Thanks to a lucky lunch break — or was it the power of prayer? — the four dozen happiest people in Philadelphia were introduced to an envious public today as they claimed a Powerball jackpot worth $107,533,238.27 in cash.
They filled rows of chairs at a late morning news conference, telecast live from SEPTA headquarters, where most of them have worked for tenures of less than a year to 42 years. Ranging in age from 26 to 69, including some who were already retired, they vowed no further media meet and greets would be granted.
"We are all in awe, we're excited, we're humbled, and we're grateful," said their designated spokesman Bob Landgraf, calling the group, dubbed the SEPTA 48, "as varied as the customer base we serve."
Actually, there were 49 winners, because two women split the $5 buy-in.
Divided by 48, a share of the prize comes to $2,240,275.79, before taxes of course. The two split shares are each worth about $1.12 million. The annuity prize, which would have been paid out in 30 yearly installments, was $172.7 million.
Hunger played a role in where the 120 $2 tickets were purchased, said one of the pool organizers, Bryant Vaders.
Pamela Shurgot, who meticulously keeps the group's records, didn't want to go far to buy her lunch, so they went across Market Street to the Gallery. She wanted chicken. He'd brought his lunch. "And I thought to myself, do I want to stand here and smell the chicken while I've got a salad?" So he decided to go buy their quick pick tickets at a new place, the Newsstand there.
Late that night, the numbers came up 4, 25, 29, 34 and 43, with a Powerball of 29.
About 1 p.m. the next day, Landgraf's wife shot him a text asking if their pool bought the tickets at the Gallery.
Landgraf showed the text to Vaders, who answered yes.
Shurgot checked her photocopied pages of tickets. First page, no jackpot winner. Second page, she saw two Powerballs. First one, no jackpot. "The second one, I'm like, '4 ... 25 ... 29 ... Oh, my god! ... 34 ... Oh, my god! Oh, my god! ... We won! We won!' " Schurgot related.
It was Pennsylvania's 15th Powerball win, and only one of them had a bigger jackpot, the $110 million cash won in May 2004 by a ticket sold in Bucks County. Philadelphia's last Powerball haul was in October 2008, when 22 postal workers shared $10.3 million.
Twenty minutes after his wife's text, said Landgraf, "there were shouts, laughter ... I saw grins, wide eyes, some filled with tears like I never saw before."
"My story is about survivorship and surprise," said Marylouise Wagner, who missed a lot of work battling "aggressive stage-three breast cancer." In January, she had another operation to remove a benign mass from her heart, and was finally able to return to work on April 10.
After thanking her supportive coworkers, Wagner shared this message: "Don't ever give up, because you never know what's right around the corner."
Another winner, Larry Green, said that his wife died a year and day before the lottery. The day before the drawing her memory was honored at a mass. "I prayed for a lottery win, and I prayed to certain saints," he said. So believe in the power of prayer, he told the crowd of media members, and SEPTA officials and less lucky colleagues.
Matt Sheridan, 26, and a colleague almost missed out. Sheridan was off the Friday before, taking his family to the zoo, so he asked a colleague to contribute for him. On Monday, after a meeting, he ran upstairs to check. No, sorry, said the coworker. Want to get in, Sheridan asked. The other fellow declined, then relented when Sheridan pointed out he owed the guy some money.
"When we found out," Sheridan said, "he ran over and gave me a hug, and said, 'I wanted to kiss you, but ...' " Another round of laughter.
A brother and his sister, a recent SEPTA retiree, each won, said Landgraf, because the brother bought her a share without asking.
"She, of course, did not believe him," he said. "She does now."
The winners include 15 from the city, 22 from the Pennsylvania suburbs, 10 from New Jersey, and two from Delaware:
Robert Kruczynski, Langhorne, Bucks County
Robert Landgraf, Abington, Montgomery County
Harold Simmons, Sr., Philadelphia
Joseph Chimenti, Wilmington, Del.
Bryant Vaders, Philadelphia
Tommy Wells, West Deptford, N.J.
Robert Chope, Hatboro, Montgomery County
John Paradise, Chester Springs, Chester County
Kevin Derham, Merion, Montgomery County
Catherine Pinder, Carneys Point, N.J.
Johnny Shtatman, Philadelphia
James Lemongelli, Holland, Bucks County
Frederick Green, Philadelphia
John Kerrigan, Philadelphia
Hamzeh Abdallah, Marlton, N.J.
Richard Drennen, Hatboro, Montgomery County
James Raymond, Jr., Philadelphia
Joseph D'Ambro, Philadelphia
Emille Williams, Blue Bell, Montgomery County
Michael Piselli, Feasterville, Bucks County
Silvana Linquist, Philadelphia
Rebecca Ware, Wilmington, Del.; Bernice Kligerman, Philadelphia (splitting a share)
Luigi Pallante, Cherry Hill, N.J.
Marylouise Wagner, Essington, Delaware County
Rodney Crow, Haddon Heights, N.J.
Geraldine Gaiser, Philadelphia
Dawn Hill, Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County
Raymond Farreny, Haddonfield, N.J.
Joseph Kruczynski, Langhorne, Bucks County
Theresa Poole, Philadelphia
Robin Hearn, Philadelphia
Joseph Doyle, Bensalem, Bucks County
Diane McAndrews, Philadelphia
Leon Faulk, Willow Grove, Montgomery County
John Karcher, Kunkletown, Monroe County
John Merrigan, Churchville, Bucks County
Linda Madden, Springfield, Delaware County
Thomas Felder, Jr., Folsom, Delaware County
Daniel DiSantis, Marlton, N.J.
Donald Cleary, Philadelphia
Larry Green, Folcroft, Delaware County
Joseph Byrd, Philadelphia
Andrew Egan, Jr., Berlin, N.J.
Yolanda Mosley, Upper Darby, Delaware County
Matthew Sheridan, Hatboro, Montgomery County
Phillip Madden, Huntingdon Valley, Montgomery County
Anthony Angelone, Sewell, N.J.