From This Day: American Sign Language a big part of the big day

Jessica Hunt and Shawn Fitchko on the dance floor at their wedding reception, May 31, 2014, at Isla Del Sol Yacht and Country Club, St. Petersburg.
Jessica Hunt and Shawn Fitchko on the dance floor at their wedding reception, May 31, 2014, at Isla Del Sol Yacht and Country Club, St. Petersburg.
Published Aug. 28, 2014

Throughout the wedding, people signed "I love you," even friends and family members who were unable to attend the May 31 ceremony at St. Petersburg's Isla Del Sol Yacht and Country Club.

Jessica Hunt and Shawn Fitchko created an email account for the occasion, and friends near and far sent photos of themselves using the American Sign Language gesture.

By the time the festivities were over, there was a completed video presentation that included them all.

That memento and others incorporated into the ceremony and decor were a tribute to the bride's mother, Susan, who was a sign language interpreter and taught the deaf at Hillsborough Community College before dedicating herself to the family business. She died of cancer in 2002. Mrs. Hunt had no hearing impairments, but her mother was deaf. Jessica's father, James, owned the J.W. Hunt Produce Co. in Plant City until his retirement in 2003.

Jessica, 33, a marketing professional, and Shawn, 35, met in 2006.

She and a friend, Jennifer Sizemore Switch, who would be her maid of honor, had been to the Tampa Bay Lightning's Fan Fest, then decided to head to Rick's on the River in West Tampa for mullet hunting. ("The haircut, not the fish," Jessica said, joking.) "Not looking to meet guys or impress anyone. We wanted to go to a place that was just for fun, just a girls' day and something very silly.

"He moored up his Coast Guard boat and strolled onto the dock like a slow-motion scene from Top Gun," she remembered, only "with boats instead of jets."

She spoke first.

"What's your favorite hockey team?" she asked. "If you say the wrong thing, it's a deal breaker."

Shawn, whose parents are Ron and Janet Fitchko, grew up in Atlanta. He mentioned the now-defunct Thrashers. "Is that negotiable?" he asked.

What about football? Jessica attended Florida State University, and Shawn didn't have much interest in college sports. He was emphatic, however, about his Atlanta Falcons.

"We were making sure our sports teams were appropriately aligned," Jessica said, and she kept inviting him to join them, but their timing was off. Shawn was on patrol. He asked for her phone number and even called later in the day to say he'd like to take her out another time.

And that first date almost tanked. They planned to take in the "Bodies" exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, but the area was under a tropical storm alert. Shawn was called back to the U.S. Coast Guard station in St. Petersburg in case boats needed to be pulled out of the water. Then, at the last minute, he was released from duty for the night, and their evening was back on schedule.

Over the years, they discovered many common interests, especially their love for the outdoors, playing hockey on several co-ed leagues in Tampa, participating in beach volleyball and riding their bicycles to the St. Petersburg waterfront.

They had an extended courtship: Shawn was deployed to the Middle East, where he served a year in the Persian Gulf before coming back to St. Petersburg. He recently was transferred to California, where he is an executive petty officer at the Coast Guard station in Rio Vista.

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Throughout her mother's battle with cancer, Jessica took some time off to help take care of her by transferring from FSU to the University of South Florida in Tampa, where she earned a bachelor's degree.

"We both believed in marriage being a one-time thing," Shawn said. "We wanted to make sure we were the right ones for each other."

"I think why we work so well together is that we have so many common interests," Jessica said. Furthermore, she said, "We've made it through the hard part already."

Ten days after their wedding, they moved across the country, with Shawn reporting for duty on June 19. They delayed their honeymoon trip, hoping to take it on their first anniversary. And after Shawn's military commitments are fulfilled, Jessica said, "We will definitely call St. Pete our home."