My old classmate and baseball teammate won $3 million in a state lottery, and he'll tell you the aftermath wasn't all fun.
It happened in 2009 in Indiana, where he lives. At our grade-school reunion last month in Ohio, he told me that he had turned down a recent request to tape a commercial for the Indiana lottery. Why?
“To be honest with you,” Paul said, “I felt like the fewer people who knew about me, the better off I'd be.”
He learned that from hard experience. Three years ago, he claimed his prize and was presented with an outsize cardboard check on TV. When prompted, he said into the camera: “You can't win if you don't play.”
Now, as the national Powerball lottery escalated to more than a half-billion dollar payoff, I asked him Wednesday for his perspective on being a lottery winner.
“What happens,” Paul told me, “is that everybody in the world wants your money. I came home in the evening and my storm door was lined all up and down with business cards. One woman, who I didn't know, wrote to me that the Lord had told her I would help get her business started.
“Some people you really thought were your friends turn out not to be your friends. You loan them money, and the next thing you know, they don't pay you back or forget who you are.”
Paul Bloemker, 64, a carpenter, hadn't bought a Powerball lottery ticket when we spoke Wednesday but said he might do so later in the day. Millions of people across America were doing so.
Musing about what you would do if you won the lottery has dominated lots of lunchtime conversations. Would you quit your job? Stay in your marriage? Head for an island? Hide under a rock?
Before winning, Paul had played the Indiana Hoosier Lottery for 20 years, usually spending $10 a week.
He lives 45 miles west of Cincinnati in the burg of Moores Hill, Ind., population 597. That's three miles from Milan (pronounced My-lun), pop. 1,900, home of the 1954 high school basketball team featured in the movie “Hoosiers.”
Paul usually didn't check winning numbers right away. On the radio of his pickup one morning, he heard an announcer say that someone in the Milan area was happy — the winning lottery ticket was sold there.
“I went to work, and a couple of days later I heard that nobody had claimed the ticket yet. I stopped and got coffee and asked, 'Do you have the (winning) numbers from last Saturday?'”
It was still later that he finally checked — and saw that all five of his numbers matched. Did he let out a whoop? Jump and click his heels?
Paul isn't like that. He did call the lottery, and he was advised to sign the back of the ticket immediately so no one else could claim it was theirs if he misplaced it.
The divorced father of four and grandfather of seven didn't even tell his family. A niece saw him on TV and word spread.
Paul certainly isn't sorry he won.
“It's great,” he said. “I was able to do a lot for my children, paying off their debts, and I helped a few friends. A good thing is that I have no financial worries.”
Did he pay off his own debt?
“I was debt-free before that,” he said. “I've been very fortunate. I've always worked, and I've made good money. I've helped build everything — powerhouses, bridges, hospitals.”
As a kid, Paul was a bit of a prankster. In eighth grade, when our teacher (a nun who doubled as principal) stepped out, Paul pushed the hands of the classroom clock forward — later causing the dismissal bell for the entire school to ring 20 minutes early.
When the incensed principal asked who was responsible, a girl in the class pointed at Paul. The nun took him to each classroom in the school and whacked him with a paddle to discourage other children from ever considering such shenanigans.
“The idea had just popped into my head,” he recalled 50 years later. “I didn't think anybody would snitch on me. It was embarrassing to go around to every class and get paddled. I just wanted to get it over with.”
When you're a kid, time can move so slowly that it seems almost to stand still. The older you get, the faster things go — you'd like to slow the ticking of the clock, if not turn the hands back.
Alas, we can't reverse time and we can't un-ring a bell. We move forward, dealing with setbacks and enjoying the benefits of life. Maybe one day we'll win a lottery.
Some people stood in lines for hours Wednesday to buy tickets against incredibly long odds that they would win. My old classmate didn't criticize. “Everybody's got their own dreams, you know, Mike.”
For his own prize, Paul took a cash buyout, which amounted to $1.6 million, and then paid taxes. He has lived for years on 17 acres, which he calls “a gentleman's farm.” After being a gentleman and helping his kids, he bought himself a tractor.
“I'm proud to have the family I have,” he said. “I've had wonderful parents, great siblings, lots of good friends. My life is good. I was happy as I was, and I really didn't want the lottery to change my life. But you find out who your friends really are.”
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