By RICK MILLS
FAMILY REUNION: Cousins Joe Gaudet, left, and Willie Burger had never known each other when they met in Tulsa. In the middle is Joe’s wife, Val, at a University of Tulsa EOOC tailgate party last fall.
GTR Newspapers photo
Cousins brought up on opposite ends of the country who didn’t even know the other existed ended up talking on a doorstep in Middle America—on South Yale Avenue in Tulsa.
“My wife, Val, and I had moved to Tulsa in July 2000 and were having a heck of a time finding a house we liked to buy,” says Joe Gaudet, general manager of the Tulsa Marriott Southern Hills at 71st Street and Lewis Avenue.
“We were looking on a Sunday afternoon along South Yale when I spotted an open-house sign. The open house ended at 5 p.m. and it was exactly 5 p.m. I told Val to wait in the car while I ran up to see if they’d let us take a quick look,” says Gaudet.
He described the real estate agent, Willie Burger, as “a friendly guy” who told him to bring his wife in and look around.
“When I introduced myself, he told me Gaudet was his mother’s maiden name and asked me how I spelled my name. As we talked, we figured out that we’re first cousins. He told me his mother’s first name is Dorothy, and I knew I had an aunt with that name. Willie told me he was originally from Massachusetts and was born in the hospital at Lynn near Boston. So was I.”
While Gaudet was raised in the East, Burger’s parents moved to San Diego.
“I find it interesting that while we grew up in different parts of the country, our upbringing was similar and we’ve brought our families up in much the same manner,” Burger says.
“My family moved from Massachusetts in the 1950s when I was real young,” Burger says. “I think our grandfather had something like 66 grandchildren. I always felt at some point, I’d run into some relative of mine, even though before meeting Joe, I’d never run across anyone with the name Gaudet.”
Gaudet said his father and Burger’s mother, who were brother and sister, didn’t travel cross-county to visit and that communication was sparse.
“That was in the days before e-mail, and plane travel was very expensive,” he explains.
That’s changed with lower travel costs.
“I’ve been to San Diego to meet Willie’s brothers and sisters and his parents have been to Tulsa several times,” Gaudet says. “The first time I saw his mother, Dorothy, she told me she hadn’t seen me since I was four years old.”
Another twist to the chance meeting story is that Burger married a women who grew up in Tulsa.
“I met Shirley when she was living in San Diego. We moved to Tulsa in 1977 for me to go to work for her father, Alvin Dundee, who owned an oilfield supply company.
For the past eight years, the Burgers have sold real estate through McGraw Realtors.
The Gaudet/Burger chance meeting half a dozen years ago has turned into a two-family friendship, Gaudet says.
Unlike the two cousins, who were unaware of each other until well into their adult years, their children know their second cousins, each other’s parents’ children.
The Burgers have two; Rachel who graduated from the University of Kansas and is now an interior designer living in San Diego, and Phillip, a University of Oklahoma graduate now working for Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Ark.
The two Gaudet children are Henry, a Jenks High School soccer player, and Brennick, a middle school basketball player who is also a cross-country runner at Jenks.
“Willie and I hang out at sports events and particularly enjoy going to University of Tulsa football games and attending tailgate parties,” Gaudet says. “It’s a great experience for us, especially since Coach (Steve) Kragthorpe turned the team around. We’ve even bought season tickets for next year.”
Gaudet said the pair also enjoys attending Oral Roberts University and Oklahoma State University basketball games and University of Oklahoma football.
“Willie and I and our wives celebrate Thanksgiving together and go out to eat every now and then.
“I think our meeting the way we did is a folksy slice of Americana type of story.”