14 years later: Where are the lottery lunch ladies now?

Not in a million years would Donna Lange have bet on the good fortune of a comfortable retirement in a small lake home near Avon, Minnesota. http://kare11.tv/2lZiHYM

HOLDINGFORD, Minn. - Not in a million years would Donna Lange have bet on the good fortune of a comfortable retirement in a small lake home near Avon, Minnesota.

Fourteen years ago, Lange, 79, was among 16 of the Holdingford school cafeteria workers, nicknamed the “Happy Huskers,” who ponied up 25 cents in a workplace lottery pool, and walked away as millionaires.

A viewer asked KARE 11 what became of the Holdingford winners, and we caught up with Lange and another winner, Barb Nelson.

They sat down to remember the day they won, on Oct. 25, 2003, over a weekend.

“I just said to them, 'None of us will have to come to work on Monday, we are going to win the lottery,' as I wrote down the numbers on a piece of scrap paper so I could take it home and check it,” Lange remembered.

Lange’s late husband purchased the winning ticket for the women, who all went to work the following Monday, serving a taco lunch to the students, before revealing they had won the $95 million jackpot.

Dividing the jackpot, each of them could put a $2 million lump sum in the bank, or take a yearly payout of $134,000.

Nelson still works full time in another job, as well as running her family dairy farm.

When she won, she had young children to raise, college to pay for, and a farm to invest in. She says she used some of the winnings to build a home, but “nothing extravagant.”

“There is a lot of people who say the lottery wrecks lives, well, it can how you handle it,” said Nelson. “Think about it before you make rash decisions and get somebody to help make those decisions. I would say go with your gut instinct, if you think it's wrong, think about it.”

Lange did retire right away, and said without the winnings, retirement would have come with more financial stress. She built a dream house she's now downsized from, and said it's a priority to give a lot to charity.

While winning the lotto made life more comfortable, did it really buy more happiness in the long run?

“I don't think so, no,” agreed Lange and Nelson.

For the Happy Huskers, striking it rich with pocket change couldn’t change the most important currency of all.

“I think of the 16, everybody is pretty much the same and I think basically a good person or people they were,” said Lange.

Several of the original lottery winners still work serving lunch in the cafeteria. Their pragmatism is one more reason why their story is so remarkable.

About 70 percent of people who win the lottery or suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.

WATCH BELOW: The original 'Happy Huskers' story from 2003

© 2017 KARE-TV


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