Florence Ayers, a Jackson, Pennsylvania bookkeeper who claimed the $93.4 million lump-sum cash prize from a $171.4 million Powerball jackpot, knows how to keep a secret.
Ayers, 69, was so tight-lipped for five weeks about the winning ticket that neighbors and her employer, Jack Basilon, were stunned Wednesday when the state Lottery announced she had won the second largest jackpot in Pennsylvania history. The drawing was Dec. 8.
Ayers abruptly quit work two weeks ago after 20 years on the job, which puzzled Basilon, owner of Basilon Inc., a chain of dry cleaners and tuxedo rental shops based in Mars.
"If I had $93 million, I guess I would not work here either," he said. "God bless her -- she's been a hard worker."
Ayers, her son, James Ayers, 41, of Mars, Pennsylvania, and her daughter, Sharon Kreindel, 48, of Beachwood, Ohio (near Cleveland), presented the ticket at the lottery's Middletown headquarters on Monday, but declined to participate in a lottery news conference or make any public statements.
The family chose to take the $93.4 million lump-sum payment, minus 25 percent for federal taxes. They established a trust with their lottery winnings.
Florence Ayers is a doting grandmother and a generally quiet and reserved woman, Basilon said.
"I never heard her say anything about gambling or the lottery," Basilon said at his dry-cleaning store and laundry on Zelienople's Main Street. "That must have been a one-time ticket."
The Dec. 8 Powerball jackpot would have been worth $171.4 million if paid as an annuity over 30 years. It was the 10th largest Powerball award ever. The record Powerball jackpot was $314.9 million in December 2002.
The winning ticket was bought Dec. 8 at Country Food Mart in New Castle, Pennsylvania. It was not clear which of the three bought the ticket, Lottery spokesman Steve Kniley said.
For more than a month, the jackpot has been an incessant conversation piece at the store.
"If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked about it, I might have more money than Florence," said Diane Fleeger, 45, a clerk at the store.
Fleeger said no one can remember selling the ticket. "Maybe we'd recognize her if we saw a picture."
As the seller of the winning ticket, store owner Russell DeMatteo receives $100,000. "It's great -- he is a good person and a good boss," Fleeger said.
DeMatteo has said he will use his winnings to take his four workers to Cancun, Mexico, next Christmas. Last month, they went to New Orleans with money the store received from a winning Cash 5 ticket in August.
Kniley said lottery winners may request privacy, but the state is required to release the winners' names and hometowns. Delaware and New Hampshire are the only two states where lottery winners may remain anonymous, he said. Editor: Some other states respect the winner's desire for privacy, even though it is not an official mandate to do so.
Despite yesterday's announcement, all was quiet on the narrow, twisting one-lane road in Jackson where Florence Ayers lives in a two-story Cape Cod home on a plot of about an acre. Only five homes are on the road, which is within earshot of Interstate 79.
"I had no idea, none at all," said Kathy Stern, who has lived directly across the road from Ayers for four years.
For the past month, however, Stern noticed a lot of activity at the house.
"There were a lot of cars coming in and out of there," Stern said. "I wondered if everything was OK with her."
This is Butler County's second Powerball jackpot winner in about 18 months. Scott and Marian Calligan, of Cranberry, won $73.6 million cash in a July 2003 drawing. They split a record $261.3 million jackpot with a Missouri couple.
Three winning Powerball tickets have been sold in Pennsylvania in the past seven months. Kristine and Steve White, of Skillman, N.J., won May 8, getting $110.2 million cash. Jim and Tom Hare, of the Philadelphia area, won $26.9 million in the May 29 drawing.