RED BUD, Ill • And the winners are: Merle and Patricia Butler of Red Bud.
There was no drumroll, but plenty of buzz, as the Butlers accepted a mock check for $218 million, representing their one-third share of the largest Mega Millions multistate lottery jackpot in history.
Merle Butler, 65, a former computer analyst for an insurance company, described discovering that he and his wife, 62, had the winning ticket from the March 30 drawing. He said he started comparing the numbers from the evening news to the ones on the ticket from his wallet.
"The further I went, the more they matched," he said. "After I looked at it for a couple minutes, I turned to my wife, who was right there with me, and I said, 'We won.' She kind of looked at me funny, and I said, 'No, we won.'"
His wife, a former programmer/analyst for Edward Jones, was giddy.
"She started giggling," he said. "And she giggled for about four hours I think."
Then it was a sleepless night and a trip to the bank first thing in the morning to put the ticket somewhere safe.
But the speculation had already started. In some ways, the Butlers hid their secret in plain sight.
When Merle Butler took the ticket to a bank, someone joked that he might be putting the winning ticket in a lockbox for safekeeping.
"I said, 'Yeah, I won this thing and I gotta get this thing put away,'" he recalled. "She doesn't know until right now that I really had that ticket in there."
The same joke played out several times, as the town tried to figure out who won. Merle Butler joked with people that he had won, because that was what everyone else was doing, but no one ever knew the Butlers were the only ones who weren't joking.
"I figured the quieter I keep it, the better we are," Merle Butler said.
He said he has a small family and that fewer than five people knew about the lottery win. The Butlers said they have been meeting with lottery officials and others for weeks to sort out all the details.
"I have a really good set of financial advisers," he assured reporters.
Merle Butler said he grew up in Red Bud.
"We've lived here a long time and we don't plan on doing anything else," he said.
The ceremony at Red Bud City Hall ended weeks of speculation about the winner in the small town.
The excitement over the Red Bud winning ticket — and all kinds of rumors — started with an announcement that one of the March 30 Mega Millions winning tickets was sold at the MotoMart convenience store on Main Street. Soon, reporters from across the nation descended on Red Bud, about 40 miles southeast of St. Louis, to find the winner.
Was it this person, or that person? Was it even someone from town, or just someone passing through? All kinds of rumors swept the town, as days and then weeks passed with no winner claiming the prize. On April 4, MotoMart was presented with a decent chunk of money — half a million dollars — just for selling the ticket, but still no winner. Winners who bought tickets in Maryland and Kansas claimed their prizes, but still no winner here.
At some point, many residents were sick of the gossip and just wanted to know. Now they have their answer: a local couple, millionaires in their midst the whole time.
The Butlers will be the only public winners. The Maryland and Kansas winners both chose to claim their prizes anonymously. In Illinois, the winner must come forward.