April 18, 2012 / 3:33 PM / 6 years ago

Retired Illinois couple claims huge lottery prize

RED BUD, Illinois (Reuters) - A retired couple in a southern Illinois town claimed their one-third share of a record $656 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot on Wednesday, saying they would invest most of the windfall and possibly buy a new car.

Mega Millions Jackpot winner Merle Butler (R) and his wife Patricia pose with their check along with Red Bud Mayor Tim Lowry (L) and Illinois Lottery superintendent Michael Jones during a press conference at Red Bud City Hall in Red Bud, Illinois, April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Illinois Lottery/Handout

Merle Butler, 65, a former insurance agent, and Patricia Butler, 62, who worked at several companies, retiring nearly five years ago from investment firm Edwards Jones, are the only winners of the March 30 jackpot to publicly identify themselves.

Illinois requires winners’ identities to be revealed. The holders of the two other winning tickets, in Kansas and Maryland, chose to remain anonymous.

The one-third of the prize won by the Butlers would amount to $218.6 million if paid in 26 annual installments. They chose, however, to take a lump sum payment of $157.9 million, which will be reduced to $110.5 million after federal and state taxes.

At a news conference in Red Bud, located about 36 miles south of St. Louis, Merle Butler said he usually only plays the lottery when the jackpot hits about $150 million.

“I was retired but now it looks like I have a new full-time job,” said Merle Butler, 65, referring to managing the money. The couple waited three weeks to come forward after the drawing in order to consult financial and legal advisors, he added.

The Butlers plan to make no major changes in their lives and said they would use some of the money to help their children and grandchildren.

Handout image courtesy of the Illinois Lottery shows Mega Millions Jackpot winner Merle Butler speaking during a press conference at Red Bud City Hall in Red Bud, Illinois, April 18, 2012. A retired couple described as "good people" by residents of this picturesque Illinois town claimed their one-third share of a record $656 million Mega Millions lottery prize on Wednesday, saying they would invest most of the money. The winning couple, Merle and Patricia Butler, married for 41 years, have lived all their lives in Red Bud, a tidy farming and manufacturing community of 3,700 people in southern Illinois, named for the trees that tower all over town. REUTERS/Illinois Lottery/Handout

Married for 41 years, the couple has spent all their lives in Red Bud, a tidy farming and manufacturing community of 3,700 people that is named for the trees that tower over the town.

“They are quiet people. I don’t see them much, but they do go camping a lot,” said Mark Lettman, who lives across the street from the couple on the prosperous west side of town.

A camper was parked in the driveway on Wednesday and two flags flapped in the yard - the U.S. flag and another honoring Vietnam War era POW-MIAs.

Vic Mohr, 87, who owns the local weekly newspaper, the North County News, described the Butlers as “quiet, just good people” and church-goers who kept to themselves. Another resident said the couple attended an evangelical Christian church.

Merle Butler said the numbers on the winning ticket - 02, 04, 23, 38, 46 and (23) - came from a Christmas card mailed to him by a close friend who served with Butler during the Vietnam War. He reviewed the ticket after the winning numbers were broadcast and told his wife, “We won.”

They could not sleep that night. Patricia Butler said she spent most of the night and morning nervously giggling.

In the morning Merle Butler took the ticket to his lockbox at the bank in town, which already was crawling with reporters who heard that the winner of the prize was in Red Bud. He ran into a bank employee who asked him if he was locking up the winning ticket.

“That’s right, we’ve got the winner,” Butler recalled telling the bank employee, who apparently did not believe him.

Reporting by Bruce Olson; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune and Paul Simao

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