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First winner of big Illinois Lotto jackpot didn't let riches change him

After the Big WinAfter the Big Win: First winner of big Illinois Lotto jackpot didn't let riches change him
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Mike Wittkowski is no longer famous, and he's just fine with that.

In 1984, he was a 28-year-old North Side bachelor dreaming of hitting it big — just like everybody else — in a relatively new Illinois Lotto game that was building to a $40 million jackpot.

Unlike everybody else Sept. 1, he did win, picking the numbers 2-3-10-26-30-43 and pocketing what was at the time the single-largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

Flashback reader Bob Angone, of the South Loop, said he was at a wedding that Saturday and the "whole affair was put on hold" while the winning numbers were announced. Jim Michie, of Palatine, remembered the hype and asked about the winner. "I always wondered what happened to the man and how the prize affected him," Michie wrote.

Well, by all reports, the prize didn't change Wittkowski one little bit, which is exactly what his friend predicted. Mike Jarecki told the Tribune on Sept. 3, 1984, "He's not going to change much. I mean, he'll be wearing jeans and gym shoes a few months from now, but he'll have that $40 million in his pockets."

Wittkowski said last week that he survived the tumult and temptation because of his family. "The first couple of months were crazy. Insane," he said. "I was getting death threats and bomb threats. But I had all the support in the world," he said.

He shared the money with his father, brother and sister, successfully appealing to the Illinois Lottery Control Board that November to declare all four of them equal winners, which saved the family tons of dough in taxes versus Wittkowski collecting the money and gifting portions of it to them.

While he tried to go back to his $20,000-a-year printing job, it didn't in the end make much sense, and he retired. He married his fiancée and started a family. "(The lottery win) gave me freedom and made things a whole lot easier," he said.

One of the enduring elements of Wittkowski's story, something that helped cement his guy-next-door reputation that so many Chicagoans remembered, was a comment he made — he thinks he said it on that first crazy day — that he was going to buy a bowling alley with his newfound fortune.

"That was just an offhand comment," Wittkowski explained last week in setting the record straight. "It blew up into something. I never did buy a bowling alley."

The lottery checks stopped coming 10 years ago, and Wittkowski said the historic windfall never comes up in conversation anymore, and "that's the way I like it."

For Wittkowski, winning the lottery 30 years ago was "absolutely" the luckiest thing that ever happened to him, but it wasn't the best thing. "That's gotta be my kids — my three boys — and my wife," he said.

Chicago Tribune

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31 comments. Last comment 2 years ago by jerryb*49.
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Happy California
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Posted: December 27, 2014, 1:16 pm - IP Logged

Mike Wittkowski , I hope you win big again.    Death threats and bomb threats the first couple of months? There are crazy people out there.  I would love to go public for the sake of all the Lottery employees across the nation. But reading about the crazies makes me cautious.

 Good for him that he survived and thrived on the annuity payment plan. Mike shared with his family. 

Party

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    Wyomissing, PA
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    Posted: December 27, 2014, 1:32 pm - IP Logged

    While smallish jackpots, say under a million or so, tend to be of little issue to most winners, anything much larger presents huge risks, as the subject of the article experienced - even relatives and close friends can be threats.

    Thankfully, lotteries have taken note and are increasingly allowing winners to remain more anonymous than was possible in the past. For example, about a year ago, Pennsylvania stopped publishing winner's full name and city. Winners are identified by first name and initial only, along with their county of residence. A huge improvement.

      lottoguysocal's avatar - atlantis dubai_1118783i.jpg
      camarillo, ca
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      Posted: December 27, 2014, 2:50 pm - IP Logged

      Talk about a feel good story.  This lottery winner, while there are probably a few more out there, is the epitome of a winner who hadn't gone crazy.  No outlandish spending that was reported, divided the money up with family the smart way, and really just enjoyed his fortune and good luck.  Hats off to Mr. Wittkowski and his lucky days.  While times are different now, the old school method of living within ones means still applies today.  Future lottery winners should look at him as an example of what to do.  Bravo, Mr. Wittkowski, Bravo.  The only thing that hasn't changed, is that no matter the time, win big, and you still have to deal with the threats and foolishness...lol.

        ThatScaryChick's avatar - x1MqPuM
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        Posted: December 27, 2014, 3:44 pm - IP Logged

        He sounds well-adjusted and he obviously handled his windfall very well.

        "No one remembers the person who almost climbed the mountain, only the person who eventually gets to the top."

          Drenick1's avatar - villiarna
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          Posted: December 27, 2014, 4:17 pm - IP Logged

          Good story. His friend like most others were delusional thinking he received the ENTIRE $40 million up front with absolutely no taxes. He ended up splitting the $40 million annuity with his family 4 ways giving each a pre-tax yearly amount of $500k for 20 years.

          I am sure his father , brother and sister all had enjoyed their lives as well thanks to their brother's/son generosity.

