hannah is her world.
While Will and Ashley listened to Rev. James England of Rockport read Scripture during the wedding ceremony Oct. 7, Ashley reached behind her to lock hands with Hannah and pull her closer. It was as if she wanted to make sure her sister was included in the moment.
Ashley always includes Hannah in every activity that she can. When one finds Ashley, it can be assured that Hannah is not too far away.
“They are so close,” their mom, Staci Schaus, said. “Ashley is so great with Hannah. And Hannah adores her. You can tell by the way she looks at her sister.”
The sisters have always been close. “For as long as I can remember, I knew that Hannah was special,” Ashley said. “And I knew that, as her sister, that I was going to look out for her.”
Although she can be shy, Hannah has her own friends at school, Heritage Hills High School. She has been involved with a cheer team and in throwing and jumping competitions in the Special Olympics. She also loves spending time with Will’s grandfather, Bill Payne, who also walked Hannah down the aisle.
But when Ashley is around, Ashley is the one Hannah prefers to hang out with.
For a while Ashley was away from home, attending the University of Southern Indiana. But it wasn’t too far away.
“I’d come home on the weekends to be with her,” Ashley said. She graduated last year and now works for the Indiana Geological Survey. She gets up early in the morning for work and is finished by the afternoon when Hannah gets home from school.
At the wedding ceremony, Hannah read friendship vows to Will, with some assistance from Ashley since Hannah didn’t have her glasses on.
“You are my brother and my best friend forever,” Hannah read. “I promise to go fishing. I promise to tell funny jokes. I promise to care for you. Thank you for being in my life.”
Will also had vows for Hannah.
“I am thankful that you are my sister and best friend. You’re one in a million,” he told her. “I promise to always take you fishing, tell you plenty of funny jokes, and most importantly I promise to always look out for you and to care for you as a big brother.”
Soon after the minister announced them as “Best Friends Forever,” the two embraced, to the applause of the audience.
When Ashley and Will started dating seven years ago, “I told him upfront that you have to accept Hannah,” Ashley recalled. “We are a package deal.”
Will honored that. Hannah has been included in most of the couple’s dates, which many times are centered around things Hannah likes, such as eating pizza, playing video games or watching a movie she likes.
Just like he did with Ashley, Will has found that his love for Hannah has grown to be unconditional.
“Hannah is great,” the 25-year-old Evanston groom said. “She is always happy and is caring. She makes me smile all the time.”
Will showed in March 2016 that he was ready for the sisters to be in his life forever. During an annual family photo shoot in a field of flowers, Will got on one knee in front of Hannah, presented her with a ring and asked Hannah to be his best friend forever. After Hannah said yes, Will asked Ashley to be his wife. She said yes as well.
“You are my best friend, and then my husband,” Ashley told Will during her wedding vows. “Within that friendship, I cherish that you befriend Hannah and love her like a sister unconditionally. Hannah and I were a package deal from the start and you have loved both of us more and more each day. I have watched you become such an admirable figure in her life, including her in our dates, going the extra mile, and having the genuine sense of making sure she is always OK as any big brother would. In front of all our family and friends today, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of Hannah’s life the way you are. I truly am thankful for everything.”
Ashley is always lathering love and tender care onto Hannah. The wedding reception was no exception. There was a friend’s dance between Will and Hannah; their song was “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Michael Bublé. As “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” by Darius Rucker played, the girls’ father, Paul Schaus, danced with Ashley for half of the father-daughter dance before switching off to Hannah.
The trio played the shoe game, during which they would decide if a statement fits a particular person and then hold that person’s footwear in the air. For one of the questions, Hannah and Ashley said Hannah was the better fisherman, while Will chose himself.
As for the cutting of the cake, the three did that together, too. Hannah was first, feeding cake to Will before he reciprocated, dabbing some of the icing on her nose. She laughed.
Ashley expressed her feelings to Hannah via gifts she gave Hannah the night before the wedding — the most noticeable one being a necklace that said “Best Sister.” She also read with Hannah a card she gave her little sister.
“I love you so much,” Hannah started, her eyes watering. “You are the best sister I could have ever asked for.”
“You’re crying too,” Ashley noticed.” You want to me to do it, or are you OK?”
Hannah continued reading the card Ashley gave her. Ashley wrote that she could not go through life without Hannah and that she couldn’t wait to have Hannah by her side on their wedding day.
“I love you sisi,” Hannah read, smiling. “Forever.”
Her eyes continued to water. And she leaned into her big sister.
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