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Can Winning the Lottery Make You Feel Like a Million? Yes and No

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The chance to get rich quick is a popular variation on the American dream—and the timeless lure of lotteries. Here are six people whose dreams came true. Five have become millionaires on the installment plan, receiving $50,000 a year for 20 years. The sixth won $150,000. They have all discovered two things: money indeed does not buy happiness, and a million dollars is not what it once was. Most lottery winners learn to live with their riches; most keep on buying tickets in hopes of hitting again. In New Jersey, the million-dollar winners formed a club some years back, but it was hard to get them to agree on anything. “These people are all individualists,” one winner remarked. “If they weren’t before, they sure are now.”

A professor buys time for his art

“I’m no gambler,” says artist Arthur Hoener, 48. “I’ve never placed a bet with a bookie.” That didn’t deter him from spending some $250 a year on tickets in the Massachusetts lottery—an investment his wife, Peg, criticized. “I told him not to waste his money,” she admits. “The chance of being struck by lightning was better.”

In fact, lightning had struck tantalizingly near. Hoener’s old barber had won $1 million, as had one of the family’s former neighbors. But Hoener wasn’t expecting a miracle. “I didn’t think I’d win,” he recalls. “The odds are about one in 10 million. Of course, if you consider the odds without a lottery, that’s pretty good.” Good enough, it turned out, for Hoener to win his own $1 million last spring. “Boy, was I happy,” he recalls. “It was the spaciest experience I’ve ever had. I was so busy then I didn’t have time to think.”

Lately he has had a chance to reflect. “It’s interesting to sit down and say, ‘Do I really want to keep working?’ ” muses Hoener, a $25,000-a-year art professor at little Hampshire College in Amherst. “Oddly enough, the answer is yes.” Still, the money provides both freedom and a new kind of challenge. “With the chance to think freely about what I really want to do, I can’t rely on the old excuses,” says Hoener. “I expect more of myself and so, I think, do my colleagues. I’d like to spend a lot more time painting and developing ideas, and someday I’d like to do something as important as Monet’s water lily paintings.”

In terms of material pleasures, Hoener has resisted the urge to turn spendthrift. He, Peg and their five children, aged 12 to 20, still live in a three-story Victorian home in Northampton, and their new station wagon was bought of necessity. “Of course, everyone’s been able to indulge a bit on clothes,” he says. “We spent a little more time on Cape Cod last summer, and with luck we’ll send the parents to Florida this spring. That pleases me.” For himself, Hoener hopes eventually to lighten his teaching load and to take a sabbatical year or two. And, oh yes, there’s one other thing. “I finally did something I’d always wanted to do,” he admits. “I bought myself a blue blazer.”

For Aggi, money is the root of good times

It has been nearly six years since Agnes Noweski swaggered into her favorite saloon with that first check—for $45,500—and offered to buy a round of drinks for the house. But Holmdel, N.J.’s favorite lottery winner is still raising toasts to her luck. “I’ve heard a lot about people who won a million and are miserable,” Aggi says disbelievingly. “I don’t understand that at all.”

Actually, her approach to wealth has been circumspect. At 65, she still lives in the house she shared with her husband, Tony, until his death 11 years ago. But she has been able to redecorate—and this spring she’ll install a swimming pool. The rest has gone into annuities, good times and travel. She retired from her job as a court clerk soon after she won, and threw herself a lavish farewell cocktail party. “Everybody came,” she says. “I’m a Democrat, but I invited everyone I knew—even Republicans. I’ve got a lot of friends, and I love them all. That’s the only way to go, honey.”

Because her three children are grown, the government refuses to classify Aggi as head of a household and takes $16,000 from her annual checks. But when her oldest son offered to move back in with her, Aggi drew the line. “The hell with that,” says the grandmother of four. “I’ll pay the taxes. I love being alone in my house.” Her only other worries are her Yorkshire terrier, Tabatha (above), who refuses to be housebroken, and a weight problem complicated by travel. “I’ll be doing all right on my diet, and then I’ll go off on a trip and blow the whole thing,” she says. “You know, just eating, drinking and raising hell.” Still, Weight Watchers is for other people, thank you. “God bless them, they try so hard. But I’m bored with the speeches. And all that applauding every time you lose a pound—it rubs me the wrong way.”

