How Ken and Sethea met and befriended the Duchess of York.
It had begun snowing in Chicago, and Ken was anxious; he and Sethea had to get to New York City. Ken was going to represent Ronald McDonald House Charities on the Today Show, and there was no way he was missing this opportunity. He called Sethea and told her to close up the barbershop; they were going to catch an earlier flight.
They packed the car, drove to the airport, and ended up in what felt like the farthest possible parking lot. They had to ride a train to the terminal and rush to security. They could see their plane boarding from the security line, and Sethea had to keep reassuring Ken that they were going to be all right.
They finally made it and sat down in first class.
Suddenly, they realized they had forgotten to lock the car. They quickly called Seth to ask if he could drive to the airport, find their car in that far-off parking lot, and lock it up for them. But then they were able to call a service to lock it remotely and spare Seth the trip.
By this time, they still hadn’t taken off. They couldn’t figure out why they were still waiting until on walked Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. She (accidentally) hit Ken in the head with her purse as she passed them.
Sethea was so excited and kept pressuring Ken to go talk to her.
“No,” Ken said. “I talked to the Dalai Lama. You go talk to the Duchess.”
“But you’re the charitable guy!” Sethea insisted. “I just cut hair. She won’t be interested in me.”
Sethea finally got up the courage. She planned to hand the Duchess a note and pamphlet about SOS Children’s Village, thinking she might be interested in it. Nervously, Sethea rose to take them to her with all kinds of thoughts running through her head: What do I say? Do I call her ‘Your Highness’?
Sarah Ferguson not only read Sethea’s note, but she wrote back a seven-page letter on the back of SOS paper.
Unbeknownst to Ken and Sethea, the Duchess was a spokesperson for the organization. Sethea and the Duchess ended up passing notes back and forth throughout the flight, and that night, the Baruns had dinner with the Duchess in New York City. She worked them into her schedule, and they got together several more times throughout that trip.
An Invitation to the Palace
The Duchess invited them to come to the palace for lunch to meet her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and to attend her oldest daughter Beatrice’s 18th birthday. While they were in London, she hired someone to take them around on a private tour of the city.
They had planned what to wear when they went to the palace, but on the day of the visit, the Duchess called and said, “It’s family day! Wear your blue jeans.” So they wore their blue jeans to the palace. They talked with Prince Andrew and had a fun, relaxed time with the Duchess and her daughters.
They attended Beatrice’s 18th birthday party, which was 1800s-themed. The Duchess sent someone to do the girls’ hair, and they dressed up in elaborate outfits. As Sethea walked up the stairs of the palace in her gown, she wished her mother would have been alive to witness that moment.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” Sethea said.
The Duchess Visits Illinois
Ken arranged for the Duchess to have a year-long position as the Global Spokesperson for World Children’s Day with Ronald McDonald House Charities. During that time, he traveled to more than 20 different countries with her.
The Duchess came to speak at a big McDonald’s dinner at the headquarters. While she was onstage, she said she wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for that pretty lady—how she likes to refer to Sethea—who brought her a note on a plane.
“It’s all because of her,” the Duchess said.
While she was in Illinois, the Duchess had dinner at the Baruns’ house, and Ken and Sethea also took her out to eat at their favorite French restaurant—the same place where Ken had accepted Christ.
The Duchess’ younger daughter, Eugenie, went shopping with Shanté, Shanel, and Shelsea. Eugenie had security with her, but she still thought it was the coolest because she could be out and about without people realizing who she was. Shanté had recently gotten a tiny poodle, and Eugenie was holding it. People would come up and ask if they could pet the dog, and she would say, “No, it bites!” She thought it was so funny to tell people the dog bit and see their reactions, especially because they had no idea who she was.
Ken and Sethea remain good friends with the Duchess of York, and they still stay in contact. This is just one of many incredible friendships the Baruns have built throughout the years. They never could have planned or predicted the kinds of opportunities God would bring their way.
“It’s amazing how God works,” Sethea said. “It has been pretty crazy.”