Generous Florida Lotto Winner Sheelah Ryan

Building a legacy is not exactly an easy task. In fact, for some people it can be incredibly hard to do, while for others a legacy is attached to their life—but it may not be something that they are particularly proud of. However, there is one woman who made sure to build her legacy to precisely what she wanted and to ensure that it lasts. In this article, we will look at generous Florida Lotto winner Sheelah Ryan and the life that she lived.

Who Was Sheelah Ryan?

If we are honest, there is not much public information available on Sheelah. Prior to and after her win, Sheelah was an incredibly private person who liked to keep her personal affairs out of the spotlight. What we do know is that at the time of her win, Sheelah was divorced and living in a mobile home with her two cats in the Winter Springs Trailer Park in Florida. At the time, she was working as a real estate broker and had nothing that could be considered excessive or affluent.

Florida Lotto Winner Sheelah RyanSheelah’s Big Win

Sheelah can happily claim the most significant jackpot win by a single person in the history of the Florida Lottery—at the time, that is. On September 3, 1988, the Florida Lottery jackpot reached an all-time high of $55.16 million. Unbelievably, the lottery draw was only in its 18th week when Sheelah purchased her winning ticket using numbers that she saw in the newspaper. Sheelah, who had been purchasing four tickets for each draw since the game began, increased the number of tickets she bought each week to five as soon as the jackpot reached $23 million.

Clearly, this plan worked well for her, and her ticket that held the winning numbers (3, 5, 19, 20, 27, and 35) was the only winning ticket out of almost 45 million tickets sold for the draw. Like many other lottery winners decide to do, Sheelah opted to take her jackpot win in annuity payments spread across 20 years. This means that after tax, Sheelah won 20 payments of $2,213,968.80 each.

Sheelah’s Bigger Plans

While Sheelah admits that she has always been middle class, she had no drastic plans to change her life immediately after her big win. Her plans were much more significant than something so selfish—something Powerball winners Paul and Sue Rosenau can certainly relate to. Instead, shortly after her win, Sheelah founded the Ryan Foundation. The foundation was formed with three main tasks in mind—to build low-cost housing, to help pay overdue rent for single mothers, and to help shelter women and children before assisting them in finding their feet in society.

In addition to these three missions, the foundation accepted requests from anybody in need. It was known to assist in every area from caring for abandoned animals to paying for medical treatments for people who cannot afford them.

When asked about the foundation, Sheelah claims that it was by the grace of God that she won the money and that she knew that He must have given her the money for a reason—to help others. She further went on to state that she thanked God every day for providing her with such a tremendous fortune and giving her the resources and ability to help others in need.

A Legacy Left Behind

Sadly, in 1994 at the age of 69, Sheelah passed away while at home. A friend close to her told the media that the cause of her passing was cancer. While many questioned the continuity of her foundation, a board member from the Ryan Foundation soon answered inquiries by the press to ensure everyone that Sheelah’s legacy would continue. In the statement, Pamela Ohab stated that Sheelah had left the foundation very well funded and that they would work to ensure that the foundation continued to help as many people as it was able to. The Ryan Foundation was, after all, Sheelah’s only legacy considering the fact that she did not have any children.


Alongside Pearlie Mae Smith, Sheelah Ryan is a wonderful example of somebody who won the lottery and immediately tried to find a way to help as many people as possible. Even though she only received $16.6 million of her winnings before her passing, we are sure that she would have made sure that there was a way to ensure that the Ryan Foundation would still receive support—even after she was gone.  

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