A Portal couple won $275 million in the Georgia Lottery in 2008, but Friday night, someone in Georgia could win almost twice as much as Robert and Tonya Harris did about three years ago.
The right numbers will mean someone will win $540 million tonight. The Georgia Lottery Mega Millions has reached the largest jackpot in North American history, according to Georgia lottery officials.
What would you do if you won? Several Bulloch County area residents expressed big dreams Thursday.
Whether the winner chooses the annuity option — about $20 million a year for 26 years — or a single payment worth approximately $389 million, either way, that’s a lot of cash.
“I would build a homeless shelter in Statesboro,” said area resident Sheila Hotchkiss. “I would also go broke very fast giving the money away to the people that truly need help. (I’d) make sure that my family and friends are taken care of real nice.”
Brooklet-area resident Donna Thigpen said she would make right a tragedy that struck her family this week. “I already have my ticket filled out and waiting. I would have to buy my mom a house since hers burned Monday morning.” The A.B. Croom family lost a home in Pulaski to fire.
Georgia state Rep. Jan Tankersley said “I would pay for all my grandchilden’s education, travel and give to all my favorite charities. That would be so much fun! There are lots of wonderful charities in my district. I could go on and on.”
Teresa Carter Davis, a Statesboro native, said “I would open up a free drug rehabilitation center that would incorporate (Alcoholics Anonymous), recovery, job skills and life skills.”
Lottery winnings like this would definitely be life-changing for some. Portal’s Cathy Riccio said she would do what everyone else says — pay bills, give to charity, and travel, but then; “I would be headed to the mall! Oh, and I would thank God.”
Statesboro Police Major Scott Brunson said life wouldn’t change much for him. “I have everything I want,” he said. “I would pay off all my debts, take care of my family, and enjoy life.” He would let his family decide where to vacation. “That ($540 million) is too much to think about.”
Family came first for most people. “I would repay everyone who has helped me and my family,” said Bulloch County woman Valerie Wilson.”I would donate to many churches and charities. My brothers and sisters wouldn't have to struggle ever again and my mom would have her own home in which she deserves more than anyone! I’d go back to school, which is my dream, and take my kids all around the world to learn and be a part of different cultures.”
Some had special needs they would like to fill. “If I was to win the jackpot, Lord willing, my husband and I would start a business for high function autistic young adults and also veterans that have been wounded and need the therapy,” said Cynthia Zimmerman, who lives near Register.
Bulloch County Commissioner Roy Thompson said life wouldn’t change much for him either.
“I would help a lot of people out in Bulloch County,” he said. “It would not only be the Thompson family who benefits. I’d probably be at work Monday morning.” Then, he changed his mind.
“I’d probably take off Monday and go to Atlanta to claim my prize, pay some bills, and continue to do what I’ve been doing — working all my life. It’s what I am accustomed to doing. If I had to pick one beneficiary, it would be cystic fibrosis.” Thompson’s grandson Chase suffers from the disease, but enjoys an active life including playing baseball.
Glenda Vickery, another Portal area resident, said “I would thank God Almighty and then go someplace to really think about what to do other than the obvious — paying off houses and such for the children. St. Judes & Toys for Tots are favorite charities, and I’d probably match W-2s for my children so they would still know the benefit of hard work.”
Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen was honest in his plans should he win the lottery. “I would probably go hide somewhere for about six months,” he said. “I can’t imagine. I’d pay all my debts, and with that kind of money, I would give to charitable organizations. Then I’d do the same thing I do every day. I don’t think it would change my lifestyle.”
Filling area needs was a common dream. “I would buy as many empty houses as I could and rent them to truly needy families for $1 a day until they were on their feet again,” said area resident Hazel Hatfield. “All the money … would be donated to Safe Haven and other non-profit organizations in our area. I believe that everyone who is trying their best to better their lives hand up, not a hand out.”
Tankersly urged citizens to support the Georgia lottery. “It funds our HOPE scholarships.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.