Kevin Goodman and Anton Pulung: Magical turn of events

A Bible inspired a fateful meeting at Disney World. Is it any wonder it's called the Magic Kingdom?

The year Disney World opened, 5-year-old Kevin Goodman visited the Magic Kingdom for the first time. That was 1971 and he has vacationed there at least once a year ever since.

He really does love the place.

For about 30 years Kevin, his mother and his grandmother would drive from their home in New Orleans to spend Thanksgiving there. It was a family tradition.

Today, Kevin's apartment is filled with Mickey Mouse stuff and Disney art. A model of Epcot's Spaceship Earth Pavilion sits on the floor near the fireplace. You get the idea.

"Some people think I'm crazy, and maybe I am, but in a good way," he says.

Want to take a wild guess on the destination Kevin suggested for a road trip when he and his co-workers finished a big project back in 2000? (He was a New Orleans TV producer at the time.)

"Three of them had never been to Disney World. So, off we go!

"We were there for 10 days. I could live there," he says.

During the trip — on Oct. 27, to be precise — his three friends wanted to visit the nearby Universal Studios, but Kevin took a pass.

He had been there earlier in the year and, anyhow, he had some prep work to do for the course he was teaching for the Episcopal Church, where he was deeply engaged in programs and fundraising. It was around 10:30 in the morning, and he found an empty table at a coffee shop in downtown Disney, where he spread out his course materials, including a Bible.

At this point in his life, romance was the last thing on Kevin's mind. "I had been in a pretty horrible relationship that had broken up two years (earlier) and I was still trying to recover from that. I wasn't looking for anybody. I was pretty much done."

But then along came Anton Pulung.

"Anton walked up and said, 'Are you reading the Bible?'" That led to a lengthy conversation about the book of Genesis. "I love talking about religion," says Anton, who grew up a Christian in mostly Muslim Indonesia.

"I just looked at Kevin and thought, 'Oh my! This is my soul mate,'" he recalls.

Kevin thought the same thing. "For me it was love at first sight."

From that first meeting in the coffee shop at Disney World — 11 years plus — there has not been a day when Anton and Kevin have not talked. Not one.

That first encounter came on Anton's day off from his job as a foreign cultural representative at the Asia section of Disney World's Animal Kingdom.

They met for dinner the next night and then Kevin had to return to his job in New Orleans. So then they were on the phone every night for hours.

"He loved God and he loved Disney. I was, like, wow!" Kevin says.

"There was something beautiful about not being together and talking on the phone every night because you had conversations and I feel I got to know him on a very intimate level without being intimate," says Kevin.

Soon they were shuttling every two weekends between Florida, where Anton lived, and Kevin's place in New Orleans.

Anton's mother and father died within weeks of each other when he was only 8, but Kevin's mom, Margaret Goodman, and his grandmother, Margaret Landry, quickly became Anton's family.

"I think she (Kevin's mother) loved me the first time" they met, says Anton, 41.

"My grandmother loved him more," pipes up Kevin, 46.

When Kevin began studying to become a priest in 2001 at New York City's General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, Anton came along as his partner.

While Anton attended English language classes at Hunter College, Kevin worked at a church in Greenwich Village heading an outreach program for homeless gay teens and those living with HIV/AIDS.

When he graduated from the seminary in 2004, Kevin said he couldn't return to Louisiana and be ordained as a priest. In a backlash after the 2003 election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, the church there and elsewhere had become more conservative.

"It's a little different in Chicago," an Episcopal priest friend told him. "Come to Chicago and see what happens."

"Anton and I literally put our stuff in storage in New Jersey, got an air mattress and all our plants" and headed for Chicago "not knowing what was next."

They're still here.

Now Kevin is associate dean at Chicago's St. James Cathedral. Anton got a culinary degree and is a chef at King Home, a Presbyterian retirement community in Evanston, and a pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

On Oct. 27 — the 11th anniversary of their meeting at the coffee shop at Disney World — they were married in Vermont. Six months later, this past April, their union was solemnized by Chicago Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey Lee. Almost 350 of their friends and family from across the country helped celebrate at a reception after the religious service.

In addition to all the Disney adornments in the Lakeview apartment they share, there are nine crosses on the wall above the TV. God and Disney are well represented.

Their small kitchen is piled high with Anton's baking pans and cooking paraphernalia. "I make a lot of poundcake," says Anton. "Kevin loves poundcake."

"I am a very blessed man," says Kevin. "Every day I thank God. I don't know what I did to deserve such a good person."

ewarren@tribune.com

Love lesson: "God will provide," says Kevin. "I met Anton when I thought I would never be in a relationship again ... When we least expect it, God is helping us love deeper than we can ever imagine."

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