January 6, 2011 in News, Region

Jackpot winners have family, charities in mind

McCullars claim half of Mega Millions jackpot
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review photo

With wife Carolyn looking on, Jim McCullar counts out the money he had in his pocket when he arrived at the Washington Lottery offices to claim the Mega Millions jackpot prize. Nothing in his wallet he said, and eight $1 bills in his pants pocket.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – When Jim McCullar woke his wife Carolyn shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday night, she was worried he was having another heart attack.

“Are you OK?” the Ephrata woman asked her husband of 41 years.

“Yeah. I’m perfect.”

A few seconds earlier, Jim McCullar was watching television, and switched from the Glenn Beck show to catch the weather on KHQ. Stephanie Vigil “looked me straight in the eye and said ‘This is what you’ve been waiting for. This is this Mega Millions numbers.’ ” She read off the six numbers, and Jim McCullar knew they’d won because those were the numbers the couple always play: her birthday, and his.

Initially they thought they’d won $355 million, the estimated grand prize. So many people bought tickets that the total grew to $380 million, but another winning ticket was sold in Post Falls.

“Oh well,” Jim McCullar said with a smile Thursday afternoon at the Washington Lottery headquarters. “I think $190 million is pretty good for a little ol’ Mississippi boy.”

As soon as he was presented the ceremonial oversized check, he handed it to his wife. “I’ve been married 41 years. I know what to do with this check.”

Jim McCullar, now 68, said he left Mississippi at age 17 to join the Navy. After he left the service, he sold real estate in Everett before going to work for the Boeing Co., where spent 20 years at plants in Everett, Auburn and Portland. They raised a family and now have six children, 23 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They retired in 1998 in Snohomish County but got tired of the rain, so they moved to Ephrata for sunshine and the chance to play golf year-round.

But a person can only play so much golf, he said, so about six months ago he started working again as a real estate salesman. On Wednesday, he told the folks at Pillar Rock Realty he won’t be coming in any more.

The McCullars don’t have any big plans for their money. They’ve been thinking of buying a house in the $160,000 to $200,000 price range and Wednesday looked at some in the $700,000 range, but quickly concluded: “Why do we need something like that, anyway? That’s a vulgar display of wealth.”

They’ll help out a relative with some large medical bills. They’ll make bigger contributions to some of the charities they’ve supported for years. “We’ve been through tough times. But we always believed God would get us through it, and he did.”

And whether they take a lump sum payment of about $90 million or get the full amount spread out over 26 payments – a decision they have two months to make – the McCullars said they weren’t about to go flying all over the world, spending money like crazy. Instead, they’ll make arrangements so “our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never have to worry,” Jim McCullar said. “We’re not going to blow it all.”

News that the Safeway in Ephrata sold a winning Mega Millions ticket brought television trucks to town and had residents wondering who had won. Jim McCullar said he felt like a field mouse with about 100 hawks circling overhead.

The McCullars had a brief meeting with Gov. Chris Gregoire before the ceremony to present the check. Gregoire had joked earlier in the day she’d ask for a loan to help out Washington’s budget. She mentioned something along those lines, McCullar said, but “my budget right now is all I can worry about.”

“I did invite her to go golfing, though.”

The state’s newest multi-millionaire arrived in Olympia slightly cash strapped. Asked how much he had on him, he said “Nothing in my wallet,” then reached into a pants pocket to pull out a wad of $1 bills. There were eight.

But the Lottery Commission was cutting the McCullars a real check for $1 million as an advance payment. They’ll take that money and hide out for a couple weeks, trying to absorb what’s happened to them.

“I can hide pretty good with a million dollars,” Jim McCullar said.


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