Like most lottery winners, Aggi turns down countless requests for assistance, but there was one appeal she still treasures. “It was a postcard in Italian,” she remembers, “from a 95-year-old man who wondered if I could send him $1,000 to buy teeth. I didn’t, but I kept wondering, ‘Who’s he going to bite at 95?’ ”

A policeman asked, ‘What if I die?’

With 12 parachute jumps to his credit, some experience as a hang-glider pilot and a growing interest in hot-air ballooning, Sgt. William Inman, 38, is a fatalist. “I live like there’s no tomorrow,” says the Peoria, Ill. police firearms instructor. “I try to pack 27 hours into 24.” But when Inman’s name was pulled from a drum three years ago as his state’s fifth million-dollar lottery winner, a terrible thought crossed his mind. “What if I have a heart attack at 35?” he wondered. “I won’t be able to spend all this.”

In a daze, Inman headed for the nearest bar. “Three or four rounds later I was really blown away,” he recalls. “I spent over $1,000 in those first few days just celebrating.” Recuperating in a health club, he ran into his lawyer. “He told me to spend a couple of thousand on myself, but not to sign my name to anything,” says Inman. “That was good advice, because I didn’t know how to manage money. But I’m learning.”

For Inman, the $50,000 (minus some $11,000 in withheld taxes) that will arrive every April until 1995 represents a welcome liberation from moonlighting. “Before I won,” he says, “I was working an 85-to-90-hour week, with three part-time jobs after hours. I only have the police job now.” Divorced since 1971, Inman recently bought a modest ranch-style home in Peoria for himself and his 11-year-old daughter, Maria. The living room (at right) is barren of furniture except for a TV and a stereo console, but the garage contains two gleaming motorcycles and three minibikes. Out front is a new blue maxivan. “First I bought a Lincoln Continental,” Inman confesses, “but then I realized I couldn’t haul bikes, dogs or muddy-footed children in it, so I sold it.” Other investments include a second house, which he rents out, a 133-acre farm, a three-unit apartment building and, “as a precaution,” a bulletproof vest.

If there is any drawback to his newfound wealth, says Inman, it is the need to persuade people he’s not as rich as they think. Though he would like to move to Florida, he is having trouble landing a job there. “One police department head said he couldn’t take my application seriously since I won a million dollars,” complains Inman. “People think I should make room for someone who needs a job. But I worked hard to get where I am, and I don’t intend to quit.”

A Maine Yankee keeps his word to his friends

Winning $150,000 in the Downeast Sweepstakes might have been a seismic event in the life of Burpey Pond, 38, of Naples, Maine (standing at left). But the windfall barely jiggled his Richter scale. “We’re ordinary people,” he says. “Money can get you in lots of trouble. It can make you mean. My friends told me, ‘Burp, for gosh sakes, keep yourself the way you are.’ ”

And so he has. One of 14 children of a poor Maine lumberjack, Burpey was pulling logs on horseback before he was 10. “We might have ate biscuits and molasses,” he says, “but we survived and was taught the good lessons.” Discharged from the Army in 1962, he took a job hand-sewing shoes for $38 a week. By the time he bought his winning lottery ticket, in 1972, he was half owner of a Naples garage. Among the other fruits of his enterprise: a house on six acres, a 67-acre plot nearby, a motor inn and a used-car dealership. Plowing all but $10,000 a year back into his businesses, he had claimed a share of the good life for himself, his wife, Nancy, and their adopted son, Christopher, now 8. But on the night of the drawing, he remembers, “I had to call my brother collect to tell him I won. I didn’t have a dime.”

Since the ticket was purchased in the name of their garage, the payoff ($30,000 up front, plus $15,000 a year for eight years) is being split with Pond’s brother and garage partner, Rich. Burpey spent another $8,000 on a trip to Florida for their employees and families (17 people, at left, including Burpey, his wife and his son)—which he had promised if he won. “I suppose I could have backed out,” he says, “but this way people at least can say, ‘There’s a man that’s honest.’ ” Apart from his investments, including a newly opened body shop, his only major purchases have been a movie camera, a $500 wardrobe for Nancy and trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii. “If you buy all at once,” he says, “you get bored. There’s nothin’ left to reach for.”

