Under the trees of Bethesda Place, a wedding took place Wednesday evening.
The bride was from South Korea, and the groom from China. They had met as students at Fort Hays State University and began dating two years ago. Surrounded by friends and many who have become as close as family, Quingchun (Kingsen) Zhao and Seonjin Na tied the knot of marriage.
It was an evening turned perfect in the sense that the chance of rain had stayed away and an overcast sky made for comfortable weather. Everything leading up to and during worked out as the bride and groom had hoped.
It had been a three-month engagement after Kingsen proposed in FHSU’s Memorial Union, where they had met for the first time.
“I was really a mess,” Seonjin said with a laugh as she prepared to enter the reception following a short photo session. “I was nervous actually. It turned out well.”
Introduced by Jarod and Amanda Tippy — who run Bethesda Place, a farm 2 miles west of Hays — the newlyweds both lived with the Tippys at different times in the last seven years. The Tippys have a home in Hays where they host international students. Seonjin was one of their first to live with the couple that have two children, Jude and Lucy. Jude was 3 when Seonjin moved in, and Lucy was nearly 2. She lived with the family for seven years.
“Pretty emotional,” Jarod Tippy said of event. “We’re extremely excited.”
On Wednesday, the Tippy children — both part of the wedding party as a groomsman and bridesmaid — read 1 Corinthians 13. Jude read in Mandarin, and Lucy in Korean.
“It’s a beautiful thing when we get to hear two languages when God brings them together,” Pastor Russell Kirkpatrick told the wedding audience after the readings.
Kingsen, who came to Fort Hays from Kaifeng in the China province of Henan, lived with the Tippys in the summer of 2011, remaining close to the family since. Now, an enlisted member of the U.S. Army for two years, he is stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. He wore his full dark blue Army uniform.
Following the wedding, the couple was to drive to Denver today and fly to Anchorage. Kingsen is to be stationed there for two and a half years. His plan is to become a U.S. citizen.
“It was good,” he said after the ceremony. “It went by so quick.”
While neither of their families in China or Korea could attend, they were surrounded by loved ones they’ve met since moving to Kansas. The wedding was full of guests from other countries.
One of Seonjin’s bridesmaids, Bianca Okinda, is from Kenya. The couple’s friend Moises De Lima, who sang during the tying of the unity knot, is from Brazil. Even Narine Barnett, who has been Seonjin’s mother in the United States, added to the international feel of the evening, being from England.
Narine and her husband, Larry Barnett, live at Webster Lake, west of Stockton. They were Seonjin’s host parents when she was a foreign exchange student at Stockton her junior year of high school. She graduated from Thomas More Prep-Marian a year later.
“I’m very happy and sad,” Narine Barnett said. “She’s been in our lives for nine years, so we’ve known her since she was a teenager. We’ve watched her grow into a beautiful woman. I’m so glad she got together with Kingsen because he can take care of her very well.”
The Barnetts remained close with Seonjin, as she would always have a place to stay at their home on weekends and would go on vacation with them. Larry Barnett is a hydraulic facilities superintendent at Webster Dam.
“Pretty emotional,” Larry said of the evening. “The wedding makes me happy, but tomorrow she’s going to be gone. We’ve known her for a long time.”
As the wedding concluded, the guests filed into the Giving Garden — a garden started by Shelley Stafford, who along with her husband, Tom, opened Bethesda Place in 1979. The Staffords have remained close to Kingsen and Seonjin. As part of the wedding party, the Staffords were Kingsen’s American parents.
Waiting for their turn to enter the reception, Kingsen and Seonjin stood under the trees where the wedding had taken place. They spoke to a few friends and well-wishers. Jarod Tippy told them whenever they were ready, they could join the reception. The couple took in the emotion one more time and headed toward the garden.
“Fantastic,” Kingsen said of everything that had taken place.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jarod and Amanda Tippy's son was misidentified in the original version of the story. The Hays Daily News apologizes for the error.