EDMOND, Okla. (KFOR) – They still can’t believe it.
“This was such a surprise,” gushes Kim Gutowsky-Vanderwal.
She and her first cousin, Tanis Roelofs, visit a small memorial every time family is in town.
“This is what started it,” she points out.
A monument in Edmond’s Mitch Park tells the story of how Assaph ‘Ace’ Gutowsky braved fortune and ridicule as an oil field wildcatter to bring in the West Edmond Field, one of the largest in Oklahoma history.
“That was his big discovery,” Kim continues.
Surprisingly, it was a family story they’d never heard until a few years ago.
They both recall thinking, “Holy Moly! Who was this guy?”
‘Ace’ was a farmer turned oil man who arrived at the Port of Baltimore from Ukraine in 1902.
“With 2 brothers and 3 cents in his pocket,” adds Kim.
“And 16 years old,” says Cousin Tanis.
He eventually moved to Oklahoma and got married. Assaph and Augusta had four children, but he was a digger of mostly dry holes until 1943 when his ship came in.
According to Kim’s research, she says, “They kept telling him he was crazy.”
The West Edmond Field produced hundreds of millions of barrels of crude oil in wartime.
Tanis says, “He donated much of that oil to the allies (11% according to articles).”
After hitting it big, Gutowsky started a drilling company with his sons and moved into swank offices at the First National Center in Oklahoma City.
But the good times were relatively short lived. A farming venture in south Texas didn’t go well and the money went dry. Ace passed away without a will in 1951.
His children didn’t get to inherit the kind of wealth they thought they might so the family stories dried up too.
“It was never discussed,” says Kim. “It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because they lost all that money, a hundred million dollars.”
Over the past few years, Kim especially has made up for lost time in terms of that family lore. She researched both Ace Senior and Ace Junior. Her father, Leroy, won an NFL championship as an All-Star fullback and linebacker for the Detroit Lions.
“He was a home town hero,” she gushes.
Both Kim and Tanis insist their family story includes all the ingredients for a good TV series, movie, or book.
One Ukrainian’s tenacity produced a gusher in his generation. Another produced many yards on the gridiron.
This generation is just as determined to stick with their story and hoping for the same kind of success.
“That’s why we’re on this mission,” Kim states, “to share this with the world.”
Tanis adds, “and to tell the story.”