Ray VanWichen, 78, of Choteau, a retired fuel truck driver and parts man for New Holland farm machinery, won $150,000 (pre-tax) in the Montana Lottery’s Powerball game on Feb. 15
VanWichen told the Acantha on Feb. 21 that he had made the trip to Helena with one of his grandsons, Kalen Lightner, to collect his winnings, once the state had deducted state and federal income taxes.
“I’m too old to get too excited,” he said, but added he was happy with the win. His daughter, Amy Lightner, in Choteau helped him notify his other kids, daughter Heidi in Washington and son Ward in Malta. “I don’t text,” he said.
For probably the past three years, VanWichen said, he has bought two tickets at Rex’s Market for every Powerball drawing, using the quick pick rather than having special numbers of his own. The tickets each cost $2 and then he adds a “power play” for $1 extra. The power play multiplies any winnings by three times.
He said it’s an enjoyable way to see if he can win something. The day after the drawings, he always goes back to Rex’s where there’s a scanner that scans in the ticket number and tells you how much, if anything, you’ve won. The machine, Ray says, will tell you if your ticket has won up to $799 and you can collect your winnings at the grocery store.
But, if the amount you’ve won is $800 or more, the scanner just says you are a winner and you have to go to the Montana Lottery office in Helena to verify your ticket number and identification and find out how much you’ve won.
Ray bought his usual two tickets at Rex’s on Feb. 15 and came back to the store on Sunday, Feb. 16, to check. The scanner told him to go to Helena. He couldn’t go on Monday, Feb. 17, because it was Presidents’ Day and the Montana Lottery office was closed. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, Kalen drove him to Helena and he redeemed his winnings with a smile on his face. The Montana Lottery transferred the funds to his bank account.
Ray got the correct numbers on four white balls and had the power play in effect to multiply his winnings.
Ray grew up in Choteau, going to elementary and high school here. He and his late wife, Suzie, raised their three children here, and enjoyed following their sports and musical school activities. Ray worked for many years as the parts man at the New Holland farm equipment dealership in Choteau (in the building where The Edge Salon and the East Side Fitness gym are).
After the New Holland dealership closed, he went to work for Breen Oil and Tire Co., driving a fuel truck and retired about eight years ago.
He said he plans to use his net winnings for retirement expenses. “I’m not going to get wild with it,” he said, adding, “I’m just a plain person.”
He said he might use some of the money to travel as long as he stays healthy.
The Montana Lottery has awarded $571,596 in prizes since Feb. 13, an average of more than $43,000 a day, according to the Lottery office. Recent large prizes, in addition to VanWichen’s, are $590,000 to Nicole Brunner of Eureka on Feb. 15 playing Lucky for Life and $9,247 to Douglas Schoessler of Billings on Feb. 13 playing Big Sky Bonus.
The Montana Lottery was created by referendum in 1986. Since then, it has paid more than $590 million in prizes and returned approximately $259 million to the state treasury.