Retired Illinois couple claims share of $656 million lotto jackpot

Retired Illinois couple claims share of $656 million lotto jackpot
Merle and Patricia Butler, of Red Bud, Ill., pose with a novelty check during a news conference at the Red Bud Village Hall on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 in Red Bud, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
RED BUD, Ill. (AP) - A retired southern Illinois couple claimed the third and final share of last month's record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot on Wednesday, and said they plan to treat themselves - possibly even to a vacation - once they've sorted out how to invest their windfall.

Merle and Patricia Butler bought a $3 quick-pick ticket to the March 30 drawing at the Motomart convenience store in their village of Red Bud, a farming community about 40 miles southeast of St. Louis. They have opted to collect their winnings - $158 million after taxes - in a lump-sum payment.

Merle Butler, 65, said that until Wednesday's introductory news conference, he and his wife had told fewer than five people they won the lottery, other than the cadre of financial advisors and the lawyer with whom they've been meeting.

"I was retired. It looks like I have another full-time job," the retired computer systems analyst said.

The couple, who have grandchildren, have no immediate plans other than to craft an investment strategy, then revisit how to treat themselves a few months or a year from now, Merle said.

"There could possibly be a vacation in there," he quipped.

Of the three jackpot-winning ticket holders, only the Butlers came forward publicly. The Illinois Lottery requires, with the rare exception, that winning ticket holders appear for a news conference and related promotions, partly to show that it pays out prizes as promised. Winning ticket holders in Kansas and Maryland opted to remain anonymous.

Over the past two weeks, the collective hobby in Red Bud was speculating about who had bought the winning ticket, with locals wondering if it was one of their own or someone who had pulled off the nearby highway while en route to other parts.

About 100 locals gathered outside the community hall during Wednesday's news conference, and they gave a rousing cheer to the Butlers when they emerged afterward.

Patricia Butler said that since the drawing, they have been so busy mapping out how to deal with the life-changing event, they haven't spent a lot of time with their friends and neighbors.

"It's just very exciting. We've been meeting with a lot of people, just not here in town," the 62-year-old former program analyst said.

Despite their newfound wealth, Merle Butler said he and his wife do not plan to move away from Red Bud, which has about 3,700 residents.

"This is a nice, comfortable, family-oriented community. We've lived here a long time. We don't plan to go anywhere else," he said.