'Lori S.,' winner of $7 million Queen of Hearts raffle, stays anonymous
At last, there is a grand prize winner in the long-running Queen of Hearts raffle run by McHenry VFW Post 4600.
"Lori S." will receive $4,248,317 before taxes, 60 percent of the $7,080,528 pot. State and federal taxes total 33 percent, so take-home winnings will be about $2,846,372.
Lori S. was not at the VFW hall and, when contacted by VFW officials, said she wished to remain anonymous. All that was revealed was that she is from Illinois.
"Totally flabbergasted," Post 4600 Cmdr. Dwane Lungren said of his conversation with her shortly after the big draw.
"After I told her, there was silence on the other side. I told her to settle down," Lungren joked. "She is from Illinois. That's all I'm going to say, and that's a good thing."
The packed hall erupted in applause when Senior Vice Cmdr. Ben Keefe showed the winning card.
"There she is," Keefe said, before being immediately doused in silly string.
Seven envelopes remained unopened at the beginning of the night and the queen of hearts wasn't found until the fourth one. The fourth ticket drawn by McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett, who reached almost to his shoulder into a big tub filled with tickets, was number 54. Since that had been chosen earlier and had been the highest number available, organizers -- following a procedure they had spelled out before the draw -- rolled back to the start of the procession up to the next number available -- 25, which contained the coveted queen of hearts.
The game that began in 2016 took on a life of its own once the pot exceeded $1 million. Tuesday was the first time that the hundreds of people who filed into the VFW hall knew for sure they wouldn't have to come back the next week.
VFW officials decided to do the drawdown and select tickets until a winner was chosen because of staff and volunteer fatigue and the strain on city resources, which has been supplying uniformed officers inside the hall and outside to direct traffic on busy Route 120.
"It's unbelievable. It's way beyond what we expected when we started this," said Jeff Homeier, president of the VFW board.
"This is amazing. We need a break. We're all very tired," said Kelly Ozyuk, event manager for Post 4600.
During its run, the VFW had to get used three increasingly larger barrels to hold the tickets. There were so many Tuesday that Post 4600 had to secure an 8-foot-wide stock tank, such as what's used on farms, to hold them all and be able to have them mixed. They were stirred with oars.
Ninety minutes before the drawing, the building was so full that people were being stopped at the door until somebody else left.
A party atmosphere prevailed outside as the grounds, countless picnic benches and two huge tents were filled with would-be millionaires. Sales were so heavy that harried volunteers were stopping at picnic tables with collection buckets for completed tickets.
Near the end of a long line, Dan Simmons of Buffalo Grove said he lost track of how many weeks he played. Typically, he buys $5 worth of tickets, but he got $15 for the final night. He said he used to use numbers of significance like birthdays for his selections but was winging it Tuesday, with choices spread out over the remaining seven numbers.
"It got to the point those numbers were taken," he said. "At this point, whatever is left."
Heading to one of the remote parking lots, Mike and Brittany Sand of Lake Zurich were toting $120 worth of tickets.
The couple bought $10 worth and the rest were for eight other people.
"We're really here because we live the closest," Brittany said.
The tank was full of red, white and blue tickets. The post was not intending a patriotic theme, Keefe said; it had been using red tickets, but it couldn't get enough of them for this week's drawing.
The VFW will get 20 percent, to be used for veterans programs and to make renovations at Post 4600. The remaining 20 percent will be used as the base for the next game, which starts Jan. 8.
"We don't know exactly, but it's over $3 million," Keefe said. Ticket sales for that game aren't expected to begin until December.
The next step will be determined by Lori S., who will be contacting the VFW for a private meeting to secure her winnings.
"I suggested she get an attorney and accountant first," Lungren said.
• Daily Herald staff photographer Patrick Kunzer contributed to this report.