Red Bud couple claims $218M Mega Millions win

Winning ticket

April 18, 2012 2:45:16 PM PDT
The Illinois Lottery announced the winners of the huge Mega Millions lotto jackpot earlier this month -- a retired couple in their 60s from Red Bud, Ill.

Merle Butler, 65, and his wife Patricia, 62, are now (before taxes) $218 million richer.

The Butlers purchased the winning ticket at a convenience store in Red Bud, about 40 miles southeast of St. Louis. The winning ticket was a $3 quick-pick.

The Illinois Lottery threw a party in Red Bud Wednesday morning, but first the Butlers came before the cameras, told their story and spoke of the moment that they learned they had won.

"I turned to my wife and said, 'We won.' And she kind of looked at me funny," said Merle Butler. "And I said, 'No, we won.' And then she started giggling. And she giggled for about four hours I think."

The Butlers were presented with a symbolic check for $218,666,667. It will be two or three weeks before the wire transfer can be finalized. They opted, as the winners in Maryland and Kansas did, for a lump-sum payout of nearly $158 million, about $110.5 million after federal and state taxes are deducted.

The Butlers are longtime residents of Red Bud. Merle, a Vietnam veteran, retired about eight years ago from his job as a computer analyst at an insurance company. His wife, Pat, worked in IT for several years.

Over the past few weeks, Merle said, the couple told only a handful of people about their winnings. They managed to keep a secret despite some curious friends and neighbors.

"People kept asking me if I won it, and I most of the time would laugh it off, and say, 'Yeah, sure, I won it.' And just let it go at that," Merle said. "And so I've talked to several people around town that asked me and I answered most of the time truthfully that, yes, I did, but they didn't catch it."

"They didn't come forward for a number of days because they wanted Red Bud to be the story," said Michael Jones, Illinois Lottery Superintendent. The Butlers have hired a team of financial advisors and an attorney. They say that over the last few weeks managing their money has become a full-time job. They didn't want to go into too much detail about how they plan to spend their money, but a vacation may be in the works.

"There could possibly be a vacation in there," Merle said.

The couple, who have grandchildren, said they have no immediate plans other than to craft an investment strategy, then look into how to treat themselves in a few months or a year.

The Illinois Lottery requires, with rare exceptions, that winning ticket holders appear for a news conference and related promotions, partly to show that it pays out prizes as promised. Winning ticket holders in Kansas and Maryland opted to remain anonymous.

About 100 locals gathered outside the community hall during Wednesday's news conference, and they gave a rousing cheer to the Butlers when they emerged afterward.

Patricia Butler said that since the drawing, they have been so busy mapping out how to deal with the life-changing event, they haven't spent a lot of time with their friends and neighbors.

"It's just very exciting. We've been meeting with a lot of people, just not here in town," Patricia said.

Despite their newfound wealth, Merle Butler said he and his wife do not plan to move away from Red Bud and its roughly 3,700 residents.

"This is a nice, comfortable, family-oriented community. We've lived here a long time. We don't plan to go anywhere else," he said.

Mayor Tim Lowry said the attention from the lottery win has been somewhat transformational for Red Bud, which is known in the area mostly for its annual firefighters' parade and elaborate Christmas displays.

"Everyone now knows who we are. We used to be a joke on a T-shirt saying, `Where the Hell is Red Bud?"' Lowry said.

At the five-person newsroom of Red Bud's local newspaper, it was all hands on deck Wednesday.

"It's just such a big story," said Mary Koester, editor of the North County News. "It's monumental. It's the biggest thing probably that's ever happened in Red Bud."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.