17 Generous Lottery Winners Who Gave Away Their Money
If one thing is for certain, it’s that those who win the lottery are truly some of the luckiest people in the world. Of course, there can be complications along the way, but hitting the jackpot comes with a long list of benefits. Thankfully, many winners choose a charitable path over a selfish one, even going so far as to donate the majority of their winnings to good causes. Here are the stories of some of the most generous lottery winners we’ve ever come across.
Paul and Sue Rosenau
On May 4, 2008, Paul and Sue Rosenau were preparing for bed when they heard their winning Powerball lottery numbers announced on their television. A day that was full of mourning for their granddaughter, who’d passed away from Krabbe disease the same date five years prior, turned into a night that was full of excitement and hope. Their winning ticket was worth $180.1 million, which opened up a world of possibilities for the couple. Because the Rosenaus were very committed to their faith, they knew this money was a sign that they were meant to aid in the search for a cure for Krabbe disease. After taxes, they took home a lump sum of $44 million. They used nearly $26.5 million of their Powerball prize to create the Legacy of Angels Foundation, which was created not only to find a cure, but also to help families cover the medical expenses that come with treatment of the disease.
Pearlie Mae Smith
When New Jersey resident Pearlie Mae Smith hit the Powerball jackpot worth $429 million in early 2016, she was certain it was “divine intervention.” After all, her winning numbers had come to her in a dream—what could be a bigger sign of fate than that? Though she spent some of her winnings on luxuries for her family, she was much more focused on what she could do for the community. After dividing the winnings with her relatives, they all decided to donate a portion of their winnings to start the Smith Family Foundation. The purpose of this foundation is to encourage change and innovation within their community, specifically by providing financial resources to strengthen the community. Unlike many other lottery winners, Smith’s one goal with her winnings was to better the world around her.
In 1993, Fond du Lac teacher Les Robins was living a fairly normal life. He loved his job, he was engaged to be married, and he was playing the lottery like most others were. On July 7, 1993, Robins and his former fiancée Collen Devries stopped at a local convenience store and purchased a ticket. Just hours later, his life was flipped upside down when he found out he was the winner of the $111 million Powerball jackpot. Though he did eventually leave his job at the junior high school after his win, he remained passionate about teaching students—so much so that he opened up a summer day camp known as “Camp Winnegator” in order to continue to be a positive influence in children’s lives. Though the camp was a high cost with its vast land and seemingly limitless activities, Robins only charged parents and guardians $250 a week—a small price to pay for fun, life-changing opportunities.
After winning the $259 million Powerball jackpot in 2009, Knoxville, Tennessee resident Roy Cockrum had very few thoughts about how his winnings could help him. Instead, he centred his focus on donating his money to fund the arts. While he did set aside some money to take care of himself and his parents, the majority of his millions were donated to several different charities dedicated to the performing arts. For those who know Roy, this direction wasn’t unsurprising. Several years prior, he had taken on a vow of poverty and had committed to living as a minimalist. As a former actor himself, supporting future artists was very important to him and he wanted the world to know it.
In 2005, Idaho resident Brad Duke hit the Powerball jackpot, which was worth a massive $220 million. He took home a lump sum of $74 million after taxes. When he considered how he could possibly spend all of this money, he decided to focus on being responsible instead of getting lost in fantasy. He did know for certain that he wanted to turn his millions into $1 billion, though. He also knew he wanted to do good with his riches, so he began a charity called the Duke Foundation in 2006. Since then, the foundation has paid out over $1 million to multiple different foundations, including Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Idaho, the Children’s Home, the Idaho National Guard, the American Diabetes Association, and more.
John and Linda Kutey
When Mega Millions winners John and Linda Kutey hit the jackpot in 2011, they were suddenly $28.7 million richer with quite a few ideas of how they’d spend their winnings. Eventually, their best idea came to them—they wanted to build a waterpark in honour of their parents, and that they did. After receiving the green light, the winners donated $200,000 to the city of Green Island to aid in building efforts. While many were skeptical of the couple’s decision to open a waterpark, there’s no denying that they provided great recreational fun for the kids in New York.
On September 3, 1988, Orlando resident Sheelah Ryan won $55.2 million after playing the Florida Lotto. Just months later, she created the Ryan Foundation, a charitable foundation designed to aid multiple different causes, including caring for stray cats as well as supporting poor children in need. The charity also funded the building of low-cost housing and aided in paying overdue rent for single mothers and their children. Much like Paul and Sue Rosenau, Ryan was certain she won the lottery for a much larger purpose. She knew she was meant to do good things with it, and so she did.
Though New York lottery winner Robert Cunningham wasn’t generous in the same way many other winners are, his actions were still notable. On March 30, 1984, Detective Cunningham was sitting in his favourite diner when he suggested to his favourite waitress, Phyllis Penzo, that he tip her with half of a lottery ticket instead of a cash tip. After she agreed, the two picked their lucky numbers together before Cunningham went across the street to buy their ticket. The very next night, he returned to the diner to let Penzo know that they were the owners of a lottery ticket worth $6 million. By following through with his promise, he and the waitress both became $3 million richer. If that’s not generous, we don’t know what is!
Violet and Allen Large
When Nova Scotia residents Violet and Allen Large hit the Canada Lotto 6/49 jackpot worth $11.2 million, they were ecstatic—not because they had money to spend on themselves, but because they could give away a large chunk of their winnings. After providing some financial support to their family, they donated most of their winnings to their community. The donations provided funding for local churches, hospitals, and other community resources. When asked about their generosity, the couple simply stated they didn’t need all of that money because they were blessed with all that they had. Unsurprisingly, their willingness to give led to them winning awards.