Goaded by success, Burpey is still buying lottery tickets (he has had one $500 winner and two $50s since 1972), but expects to earn his fortune by the sweat of his brow. “I’m not bragging,” he says, “but I think I’ll make it by the time I’m 55, before we’re too old to enjoy it. I’d like to know what it’s like to be a millionaire.”

A generous winner spent more than he had

Joe Namath is Beaver Falls, Pa.’s most celebrated millionaire; William Tronzo may be the unhappiest. A $7,000-a-year welder with five children, Tronzo, 49, could barely afford clothes for the family three years ago, and his three daughters and two sons (now aged 14 to 25) shared one small bedroom in their parents’ $40-a-month rented house. New Year’s Day, 1974 was “the low point for us,” Tronzo says—the day his son Joe, then 15, severed an artery in a sledding accident and subsequently had his right leg amputated below the knee.

Eighteen months later Tronzo got a phone call telling him he had won a million dollars. “I told the man, ‘This is no time to be kidding with someone who never had anything!’ ” he says. “I was mad.” When he realized it was true, Tronzo quit his job and began spending money. He bought diamonds for his wife, Maggie, a new Thunderbird (their first car), six TV sets, insurance policies, a $40,000 house once owned by the state’s lieutenant governor and, in a single day, $15,000 worth of furniture. By the time he had paid the bills and spread cash among relatives who had been kind to him over the years, Tronzo discovered he was $30,000 in debt. “I decided I didn’t have to worry about money anymore,” he says, “and I didn’t—until it was gone.”

Since then a local bank has taken charge of Tronzo’s financial affairs and allows him $18,000 a year to live on. “I get awful mad at the bank sometimes,” he says, “but I can see they don’t want me to get to be 67″—the year the money stops—”and not have anything.” His problems now are mainly psychological. He still doesn’t work (“Why should I take a job off someone that needs it?”), and his days are spent watching TV. He steadfastly refuses to travel. “I’m always afraid I’m going to die if I go away from Beaver Falls,” he explains. “People tell me, ‘You gotta get out of that house,’ but I can’t get up the gumption.” The only thing that animates him is coaching Little League. “I forget everything then,” he says. “All that’s on my mind is trying to do something for the kids.” Tronzo doesn’t blame his problems on his money, but knows it hasn’t helped. “I realize we got a nice house and nice furniture,” he says. “But money don’t buy happiness or the love of God. It don’t make you stop worrying.”

A systems analyst opts for security

Even before he won $1 million in the New Jersey lottery on St. Patrick’s Day, 1971, Ed Henry had come to terms with his fantasies. “After we got into the finals,” he recalls, “I had my wife up until 2 or 3 in the morning talking about what we were going to do with the money. By the time I went down there and won it, I knew exactly what I was going to do: nothing.”

Few instant millionaires have weathered their good fortune as gracefully as Henry, who was back on his $14,000-a-year job as a telephone company supervisor at 7 a.m. the day after the drawing. “I wanted to come down out of the clouds a little,” he remembers. “I like to know the rock in front of me is as solid as the one I’m standing on before I take that step.”

Henry, 47, so far has not taken an incautious stride. Now a $25,000-a-year systems analyst for New Jersey Bell, he admits wondering (usually while crawling out of bed at 5:30 a.m.), “What the hell am I doing this for?” One reason is his determination to preserve “a normal household” for his wife, Kathleen, and their five children, aged 3 to 9. Another is the 53 percent tax bite the federal government takes out of his income. “If you really start to think of yourself as a millionaire, you can run into problems,” says Henry. “It’s a substantial bonus on my salary. That’s how I look at it.”

Shunning both risk and extravagance, the happy winner bought two houses—one in Morristown, N.J. for his family, the other in Florida for his parents. He invests about $15,000 a year in municipal bonds and other securities and bought his family a country club membership. “Our friends haven’t changed,” he says, “but we have more of them, and some have bigger jobs. I used to worry about getting along with vice-presidents or whatever, but I do all right. I do my thing. You have to guard against living through someone else’s dream.”

Henry’s own dream is to confound fate and win the lottery twice. “I tell them down at the office,” he says with a chortle, “that when it happens I’m going to keep right on working—just to see the look on their faces.”