June 8 was "Milk Monday" at Buche's grocery in Mission, S. Dak., and Neal Wanless got in on the sale: two gallons at $1.97 each instead of $3.45. Old habits must die hard, since surely he no longer needs to bargain hunt. Twelve days earlier the young rancher, whose family's home was repossessed in 2008, won a $232 million lottery payout—one of the biggest undivided prizes ever. "All right, Neal!" cheered deli worker Becky Bearshield as he passed her counter carrying his milk. The quiet 23-year-old blushed and said, "Thank you, Becky."
After waiting nine days to come forward (he will receive a lump-sum payment of $88.5 million), Wanless didn't have many more words at a June 5 press conference. "I'd like to thank the Lord for this opportunity. I will not squander it," he said. "My family has been helped by the community, and I intend to repay it many times over."
Even here, in America's seventh poorest county, there is little envy directed at Wanless, who dropped out of Iowa State University in 2006 to work the family's 320-acre ranch. "There's nobody who needs it more," says friend Greg Assman. "It's virtually impossible to make a living on 320 acres."
Still, Neal and his parents were trying. Dad Arlen and mom Nancy owe nearly $2,500 in taxes and were selling scrap metal to make ends meet. Bearshield's father used to hire the Wanlesses to bale hay; once, Becky recalls, "they needed money for Neal's graduation, so my dad let him have all the hay and all the profit." Despite his windfall, don't expect Neal to abandon ranch life. Not long ago he was riding a favorite horse, Eleanor, and told her, "It'd be nice if we could go for a longer ride on a bigger ranch of our own."
- Pam Grout/Lawrence,
- Jeff Truesdell/St. Louis,
- Margaret Nelson Brinkhaus/Mission.