Burlington, News

Community comes together for newlyweds

Kaleb and Ashley Watrous celebrate during a Feb. 2 wedding reception at Veterans Terrace in Burlington. (Jason Arndt/Southern Lakes Newspapers)

Burlington businesses gift wedding to couple in need

By Jason Arndt

The Burlington businesses community recently stepped up in a big way to organize a wedding for a young couple that has endured challenging times including a cancer diagnosis and car crash.

Kaleb and Ashley Watrous, graduates of Badger High School in Lake Geneva, tied the knot during a ceremony and celebration on Feb. 2 at Burlington’s Veterans Terrace.

General Manager Beth Reetz decided to spearhead the wedding coordination after receiving an email from Kaleb’s mother outlining the couple’s last few years.

The email included details of Ashley’s diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma and her ongoing treatments to manage the cancer.

“They wanted it to happen very quickly because of the timing of the illness,” Reetz said.

She admitted she was initially uncertain whether the wedding would be able to happen immediately.

However, once she contacted Wendy Lynch – owner of Bon Bon Belle bridal in Burlington – the uncertainty quickly vanished as Lynch guaranteed a wedding dress for Ashley and everything else continued to fall into place.

“Within 24 hours, it was close to $20,000 in donations just to make the wedding happen,” Reetz said.

Additional contributions came from Celebration on Wells, Matthew Thomas Media, gia bella flowers and gifts, Burlington Menswear, Rooted Hair Co., Gateway Technical College, BB’s Best DJ Service, The Nash for a Honeymoon Suite, and Blackbird Bakery.

While each establishment offered a different service, the sentiment was similar for all of them, according to Reetz.

“The conversation that I had with all the vendors – every single one of them – is that it just touched their hearts,” she said. “It was just a heart warming example of our community and what we are.”

Ashley said the wedding greatly exceeded her expectations, since she and Kaleb had initially planned a simple and intimate ceremony. She said they didn’t need to contribute anything thanks to the support of so many.

“It was probably one of the most beautiful weddings that we could have planned,” she said. “It was really shocking to see how many people helped us.”

Kaleb, who endured his own difficulties after experiencing a head-on car crash in Colorado about two years ago, couldn’t quite explain his feelings about the community’s support for him and Ashley.

“The wedding was beautiful. We had so many friends there, we had great food, DJ Bob did an amazing job,” Kaleb said. “It means so much to see the community come together to put this together. I just can’t put it into words and am so thankful.”

Reetz said the wedding falls in line with Veterans Terrace’s mission and community dedication.

“It’s really what we are about at Veterans Terrace. The whole purpose for us is funding the Burlington Community Fund,” she said. “We exist to fund the Burlington Community Fund and give back to Burlington.”

High school sweethearts
Kaleb and Ashley, formerly known as Ashley Hanson, began dating while they attended Badger High School.

In 2021, after Ashley graduated from Badger, two years after Kaleb collected his diploma, the couple moved to Colorado to start a new adventure together.

“We packed up our stuff and made it to Colorado,” he said. “Initially, I waited one year, so I could apply for in state (college) tuition.”

While in Colorado, the couple picked up jobs to support each other, but encountered their first obstacle in June 2022 when Kaleb experienced multiple injuries in a serious crash.

Kaleb, who said his previous vehicle experienced issues, bought a new car at a dealership before bringing Ashley to a friend’s house.

On his way home, Kaleb was struck by a drunk driver on the interstate in a head-on collision, which left him with serious injuries.

“I broke my collarbone, punctured my intestines, tore my ACL, and broke my knee cap,” he explained.

As Kaleb recovered from his injuries, Ashley received a startling diagnosis around October 2022, when she learned she had Ewing sarcoma.

Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, primarily affects children and young adults.

At the time, officials at a Colorado hospital offered Ashley two locations to receive further treatment, including the Mayo Clinic and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Ashley and Kaleb opted for MD Anderson, since Ashley had family in Texas, and she began receiving treatment.

Things were going well
Once she went into remission, they returned to Wisconsin, and found a place to live in Whitewater.

“Things were going really well, and we got our jobs back and were working,” Ashley said. “We were getting our life back together once we got back here.”

However, the symptoms and pain returned, leading to an unfortunate prognosis from oncologists at Children’s Wisconsin.

“We were told her percentages and what her future was going to look like,” Kaleb said. “We were driving home, and we were both uncomfortable with hearing the fact that she has a 10% chance of making it to the 2-year mark.”

But in the midst of that discomfort, they both shouted, almost simultaneously, they said, that they wanted to get married.

See the Feb. 29 print edition of the Standard Press for the full story.

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