When Good Things Happen to Good People: 8 Heartwarming Lottery Wins

Three Mega Millions winners in Maryland are co-workers at a school who plan to stay anonymous and live modestly. They're among a refreshingly large number of feel-good lottery stories.

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Rick Bowmer / AP

A customer at a convenience store holds her Mega Millions lottery tickets Friday, March 30, 2012, in Portland, Ore.

A trio of anonymous Maryland teachers will split a third of the record $656 million Mega Millions lottery winnings. And we may never know who they are.

The group calls themselves the “Three Amigos” and pooled $20 each toward the tickets. The elementary school teacher, special education teacher and school administrative worker (the mix includes a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s) don’t plan on even telling coworkers. Instead, they plan on making small changes to their lives.

Those small changes will be plenty easy to accomplish, as each will get $35 million after taxes via the lump-sum payment they chose to receive. An anonymous winner in Kansas and a yet unclaimed winner in Illinois, a state that doesn’t allow anonymity for lottery winners, hold the two other winning tickets. That Illinois winner has one year to claim the millions.

(MORE: 10 Fun, Weird Factoids Before You Play the Lottery)

While we’ve all heard the countless horror stories of lottery winners befalling ruin, this trio hopes to avoid those pitfalls. One winner said in a statement, “We’re going to be careful with how the money is spent. I watched coverage of the jackpot win on television all week, just so I could listen to the financial advice the professionals were offering.”

The winners, some of whom hold down multiple jobs, have modest dreams for now. One wants to backpack in Europe, another hopes to visit Italy and a third is saving for his daughters’ education.

While we have high hopes for the Three Amigos of lottery winning, here’s a handful of past lottery winners that not only kept themselves from travesty, but also enriched the lives of others along the way:

Allen and Violet Large of Nova Scotia, Canada, both in their 70s, took their $11.2 million winning check and handed it all away, mainly to hospitals. “What you’ve never had, you never miss,” Violet said at the time. They did give money to their families, but also handed it away to churches, cemeteries, the local fire department, a pair of hospitals and a long list of other recipients.

• Religion and gambling don’t often pair up, but an anonymous donor gave a $3 million New York state ticket to True North Community Church in Port Jefferson, N.Y., in 2008. The $10 Bada-Bling scratchoff ticket allowed the church to move forward on a building project, fight human trafficking in Southeast Asia through the charity Love 146 and also grant the church resources to donate to other needs.

Ray and Barbara Wragg from Sheffield, England, won over $15 million (U.S.) in 2000 and have given away almost all of that ever since, mainly to the Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield and the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. To diversify their gifts, the couple also sent 50 veterans to Italy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino.

Sheelah Ryan had long been one of the most generous lottery winners. She won $55.2 million in 1988 in Florida and spent the next six years giving money away until she passed away from cancer in 1994. Her charitable group, the Ryan Foundation, built low-cost housing, paid rent for single mothers, assisted poor children and even helped out stray cats. She once said in 1989, “I think it was by the grace of God I won. I realized there must have been a reason he gave me the money, so I decided to give some of it to senior citizens and the homeless.”

A 30-year-old single school teacher in Taiwan reportedly bought a lottery ticket in 2005 with the sole purpose of giving away the winnings. And she is said to have done just that, turning over the entirety of the “tens of millions of NT dollars” to cultural and educational programs for disadvantaged youth.

• Idaho’s Hilda Floyd won $1 million in 2011 and has given 90% of that away to her family, her church and charitable organizations, saying she immediately knew what she needed to do with the money as soon as she won it.

Steve and Carolyn West of Medford, Ore., split a $340 million Powerball ticket in 2006 with their family members, Bob and Frances Chaney. And while they didn’t hesitate to spend freely on themselves (a 6,400-square-foot home serves as one example), they each did open up a charitable foundation and have donated millions to local schools, family organizations, law enforcement and Christian organizations.

• Another feel-good story out of Taiwan claims an anonymous 23-year-old office worker won the equivalent of nearly $10 million and donated close to $1 million to different organizations benefiting children.

MORE: Q&A With Lottery Wars Author

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