VANCOUVER, B.C. — Ivan looks like a big friendly guy who wouldn't attract much attention. Except that he won $9.5 million with a Lotto Max ticket in March 2010.
When interviewed, he wore his trademark fleece vest over a plain black T-shirt, with sweatpants.
"I'm not changing for nobody," he says.
He's never flown first class. "I could, but why?" he asks.
As a new multimillionaire, Ivan gave two weeks' notice — and proceeded to work them — before quitting his job as a delivery driver.
He was now mega-rich and retired.
And it almost killed him.
Ivan's good fortune is no secret in his hometown of Abbotsford, British Columbia.
Any jackpot of more than a few million dollars makes a big splash in the news, and Ivan's $9.5 million share of a $19 million Lotto Max draw was no exception.
Media flocked to the B.C. Lottery Corporation news conference to celebrate his March 2010 win and took photos of a beaming Ivan, his arms spread wide to hold the giant cardboard check. He told reporters he had quit his job and ordered a new Dodge Ram, "candy-apple red with a few extras."
The cat was out of the bag. All of Abbotsford knew who had won the lottery.
"How many brand-new trucks are there out there that are inferno red?" he says now. Not only that: How many guys out there look like Ivan?
With his bushy white beard spilling over his chin, he has the kind of instantly recognizable face that people in the Fraser Valley city of 134,000 people could spot a mile away.
In no time, complete strangers began approaching him in the street, asking for help paying their debts. Others would simply ask, "Oh, why don't you give us some money?"
Two years later, the appeals for money come less frequently — every week rather than every day — but they haven't stopped.
Claiming a lottery win anonymously isn't an option, so winners such as Ivan have no opportunity to keep their jackpot a secret.
"One of the conditions of receiving the prize is consenting to the release of their name and photo," BCLC spokeswoman Kim Steinbart says.
"We publicize wins because we want to demonstrate that players do win prizes."
Winners must claim their checks in person. The media are typically notified when the winner arrives to pick up the check.
Ivan didn't know what he was in for. "If I would've known all the newspapers would be there, I would have never went."
Even now, with an unlisted phone number, the stream of requests never lets up.
"I get people I don't know mailing me letters," he said. "I used to get pictures from a nice house with flower beds out front in Mission. They asked if I could pay their mortgage off so they could live freely."
His estranged brother contacted him, asking for help paying off tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes. Ivan obliged. When he refused to give hundreds of thousands more to pay off the family's house, his brother's wife tore into him via Facebook, trashing him through mutual friends. It got so bad that Ivan deleted his Facebook account.
"If I gave everyone all the money they want, I'd be broke."
Ivan has not gone broke. With the help of his bank, he invested a little more than half his winnings and gave some to his common-law wife, with whom he still lives. He's also used his new-found wealth to indulge his passion for vintage cars. He owns, among others, a 1968 Oldsmobile 442, a 1933 Chevy Hot Rod and a 1926 Model T.
Ivan spends his days visiting with friends, enjoying his new cabin, tinkering with cars and taking the odd trip to a casino. He donates to the Make a Wish Foundation, fulfilling dreams for sick children. He says he's happy.
It nearly wasn't this way.
In the first year after depositing his $9.5 million check, Ivan put on about 170 pounds, topping out at a whopping 415 pounds. Diagnosed as diabetic and forced to use a scooter for mobility, Ivan was given an ultimatum by his doctor: Fly to Toronto for risky gastrointestinal surgery, or die.
Ivan freely admits he caused his own misfortune. Moving from a delivery driver's salary to that of a retired multimillionaire has its perks — especially ordering prime rib whenever the urge hit.
So he began eating out all the time.
When you're poor, you can't afford all that. Almost never," he explained.
Not that he didn't know about food. Ivan is a chef by trade, having trained in French cuisine at George Brown College in Toronto. He once cooked prime rib for former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa's parliamentary dining room.
But 12 months after his win, Ivan was sent for a laparoscopic adjustable gastric-band procedure, also known as "lap band," which uses a silicone band to squeeze off the upper part of the stomach. It reduces the stomach to roughly one-tenth its normal size, drastically limiting the amount of food that can be consumed in one sitting, and tricking the brain into thinking the stomach is full.
It's cruel irony for a multimillionaire who could afford to eat anything: All of Ivan's food must be weighed and his diet is now strictly controlled.
"I can't have any piece of meat bigger than the palm of your hand," he says, holding his palm flat. "No potatoes. No milk."
Ivan lost 85 pounds after his surgery, and although he still uses a scooter, he is finally able to get around normally.
The funny thing is, he says, there's little he would have changed since winning the lottery.
At the time of his win, Ivan was renting a small house. He and his wife now enjoy retirement in a Fraser Valley rancher worth $1.5 million.
He still buys a lottery ticket every day.