            MADDOG10's avatar - smoke
            Beautiful Florida
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            Posted: December 27, 2014, 5:21 pm - IP Logged

            For only being 28 yrs old when he won the Lottery, he was well adjusted beyond his years.

            Also the fact he shared with his family shows a true upbringing from his parents.  Good Story...!

                                                         

                                                           "  When Injustice Becomes Law, Resistance Becomes Duty "

              HaveABall's avatar - rocket

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              Posted: December 27, 2014, 6:06 pm - IP Logged

              He sounds well-adjusted and he obviously handled his windfall very well.

              Group Hug Yes, Mike's own young family of five lived very comfortably, not extravagantly these past 30 years.  That's the only way he was able to retire and take on the huge responsibility of paying for rearing four additional people in a very comfortable lifestyle.

              If Mike paid for his three sons to earn their own Bachelors degree, he and his wife probably only have $1.5M left to live on the interest of for the rest of their lives.  It would have been smarter for him to have only split the jackpot money 3 ways ... and each of those 3 'max. amount gifted' the 4th person each year for the rest of their life (taking rotation letting that person live 10 years or so with each of the 3 jackpot splitters).  Ah well.

              Santa Snowman Christmas

              Having several millions of dollars in my financial accounts means receiving several valuable services each day!

              Disney

                HaveABall's avatar - rocket

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                Posted: December 27, 2014, 6:46 pm - IP Logged

                Seeking help from a fellow gambling Illinoisan ... Rudolph

                Concerning the twice daily drawn Illinois pick 5 game (called Lucky Day Lotto).  I am wondering which drawing during the past 12 months has garnered more jackpot wins -- is it the midday drawing or evening drawing, please?  [Sadly, the lotterypost.com's results pages doesn't specify via a chart breakdown.]

                Also, if you could direct me to where this vital information is being tracked, I would be super thrilled for that future reference information too.  Thanks, in advance, for your strong technical/analytical efforts and help!

                Having several millions of dollars in my financial accounts means receiving several valuable services each day!

                Disney

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                  delavan
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                  Posted: December 27, 2014, 7:23 pm - IP Logged

                  i had 5 numbers and knew he won 40 million glad this was posted lots of memories i had 25 instead of the number 26 glad his life turned out like it did !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                    noise-gate's avatar - images q=tbn:ANd9GcR91HDs4UJhjxO7cmeMQWZ5lB_FOcMLOGicau4V74R45tDgPWrr
                    Bay Area - California
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                    Posted: December 27, 2014, 7:27 pm - IP Logged

                    Well said Mike: Family!!!

                    Great story.l love happy endings- don't you?

                    People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

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                      Zeta Reticuli Star System
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                      Posted: December 27, 2014, 9:40 pm - IP Logged

                      This is the guy that said he was going to keep working.

                      We had just got cable TV and Super Stations in Vegas at that time and we saw WGN with this report in the break room. One of the guys on break was from Detroit and when Wittowski said he's keep working the guy from Detroit said, "What else could you expect from a 'poll**k'.

                      Green laugh

                      Those who run the lotteries love it when players look for consistency in something that's designed not to have any.

                      Lep

                      There is one and only one 'proven' system, and that is to book the action. No matter the game, let the players pick their own losers.

                        HaveABall's avatar - rocket

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                        Posted: December 27, 2014, 10:43 pm - IP Logged

                        i had 5 numbers and knew he won 40 million glad this was posted lots of memories i had 25 instead of the number 26 glad his life turned out like it did !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                        Wow, close.  What a horrible loss memory dredged up then! Confused

                        Having several millions of dollars in my financial accounts means receiving several valuable services each day!

                        Disney

                          mypiemaster's avatar - 2015021003pileofcash
                          JACKPOT HUNTER

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                          Posted: December 28, 2014, 4:11 am - IP Logged

                          This is the guy that said he was going to keep working.

                          We had just got cable TV and Super Stations in Vegas at that time and we saw WGN with this report in the break room. One of the guys on break was from Detroit and when Wittowski said he's keep working the guy from Detroit said, "What else could you expect from a 'poll**k'.

                          Green laugh

                          Sour grapes and jealousy make the mouth say the dumbest things. Red Devil

                          Seek and ye shall find -Matt. 7:7 ...Ask and ye shall receive -John 16:24 ...Give and it shall be given unto you -Luke 6:38 ...Be careful what you ask for!!! -Mypiemaster 1:1

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                            Teddi's avatar - Lottery-008.jpg

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                            Posted: December 28, 2014, 8:59 pm - IP Logged

                            Three things struck me

                            1. That $40 million was at some point, a record breaking amount, now it's a starting off point. 30 years from now will people consider $600 million jackpots blasé?
                            2. He actually won a fight in which he got to pay LESS taxes. Wow.
                            3. He was getting death threats even before the information age swung into gear. Unnecessarily stressful, fear-filled situation. Anonymity needs to be an option in every state.

                            Anyway, good for him. It's good to read stories about  grounded Winners who haven't lost it all. Party