Can winning nearly a million dollars in the lottery be a bad thing? Strangely, for Donald and Danette Sigmon the answer is apparently, "yes."
On July 26, Donald won $800,000 in the Powerball Lottery after accurately choosing five winning numbers. The Sigmons went to Raleigh to claim their prize. Ever since, they have worried over the fact that playing the lottery might have shamed them.
They say they have been shunned and ridiculed — and aren't entirely proud of having played. They're so uncomfortable that Donald has written an open letter to the community about the morality of winning the North Carolina Educational Lottery.
The Sigmons, members of a local Baptist church, were apprehensive at first. She's the child of a Baptist minister, and he is a Baptist after a childhood as a Catholic.
Donald says he had bought the Powerball ticket on a whim. He'd been dealing with the death of his mother earlier this year and said he had some numbers in mind, numbers he chose for personal reasons. He bought the PowerPlay option, which would multiply his winnings by four.
Then he and Danette went to the Outer Banks for a vacation. Only after they returned did they discover that Donald held a ticket worth $200,000. With the multiplier, he had $800,000.
"I didn't think he'd won because he didn't match the last number" or the Powerball number, Danette said.
Although he hadn't hit the jackpot, he had won.
And in the ensuing five weeks, they say, they've been strained by the way some people treat them differently.
"I have learned many things about the beliefs people have towards playing and winning the lottery," Donald wrote. "Is it right or wrong to play the lottery if you are a Christian or attend church? If you feel in your heart that the right thing to do, when winning the lottery, is to tithe the 10 percent of the winnings to a charity or church ... will the church accept it?" he asks.
They gave money to charity and to their church, but the church returned it.
"We understand why the money was returned; we just do not understand the criticism and shunning of our fellow Christian brothers and sisters," Donald wrote.
I "did not intend to win," he said. "But I did. Since that time, my family and I have been congratulated and ridiculed at the same time. The people in our community who know (us) were happy for us because they know how much it will help us financially, now and in the future. On the other hand, the people who should know my family best have ridiculed and shunned us due to this."
Danette, a part-time school bus driver, said the ride to Raleigh to claim their winnings "was the longest ride I've ever taken." After they made it through the maze of paperwork, they were given a check and looked for the first branch they could find of their bank.
That branch was too busy, they were told, as they wanted to deal directly with a banker. So they asked directions to the next branch. There, they were ushered in but greeted with wariness.
"She said they get lots of fake lottery checks," Danette said. "She said she'd never had a winning check come in."
After collecting, they came home and avoided publicity. But still, the state had announced their winnings, so it was in the paper.
Danette says she was unsettled from the get-go.
"I worried, 'What will my preacher think?' she recalls. "Will I be shunned?"
She said she's never played the lottery herself, and she has words of advice for those who do. When buying a ticket, think hard about it: "You don't think, 'What if I win?'" she said.
Donald, who works for Gilbert Engineering installing utilities, said "some people were for us; some were against us," when word got out about the money.
And what did they do with the winnings? They say they paid the taxes, which were substantial; paid off the mortgage on their West Iredell home; shared some with family; invested some for the children's college; and gave some away.
"We've done good things with this money," Danette said, but winning has been "good and bad."
"It changes your life," she said. "I'm so glad he didn't win the big one" worth tens of millions of dollars, she added.
Because they'd been on the financial brink, they appreciate having money in the bank. But still, they feel they are subject to stares in places they should be treated as friends.
Much of the reaction "has broken my heart," Danette said. "But what are we going to do, sit on this pile of money" and do nothing?
They both intend to continue working, because the amount they won isn't enough to get silly about.
So are they happy?
"I could be," Danette said with a laugh. But she would appreciate being able to let the worry go so she could sleep.
What? A lottery winner losing sleep worrying?
"This has not made us happy," they both said, because winning means "you're struggling with right and wrong."
"I'm happy we are able to pay things off, help our family and help charity," she said.
"But we want it to end," he interjected.
But will their acquaintances forgive them for gambling? Danette thinks many will but said: "I'm not going to beg them."
"You would have to be a strong person to not want that money," she said, sitting at her kitchen table with Donald, but "I don't know if it's a curse or a blessing."