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Burger Queen? : Contest May Mean Million to Homeless Woman

Times Staff Writer

When Gaye Duron stopped at McDonald’s for a hot fudge sundae on the way home from church last month, the last thing on her mind was the possibility that she might become a millionaire.

The 42-year-old Santa Ana native had been living in a women’s shelter at the Christian Outreach Mission in Santa Ana and supported herself with the quarters and dimes she panhandled from strangers.

On her way out of the fast food restaurant, however, Duron saw an advertisement for a sweepstakes celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary and stopped to pick up an entry card.

‘Too Much to Hope for’

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When she discovered the number on the card matched the one on the store’s display, she panhandled enough money to return her winning entry by registered mail. Sunday morning, she discovered she is among 30 Southern California residents who will compete in a drawing Saturday for one million dollars.

“I scraped off the little thing and it matched, but I didn’t think anything of it,” Duron said. “I thought I was going to win a hamburger. It’s still too much to hope for to win a million dollars.”

Duron, who receives no support from her ex-husband and has lived out of the back of a friend’s Pinto, at “every garage, every vacant apartment” she could find, scribbled a friend’s address on the back of her lucky entry. Even so, McDonald’s representatives sent three telegrams and called several times before Duron’s friend, Josie (Baby) Villa, could track her down.

“I keep her pretty well posted about where we are,” Duron said. “Then the lady from McDonald’s started calling. Baby finally cornered me at Kong’s Market on 4th and Lacy, buying some half-and-half. She sat and blocked my car and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere except back to my house.’ ”

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As one of the 30 finalists in the contest, Duron is assured of winning 30 shares of McDonald’s stock, valued at just over $2,000, according to a company spokesperson. If she does win the grand prize --$33,333 a year for 30 years--Duron would like to buy the house she said she has dreamed of ever since she lost hers to foreclosure in 1984, and to be reunited with her 14-year-old-daughter, who she said has been living in a juvenile home in Orange County. She has a few other wishes as well.

‘52 Chevy Would Be Nice

“If I had a million dollars and a place to live, I’d be out in the garden. I like herbs and I love to cook,” she said. “I also saw a ’52 Chevy that was a convertible the other day, and I’d like to have that.”

A McDonald’s spokesperson said the company printed about 26 million entry cards, many of which qualified as “instant winners,” redeemable for various food items at McDonald’s restaurants before the May 20 deadline. Of that number, 1,680 matched official “winning numbers” that had been selected by a computer.

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Duron’s name and the names of the other 29 finalists--three from Orange County--were chosen in a random drawing from winning entries that were mailed back to McDonald’s. They will be guests of McDonald’s Saturday at a special 30th-anniversary celebration to be televised live from the company’s facility in Industry Hills. There they will find out which one of them will go home one million dollars richer.

Twenty-nine McDonald’s franchises in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties and the cities of Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, Mojave and Ridgecrest participated in the sweepstakes.


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