Aug. 14, 2013 – The nine women and seven men who on Monday claimed their share of last week’s $448 million Powerball jackpot are “a happy bunch,” despite hardships, tragedy, and even catastrophe over the past year.
Six of the winners were directly affected by superstorm Sandy in October. One of them, Darlene Riccio, lived with her brother before renting a storefront apartment after her home was destroyed by Sandy.
Riccio said the first thing she planned on doing was buying a new home for herself and her daughter, “and bring my dog back home,” she added.
Sue Nickel, the first of the group to come forward before their press conference Tuesday, also said she’d be using some of her winnings to repair damage from Sandy. Her biggest plan, however, was telling her husband to retire.
“He’s not old, but he’s worked a long time,” Nickel said. She told ABC that she’d keep working toward her pension, another year or so.
In fact, only one of the group admitted that he was planning to retire on his share of the prize – each member of “Ocean’s 16” can expect about $3.8 million.
Joseph R. Odoardo raised his hand when a reporter asked if anyone planned to retire, saying “after 34 years and almost retiring last year, then this happens,” he almost had no choice but to retire.
The other 15, co-workers at the Ocean County municipal government’s vehicle maintenance office in Tom’s River, had no plans to retire, and in fact showed up for work the day they found out they’d won.
Lisa Presutto, who bought the group’s tickets last Wednesday night at an Acme supermarket, said she saw they’d won while she was getting ready to leave for work.
Presutto text-messaged a picture of the ticket to another member of the group. The response confirmed what Presutto was feeling: “OMFG” – and then she left for work.
The big win made perfect sense for one member of the group, Barbara Jo Riivald. Though she forgot in the emotional dizzy after hearing she’d won, her sister told her the big win was “Dad smiling down on you.”
He was, after all, the reason New Jersey ever got a lottery.
Riivald’s father was the late Senator John F. Brown, who sponsored the bill that created the New Jersey Lottery
She told reporters, “he was my guardian angel even when he was still here,” and though she couldn’t call him to tell him the big news, she said Tuesday that winning “my father’s lottery” was “a real special moment.”
Willie Seeley, who has had his own news buzz since Tuesday’s press conference, told Matt Lauer this morning on “Today” that he also shared a special moment with his father, who is battling cancer.
“We lost Ma to cancer a couple years ago, and Pop just started his second round of chemo and radiation yesterday,” Seeley said. “I just told him: you don’t have to worry about nothin’ financially except getting healthy and beating cancer.”
Seeley, who many have compared to Phil Robertson from the A&E television series “Duck Dynasty”, stole the show at Tuesday’s press conference in a “Duck Dynasty” T-shirt, sunglasses, and a straw hat covered in fishing lures and pins.
He told reporters that, despite recent hard times for so many members of “Ocean’s 16,” they were “happy, happy, happy,” to quote the “Duck Dynasty” family.
Seeley said he planned to keep watching NASCAR on Sundays and hoped to get away to “my log cabin on multiple acres of land,” drawing laughter from the crowd Tuesday.
This morning when Matt Lauer asked if he could keep his feet firmly planted on the ground, Seeley’s wife Donna replied “he’s Willie, he’s gonna stay Willie.”
Not all of the new millionaires chose to share their story at the press conference Tuesday, but co-workers described the whole group as deserving of the big prize.
Christopher Fatovich, a diesel mechanic at the County’s Manahawkin vehicle maintenance office, told the Asbury Park Press that they are all “wonderful, wonderful people.”
While coworkers in Tom’s River no doubt feel the same of the lucky bunch, they’re also relieved that the group isn’t leaving them high and dry now that they’re all much more wealthy – one news source estimated their average salary to be somewhere in the mid-$30,000’s.
Jim Pine, director of the County’s vehicle maintenance department, told reporters last week that the group “knew they won the lottery and they were here. That tells you a lot about who they are…they are outstanding people.”