Sure, most people in his position would have screamed up a lung or maybe kissed the dog on the mouth or even danced on the dining room table. But all Steve West did was hold up the winning ticket—this tiny slip of paper worth $340 million—and stare at the numbers. Then he stared at them some more. “None of us could believe it,” says West, 48, who mows lawns for his own small landscaping business. “We never did jump up and down.”
Well, now they can hire people to jump up and down for them. On Oct. 19 a typical family from Medford, Ore.—with kids and cats and basketball and cheer-leading and all that—learned their lives had suddenly taken a really interesting turn. Steve and Carolyn West, together with her parents, Frances and Robert “Bob” Chaney, went in on $40 worth of Powerball tickets, one of which—bearing the numbers 7, 21, 43, 44, 49 and 29—made them the winners of the largest single-ticket prize in Powerball history. Some time after the first of the year, the Wests and Chaneys will split a single check for $164 million before taxes. It is a dizzying windfall for a family that has paid its share of dues—a bankruptcy, one daughter’s illness, a Marine who’s served two tours of duty in Iraq. “We think of ourselves as just regular people,” says Carolyn, 47, who works as a bookkeeper. “We’ve never had the luxury of going out and buying whatever we want.”
Maybe not, but they’re getting the hang of it. People spent time with the Wests and Chaneys in the days after they began their surreal adventure—and started indulging in a little retail therapy. “There was a big sale, so I got me two new jackets,” says Frances, 68, who still used a coupon to get an additional 15 percent off. “And I bought a shirt,” says Bob, 72, a retired security firm owner who lives with his wife of 48 years in a doublewide trailer in Jacksonville, next door to Medford. “And?” says Frances. “And a yellow Hummer,” Bob says proudly, even though he can’t climb inside it because he’s still recovering from a fall from his roof. “I may I not drive it,” he explains, “but it’s there if I need it.” And on Halloween, Steve went out and spent $176 on dozens of giant candy bars instead of bite-sized goodies. But unlike so many lottery winners, whose sudden wealth becomes more trick than treat (see box page), the Wests and Chaneys quickly settled on a first course of action: hiring a financial adviser. They signed up Medford local Curt Bennett of UBS Financial Services instead of one of the many who left meat-and-cheese baskets on their doorstep. What an adviser will do is help them take “a comprehensive approach,” says Louisiana financial planner Bill Pomeroy, who has advised several lottery winners. “You need to ask yourself, ‘What do we want to happen with this money?’ ”
The Wests and Chaneys say they already had just about everything they needed even before they won enough dough to buy a parking lot worth of Hummers. They couldn’t be prouder of Matt, 21 (though they wish he’d be sent home and not on to a possible third tour in Iraq). They have another son, Curtis, 18, a straight-A student studying liberal arts in college, and two daughters, Erin, 16, and Meagan, just turning 15, in high school. They took out a second mortgage on their 2,250-sq.-ft. ranch-style home so they could remodel it, and they’ve bounced back from their bankruptcy. “If you described the kind of people you wanted to see win Powerball, it would be Steve and Carolyn,” says their friend and neighbor Teresa Lowe. “They’ve had to deal with the sort of stuff you see on Oprah. But their whole goal was to be a solid, normal American family.” Now that they’re not so average anymore, adds Lowe, “they will try their hardest not to change.”
The couple met in 1980, when Steve was finishing his final year at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; they married one year later. Carolyn worked in the payroll department at Johnson & Johnson while Steve was a manager at the Armstrong Garden Center in Glendora, Calif. In 1994 they moved to Medford for a better quality of life. In 1998 Erin was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and Steve began moonlighting to help pay her medical bills. When his employers at the local plant nursery asked him to work more hours—and stop moonlighting—he declined and was fired. “We went for three months without him working,” says Carolyn. Their decision to file for bankruptcy was “humiliating,” says Steve, who eventually went into business for himself. They made ends meet with help from friends, whom they plan to now reward for their kindness.
Meanwhile Bob and Frances Chaney were having their own problems. Bob broke his pelvis in the fall off the roof, which caused his diabetes to flare up; he also had cataract surgery and fell another time, breaking his shoulder. Still, says Frances, “we were pretty well satisfied with our life just the way it was.” It was Bob who called Carolyn on Oct. 17 and asked her to go in on some Powerball tickets, the first time the Wests have ever played. “I told her, ‘No, Carolyn, I never win. Let’s not waste our money,’ ” says Steve. “But I heard her whispering and I knew she was telling Bob, ‘Yeah, go ahead, buy the tickets.’ ”
On Oct. 19 Frances bought 40 tickets at Ray’s Food Place in Jacksonville, and that night found an Internet site with the Powerball numbers. “I glanced at them and it’s like, ‘They all match,’ ” she recalls. “So I went to another site and they all matched again. I woke up Bob and said, think we just won Powerball.’ He said, ‘Get out, leave me alone.’ ”
Next Frances called Steve and Carolyn, who drove over around 10. Before he would show them the ticket, though, Bob jokingly demanded they fork over the $20 they owed Frances for buying it. “Steve had to run out to the van and get the 20,” says Carolyn. Once they realized they had won, the Wests told their daughters not to tell anyone. But each girl gabbed to one friend, and that friend told another, “and before you knew it, the whole high school knew,” says Steve. When a cheerleader’s mother called a local paper with the story, the secret was out. Two days after they learned they had won, satellite trucks were lined up on the dirt road just past their lawn. At first the Wests tried to act as if nothing had happened—both of them, for instance, returned to work. “I didn’t want to leave any of my clients hanging,” says Steve. “On one job I had like 20 people staring at me while I planted annuals.”
The Wests even sent their daughters back to class, but only for half a day before pulling them out once they learned reporters were swarming the school. “I worry about their safety,” says Carolyn. “They don’t understand the dangers that could be out there.” Already, says Meagan, “people act different toward us. There’s some people that want to be your friend because of the money.” Or, adds Erin, “people who are your friends but change and don’t like you anymore.” The unforeseen effects on her family of suddenly being so rich is a real concern for Carolyn, say her friends. “Just last night I hugged her and she was shaking,” says cheer-leading coach Hayley Outlaw. “She’s really nervous. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen, is what she tells me.” Says Teresa Lowe: “When you talk to her, it almost sounds like she’d like to have all the money put away and not think about it and just maybe take enough to make them a little happier,” she says. “She just wants everybody to grow up a little bit longer.”
One welcome change: College and tuition are no longer scary words in the West household. “My first reaction when I realized we’d won was that Curtis’s college is now paid for,” says Carolyn, her eyes misting up. What’s more, the Wests can take full care of Steve’s mother, Arlene, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As for other relatives, Carolyn and Steve’s siblings—five of them in all—will each get $3.5 million before taxes. The Wests will also start a charitable foundation to give some of their winnings away.
What the Wests won’t do is stop working. Sure, Steve will scale back his hours, but “I like what I do,” he says, “and there’s no reason to quit.” Which means some folks in Medford are going to have the richest guy in town working on their gardens. Nor will Carolyn stray too far from her routines. “My kids are my hobby,” she says. “I make sure I stay involved in everything they do.” With any luck—that is, with any more luck—the Wests will still enjoy staying home on Saturday nights to watch scary movies together or having Frances over to cook her famous fried green tomatoes. Because being with each other is really what makes them jump up and down. “Having all this money won’t matter,” says Steve, “if we don’t have a family.”
Alex Tresniowski And Richard Jerome. Vickie Bane and Stacey Wilson in Medford, Jeff Hanson in Charleston, W.Va., and Ruth Laney in Baton Rouge