Iowa Lottery officials have confirmed that Lerynne West of Dexter, Iowa, is one of two winners of a nearly $700 million Powerball prize.
The 51-year-old grandmother of six will share the $687.8 million jackpot drawn on October 27th with a winner from New York City.
West had a choice of how to receive her winnings. She could opt for an annuity worth $343.9 million, paid in 30 graduated payments over 29 years, with federal withholding of 24 percent and state withholding of 5 percent applied to each payment. She also had the option of a lump sum payment of $198.1 million, before taxes, which amounts to $140.6 million after taxes. She chose the lump sum.
But West, who says she played the lottery about twice a week, almost missed her big payday entirely. When she heard that winning tickets had been sold in New York and Iowa, she rushed to check her numbers — and couldn't find her lottery ticket.
"Friday, October 26th started out like most other days, only it was kind of special for me because I had bought my first home," she said at a press conference. "I bought a home in Redfield, Iowa, and I was moving that day. Around noon-ish, the movers had left, my son-in-law had left and my sister was coming up to help me pack."
West and her sister took a break for lunch. Since West's car was full with moving supplies, the pair traveled in her sister's truck to Casey's General Store, where they bought coffee, pizza and some lottery tickets. "I got my lottery tickets and we went back out to her truck," said West. "I kind of just set those down at the foot in my purse — or so I thought — and didn't think of them again until Sunday morning."
On Sunday, a friend informed West that the winning tickets had been sold in Iowa and New York. When she went to look for the tickets in her purse, they weren't there. West called her sister, who found the tickets in her truck and sent her a picture of the numbers. She entered the numbers into the Powerball website, where winning numbers show up in red, and got a response of "red, red, red, red, red, red — jackpot."
West says she told her sister, "Get that ticket, get in your truck and get up here now — and drive slow.'"
West grew up in a working class family in Earlham, Iowa, which has a population of 1,450. Her father was a Vietnam veteran and a welder and her mother was a stay-at-home mom.
When she was 14, West started working on farms to "earn money to buy my school clothes and to help with the family. At the age of 17, I left high school. At the age of 19, I earned my GED. Soon after that, I started my family. I have three awesome, beautiful daughters. "
She supported her daughters as a single mother by working full time and going to school at night and on the weekend. When she had the extra money, West would play the lottery. The most she had ever won, previously, was $150.
At first, West's daughters didn't believe her, but now that the reality of her good fortune has sunk in, she and her family are determined to use the winnings responsibly. West had worked for a health insurance company, but she retired after learning she'd won the lottery. She plans to buy herself a car to replace her Ford Fiesta, which has 142,000 miles on it.
She says she'll give to friends and family, and set money aside for her grandchildren to go to college. She has also established The Callum Foundation, which is named after her late grandson who was born prematurely. According to the organization's website, The Callum Foundation provides grants to individuals and organizations in order to address issues such as "poverty and hunger, education, animal welfare and veteran affairs."
"I want you to know that as I stand here today I know the responsibility that I have to do good with this money," she said, fighting back tears. "My life is changed forever."
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