By Maria Sudekum Associated Press
DEARBORN, Mo. — To announce one of the biggest events of their lives together, Cindy and Mark Hill returned to the place where it all began — the high school where they became sweethearts in the 1970s.
Surrounded by family and friends, the two were introduced Friday as winners in this week’s huge Powerball lottery — an extraordinary stroke of luck that gives them half of the $588 million jackpot.
The nostalgic high school homecoming seemed to reflect the couple’s hopes of staying true to their roots and living simply, at least as simply as possible for winners of one of the biggest lottery prizes in history.
“We will still be going down to the corner cafe for breakfast or fish day. I can guarantee you,” Cindy Hill said. “You know it’s just us. We’re just normal human beings. We’re as common as anybody. We just have a little bit more money.”
The Hills, who have three grown sons and a 6-year-old daughter, said they don’t play the lottery regularly. They spent $10 on five tickets with random numbers. The result: After taxes, they will take home a lump sum of $136.5 million.
“We’re still stunned by what’s happened,” said Hill, a former office manager who was laid off in 2010. “It’s surreal.”
The other winning ticket was sold in Fountain Hills, Ariz., near Phoenix. No one has come forward with it yet, lottery officials said.
Joining the Hills at the news conference were their children, with the youngest, Jaiden, sitting on her father’s lap clutching a black stuffed horse. She was adopted from China five years ago.
When asked what she wanted for Christmas, the little girl said simply: “Pony.”
Friday’s news conference made official what just about everyone in the town of 500 north of Kansas City already knew, thanks in part to a Facebook posting by Mark Hill, said their son Cody.
At first, the elder Hill told his son about the winning ticket but instructed him not to share the news with anyone. Cody Hill said he went to work and heard people commenting about how one of the winning tickets came from a local store.
He said nothing. But then a relative told him to look at his dad’s Facebook page, where his father had announced the family’s good fortune.
Cindy Hill, sounding cautious and a little concerned about the windfall, said they have no immediate plans to move out of their single-story ranch house on a quiet cul-de-sac.
But they will have more free time. Mark Hill quit his job as a mechanic Thursday. His wife, who missed a scheduled job interview on the same day, has no plans to keep looking for work. Instead, she plans to focus on their daughter.
“Right now, she’s our most important thing,” Cindy Hill said. “And we want her to have normal things. It’s Christmastime, and we want to be home. … We want everything normal.”
Mark Hill said the adjustment in the family income hadn’t quite sunk in yet. He had to buy some small things Thursday when the family was in Jefferson City waiting for the Missouri Lottery to validate their ticket.
“We had to get like toothpaste and stuff like that, and I found myself at the store still looking at the price of stuff,” he said.
Some of the money will go toward travel, perhaps back to China for another adoption or “wherever the wind takes us,” Cindy Hill said. They also will help relatives, including establishing college funds for their grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Mark Hill has his eye on a red Camaro.
“When it’s that big of a Powerball, you’re going to get people coming out of the woodwork, some of them might not be too sane,” Cindy Hill said. “We have to protect our family and grandkids.”
She said the family will also be contributing to charities, including a scholarship fund in the local school district in her father-in-law’s name. And they hope to continue advocating for adoption, which is “very big with us.”
The jackpot was the second-largest in U.S. history and set off a nationwide buying frenzy. At one point, tickets were selling at nearly 130,000 a minute.
Before Wednesday’s drawing, the jackpot had rolled over 16 consecutive times without anyone hitting the jackpot. In a Mega Millions drawing in March, three ticket buyers shared a $656 million jackpot, the largest lottery payout of all time.
Cindy Hill said whatever is ahead for them, the family plans to use the winnings wisely.
“We want to say too that God blessed us with this. And for some reason, he put it in our hands, I think, to make sure that it goes to the right things,” she said. “But we were blessed before we ever won this.”