When 28-year-old small-business owner Jason Rinaldi hit the Canada Lotto 6/49 jackpot in October 2008, his life was suddenly very different. With his tax-free winnings of $35.3 million in his bank account, Rinaldi knew he could do just about anything. Though many would expect lottery winners so young to be selfish, this winner was extremely generous—so much so that he donated a large amount of his winnings to different charities, including $500,000 that he gave to Ryerson University’s Rams Care camp program. Despite his significant wealth, Rinaldi found that supporting charitable foundations brought him greater happiness than any luxuries could.
In November 2012, Canada was gifted with another charitable lottery winner when Terrace resident Bob Erb won $25 million in a Lotto Max draw. Immediately, he committed to helping the people of Canada. In the first year alone, he donated and gifted at least $8 million of his winnings. While he definitely took care of his friends and family first, he didn’t hesitate to help out strangers. His generosity includes buying cars for other people’s use as well as providing $300,000 in medical funding to Terrace residents in need of dental work. Many people refer to him as a saint, which doesn’t seem far from the truth considering all that he’s done. He even tipped $10,000 to a restaurant owner who’d just found out his daughter had cancer. Most recently, the winner used his riches to fund the fight for marijuana legalisation—which seems to have paid off since Canada legalized it in October 2018.
When Randall Rush from Lamont, Alberta, purchased a Lotto Max ticket, he had no idea what his future looked like. There was no way for him to know that on January 16, 2015, he would hit the $50 million jackpot. The moment he realised he’d been lucky enough to win the lottery, he was ecstatic! He could finally do what was most important to him: creating a charity trust fund that would centre on providing aid to struggling children across the globe. His humanitarian efforts did not go unnoticed, as his story was widely publicised.
After losing his wife to cancer in 2012, Calgary man Tom Crist wasn’t expecting to ever feel the luck of striking gold again. That all changed when he found out he was holding a Lotto Max ticket worth $40 million in May 2013. He didn’t collect it immediately; in fact, he waited for seven months after the draw before he picked up his winnings. He was so secretive that he even managed to hide it from his family before they saw the news on Facebook. It wasn’t a big deal to him, primarily because he had no plans to actually spend the money on himself. Quickly, he started a foundation under his name in honour of his wife. He donated to the Calgary Cancer Centre first and foremost, but his generosity didn’t stop there. He also had plans to eventually donate all of his winnings to several other charities, including the Ronald McDonald House and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
For more than twenty years, Dennis Mahurin of Bloomington, Illinois, had been living out of a tent on the streets. In 2013, he finally stumbled into some luck when he won the $50,000 jackpot from a scratch-off ticket. Those who know him say that despite facing homelessness, he’d always been an “upstanding guy”, so it came as no surprise when he prioritised taking care of others before himself. In an instant, he made the decision to give $100 to each homeless person in the area. Many people in his position would rightfully take care of themselves first, but Mahurin just wanted to show just how much he cared about the comfort of others in his community.
On January 4, 2011, Idaho woman Hilda Floyd hit the jackpot when she won $1 million in Idaho Lottery’s Million Dollar Raffle. Just seconds after realising she’d truly won, she knew exactly what she planned to do with her money: give most of it away. While she did give some of her winnings to her family, she primarily focused on donating to different organisations within her community as well as her church. In total, Floyd gave up 90% of her winnings. When asked how it felt to be such an upstanding citizen, the winner responded, “It’s just a blessing to know that you’ve made a difference in somebody else’s life.”
Steve and Carolyn West
When their in-laws asked if they wanted to chip in on any lottery tickets, Oregon resident Steve West said he wasn’t interested, even saying to his wife Carolyn that there was no chance they’d ever win. This didn’t stop Carolyn from participating, though. It paid off on October 19, 2005, when the couple found out that they actually did win the lottery. In fact, they were holding a Powerball ticket worth $340 million, which they definitely planned to split with their in-laws, Robert and Frances Chaney. Not long after, the Wests made headlines when they announced that they’d started the West Family Foundation to support different non-profit organisations, specifically those centred on taking care of poor children and families. Generosity definitely ran in the family, as Robert and Frances quickly followed suit by starting their own foundation. Together, the family donated millions of dollars to different charities, including the Children’s Advocacy Center, Rogue Valley Family YMCA, the Salvation Army, and more.
Barbara & Ray Wragg
Back in 2000, Barbara Wragg was a nurse in Sheffield, England, who one day wasn’t feeling too well and decided to take the day off from work. That ended up being an extremely wise move because at some point in the day she and her husband Ray went to a local supermarket, where they decided on a whim to purchase a UK Lotto ticket. The ticket ended up winning them £7.6 million, which not only changed their life but also the lives of many others due to their admirable generosity.
Deciding that the prize was much more money than they’d ever need, they gave away £5.5 million away to various charities and causes, including buying an MRI scanner for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, supporting the Weston Park Hospital’s Teenage Cancer Unit, and purchasing trips for war veterans so that they could reunite with each other. Speaking of their kind heartedness, a spokesperson for the National Lottery said, “I don’t think there are any other lottery winners quite like them.” He may just be right.
Indeed, most lottery winners aren’t afraid to spend a chunk of change on their own luxuries, but thankfully, there are many more who are ready to give back to their communities and the world around them. While there’s no denying how easy it is to get lost in the glamour of hitting the jackpot, it’s important to consider what impact one can make when they choose a more charitable path. And when you consider how many lottery winners blow through their money with nothing to show for it, it’s even more refreshing to see that other people can be so selfless.