Sylvia

Jada Duke, Corbyn and Sabrina Archey, and Kevin Duke. The dent in the door below the mirror of the Ford Fusion 'Sylvia' was made by Archey's daughter, Jensyn ,while learning to ride her bike.

GREENUP, Ky. — A heartfelt letter drafted in the wake of a family tragedy has given an Eastern Kentucky woman an unplanned friendship and a surprise practically made for TV.

Sabrina Archey of Greenup was at work one February night in 2015 when her family home burned. The fire claimed the lives of her mother, her aunt and Archey’s young daughter, Jensyn.

Following the fire, Archey was forced to overcome her grief and deal with the arrangements and the expense of the funerals.

A supportive community held fundraisers and took up donations to help Archey deal with her loved ones’ final expenses, but there were many things the donations could not cover.

Left homeless, Archey still had to support and care for her surviving daughter, Corbyn, who had been staying with her father the night of the fire.

There was little left of Archey’s former life, her mother’s car purchased the previous year — named “Sylvia” — and a backpack Jensyn had left in it. Archey tried to come to an arrangement with the company that financed the car, and she said they tried to work with her, but in the end there was no way for her to refinance it.

So Archey made arrangements for the silver Ford Fusion to be picked up, and went through it one last time to see if she had missed anything. When she did, she noticed a faint imprint of a child’s shoe (where Jensyn had always sat) on the dashboard. The tiny footprint brought a flood of memories, and tears, that she had been trying to hold back.

‘Sylvia’

“Sylvia” had taken the family on road trips, school trips, to get haircuts and had been part of every facet of their lives. Now, Archey realized, this part of her life was being lost.

As she sat in “Sylvia” for the last time, looking at the footprint, she decided to write a letter to the new owner of the car.

Archey’s letter told the reader about memories, and how things slip through people’s fingers and are gone before they realize it. She asked the new owner to take care of the car and treat it well.

When she was finished Archey sealed the letter in an envelope labeled “New Car Owner. Important Info Inside,” then slipped it into the compartment on top of the dashboard and reluctantly let “Sylvia” go.

In January, Kevin Duke of Flatwoods, Kentucky, — about 15 minutes from Greenup — was looking for a car for his daughter, Jada, who would be turning 16 in March.

Duke was on a construction job when the customer mentioned a car she had seen to him.

“She told me that she had seen a car that would be a perfect starter car for my daughter,” Duke said.

A few days later, he went and looked the car over and took it for a test drive.

Sylvia’s new owner

“The brakes squeaked a little bit, but it was a good car,” Duke said. He made an offer and ended up buying it. 

Duke took the silver Ford Fusion home and cleaned it up and did some brake work and other maintenance.

It was when Duke was cleaning and checking for what he said was the fifth or sixth time, that he opened the dash-top compartment to make sure it was clean.

“I know I opened it half a dozen times before,” Duke said. “But this time I noticed that the cover on the bottom was removable. I thought it might be dirty so I popped the cover loose; and when I did I saw the corner of the envelope.”

Duke said he never made it out of the car before he opened the envelope.

“I sat right there and read it, and bawled like a baby.”

The letter had been signed, and Duke decided he would look for the person who had written it to let them know that the car was in good hands.

The search

He searched Facebook and Duke asked Archey if he could post the letter that had so impressed him.

Reluctantly, Archey agreed. The post about the letter quickly garnered quite a few likes and comments until someone — whom, neither Archey or Duke know — shared it on a Facebook Page called ‘Love What Matters.’

Exposure on the site yielded more likes and comments from across the country and the world, with a large number of supporters from as far away as Australia.

Duke said his intent was just to share a story that others might find interesting, but soon several people started suggesting they crowdfund to raise the money to return “Sylvia” to Archey and get Jada another car.

“I didn’t want to make any money from it,” Duke said. “If I could have afforded to replace the car, then I would have just given it to her.”

Fortunately, Duke was not out the purchase price of “Sylvia” and the expense of a second car as well.

He and Archey went through the comments and enlisted help to set up crowdfunding.

The pair was eventually contacted by Fly on the Wall Productions — a production company that provides content for television stations and their entire story can be seen as part of the TLC series “This Is Life Live.”

“Sylvia” is well on her way to being returned to Archey’s family and Jada Duke now has her own silver Ford Fusion a few years newer, fittingly named “Sylvia 2.”

More importantly, something good has come of tragedy. Both the Dukes and Archey and her daughter, Corbyn, have gained friends that feel like family.

Romans writes for the Ashland, Kentucky Daily Independent.