Retirees claim $218 million Mega Millions prize

CHICAGO — A retired couple from the small Illinois farming town of Red Bud stepped forward Wednesday to claim their $218 million cut of the record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot won nearly three weeks ago.

Merle Butler, 65, said he and his wife, Patricia, 62, looked at each other and giggled after he calmly told her that a $3 quick pick ticket he had bought at the Moto Mart held the winning numbers. After taxes, the couple will get $110,517,449, likely the largest payment ever made to an individual by the Illinois state lottery.

Butler, a retired computer analyst, told a news conference at Red Bud City Hall that he has no plans to leave the small town near St. Louis. “It’s a really nice place to live. I know pretty much everybody here.”

Butler says he only buys lottery tickets when the jackpots grow to more than $100 million. And that’s what he did last month as the Mega Millions prize ballooned, spending $3 on quick pick tickets. The night of March 30, Butler said he was watching the evening news when the winning numbers were broadcast and he wrote them down on a Christmas card envelope from an old friend.

Then he got the quick pick ticket from his nightstand and checked the numbers. And checked again and again before calmly and quietly telling his wife, “We won.”

“Are you sure?” Patricia responded.

“Yes, I think so,” he said.

They both broke out giggling, and stayed up all night checking their home computer repeatedly to make sure they had the winning numbers right, and looking for confirmation that the golden ticket was indeed sold at the Red Bud Moto Mart.

After eating breakfast, the two went to their bank and put the ticket in a lock box. A longtime bank employee kiddingly asked if they were depositing the winning Mega Millions ticket.

“That’s right,” Merle Butler told her, “we got the winner.”

The teller laughed, he said. “She doesn’t know until right now that I (actually) had that ticket,” Butler said.

The Butlers spent the next few weeks working with a St. Louis attorney and a financial planner to figure out how to best manage the money, deciding to take a lump sum payment. “You’d be surprised at all that’s involved,” he said.

Merle Butler said he and his wife, who have been married 41 years, told only five people initially, including a few family members and close friends, and they all kept the secret. Butler said he and his wife waited so long to come forward partly to give their town more publicity.

The other winning tickets were claimed anonymously in Kansas and Maryland. Illinois generally requires its winners to reveal their identities in order to prove the money is being paid out.

The mystery surrounding the Illinois winner’s identity captivated this downstate community as scores of residents gathered at City Hall Wednesday to learn who had struck it rich. A cheer could be heard outside when the Butlers were announced.

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