For any other brother and sister it would have seemed like an ordinary day. Meeting for breakfast at the Copper Corner to catch up on each other‘s lives, family, friends, etc.
But for Kathi George of Basin and Joe Kortenkamp from Rockford, Ill., it was anything but ordinary. The two met face-to-face for the first time on Monday, May 28, and Tuesday’s, May 29, breakfast was the first ever shared.
Kathi didn’t know she had a brother until five years ago, when her father James Gordon (he changed his name years ago) took her aside and told her about Joe.
“I thought the man who had raised me since I was 3 was my dad. I finally asked him (when she was 12) why my last name was different and he told me it was because he wasn’t my dad,” Kathi said.
Kathi said she was very close to her mother and close to her stepfather also, and she said “I had a good childhood until I got rebellious.
“My mother told me, ‘I can tell you your dad’s name and you can look for him if you want, but you won’t be happy with what you find.’”
When she was 17 years old, Kathi did look her father up, met him and found out, “Mother was right, it did not go well. I guess I was resentful, vindictive because he was never there. I did a number on him. I did the same thing all three times I saw him. It finally dawned on me that I was immature and that I needed to grow up. I realized that it couldn’t be all his fault.”
It wasn’t until 19 years ago that daughter and father began to bond. “My mother told him he needed to get back in my life and stay there,” Kathi explained. (This was just a few months before her mother was killed in a car accident.)
“Five years ago, my dad told me about Joe and my half-sister, Tina Mixon.”
Kathi went to FaceBook and found two Joe Kortenkamps. “One Joe was too young so I contacted (my) Joe and told him I thought I was his sister. He said he didn’t have a sister. But his FaceBook page was open and there was a picture of his mother, dad and him. I told him the man was my dad.”
The two began FaceBooking, as did Kathi and Tina when they “found” each other. Now they FaceBook, FaceTime and text each other all the time.
Kathi is anxiously waiting to get to know Tina on a personal level – not just through social media. “I think we have a pretty strong bond. That will be determined once we meet, but I think it will go good,” Kathi said.
This is Joe’s story:
“My mom and dad divorced when I was about 3 years old,” he said. He did not see or hear from his father, or have any contact with him. “I thought he was probably dead.”
Then out of the blue he got a letter from his long-lost father, informing him not only of half-sister Kathi but also of another unknown sister Tina. “I was a little shocked, bewildered. I didn’t know how to react,” Joe said.
There was an added shock when Joe discovered that Tina had grown up in Rockford, the two had attended the same high school, and Tina lived just 10 houses away from him.
Joe and his father didn’t bond right away. There was resentment there also. “There were plenty of times when I was growing up that I needed a dad’s influence. I wasn’t mature,” Joe said. He admitted that he did not answer his father’s letter.
Then he got “Facebooked” by Kathi and discovered “I had a bigger family than I thought,” Joe continued.
When Joe (and his fiancé) drove up to Kathi’s, Joe got out of the car, went to the gate, said, “Hi, sis,” and Kathy stepped up and gave him a big hug.
There was very little awkwardness, which is unusual considering it was the first time they “physically” met. The siblings talked some about their early years and their lives in general but didn’t get deep into it. And, of course, many, many pictures were shared.
They discovered they like the same kind of music, both like to dance and both enjoy just sitting and talking.
It was a short visit, but they enjoyed spending Monday in Cody exploring all it has to offer and Tuesday touring in Yellowstone Park before Joe and his fiancé left Wednesday.
Joe said he definitely saw some family resemblances.
Hopefully, the siblings — Joe, Kathi and Tina, assorted children and grandchildren (Joe has two daughters, a son and one grandchild; Tina has a daughter and a grandchild; Kathi has six grown children, husband Ric has three grown children and are proud grandparents of five) — can all get together in Arizona with their father next year.
Kathi talked to her dad after her reunion with Joe. “He asked me how our reunion went. I told him fantastic, that I really liked him and he was really happy about that.
“Dad was pretty torn up about not having us in his life. Now he is just happy that we are all there now. He needs to be there if we can all get together next year.”
By Marlys Good