When This Lucky Man Won Millions On The Lottery, He Dropped A Major Bombshell On His Best Friend

What would you do with $22 million? Buy a yacht perhaps? Move into a mansion? Get a load of sports cars? It’s something that might cross your mind when you drive down the highway and see a Powerball billboard emblazoned with the current jackpot worth millions – or billions. But not everyone has to daydream about bringing home such a ton-load of money.

Thomas Cook had thought for years about what he’d do with the money, should he ever win the Powerball. And on June 10, 2020, it finally happened – the Wisconsinite had the chance to put his long-imagined plan into motion. But first he had to call his friend, Joseph Feeney, because he had a rather large bombshell to drop on him.

The first Powerball lottery took place on April 22, 1992, with 14 states and Washington DC participating. At the time, the game went like this: players picked five numbers, from 1 to 45. Then they chose a separate Powerball number between 1 and 45. Simple enough? We think so.

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The jackpots started out relatively small back then, with the first-ever winner taking home a $5.9 million prize. As time has gone on, the game has changed slightly – and the cash rewards have gotten even bigger. For example, in January 2016 the Powerball paid out the largest-ever amount in the history of the lottery: $1.586 billion, which was split between a trio of winners.

Players have a very slim chance of winning the Powerball, of course – the odds are approximately 1 in 292 million. But the chance to bring home millions – or billions – has kept many people in the game. And this included Thomas Cook, a Wisconsinite who had likely seen some of the state’s biggest winners splashed across newspaper front pages.

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Because Wisconsin was one of the first states to take part in the Powerball, and it’s had 18 winners since the lottery had its first draw in 1992. In fact, the third-largest prize in the history of the U.S. lottery went to 24-year-old West Allis resident, Manuel Franco, in 2019.

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Franco won a $768 million prize, and he opted to receive his winnings in a lump sum. He had to pay state and federal taxes on the money but still netted a world-changing amount of cash: $326 million, according to Wisconsin’s lottery officials. Still, such a shame to lose more than half of it to Uncle Sam!

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But you can forget trying to stay anonymous if you’re lucky enough to win the Powerball. Because Wisconsin state law doesn’t allow you to. Yes, you have to come forward to claim your prize publicly within 180 days of winning. Not great if you’d like to keep some greedy family members at bay! So Franco attended a press conference and described how he felt when he bought his Powerball tickets for a mere $10.

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Franco said he gazed straight into the store’s security camera before buying the tickets because he had such good vibes that day. He said, “I honestly felt so lucky that I did look at the camera, and I really wanted to wink at it, because I just had that lucky feeling.”

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And Franco told reporters that he’d hired financial advisers and lawyers to help him navigate his new life as a multi-millionaire. The then-24-year-old said he wouldn’t be squandering his cash on expensive luxury goods. Instead, he dreamed of paying for his family members’ college tuition, traveling the world and donating some money to charity. How sweet!

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“I’m not sure what the next chapter is going to bring for my life,” Franco told the press conference. “It feels like a dream, and it feels honestly like, any moment, I’m going to wake up and I’m just going to be back in my room, in my bed.” The surreal feeling is surely one that only fellow lottery winners – including Cook – could understand.

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Cook was visibly older than Franco, and he said he had played the Powerball since its inception in 1992. He didn’t play it alone, though – he and his friend, Joseph Feeney, often tried their luck together. Actually they had an arrangement in place in case either of them won, a pact they sealed with a handshake.

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Cook and Feeney promised each other that, if they won, they’d split the money between them. But they made that promise in 1992, nearly 30 years before the seemingly impossible happened: one of them actually won the Powerball. It was Cook, and he found out as he ate breakfast one day in June 2020.

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Over his morning meal, Cook compared the numbers on his lottery ticket with the winning Powerball digits. He described the shock that washed over him during an interview with the Wisconsin Lottery in July 2020. He said, “It was quite an experience. When I read the first two or three numbers, I kind of froze.”

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Then Cook handed the Powerball ticket to his wife, so she could see what he was seeing. And according to her husband, she had the same reaction as he did. He described it simply, saying, “She froze.” With that, he knew that he had won – and what he had to do next.

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Cook reached for the phone and made a call to his friend, Feeney. At first, Feeney thought that Cook was lying to him about the big news. Feeney, who loves to fish, remembered saying, “Are you jerking my bobber?” But his friend had actually won the lottery – and he was making good on his promise to split the winnings. They had shaken hands on it, after all.

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Feeney said in the interview that he never expected the men to win at all, especially because they had continued buying lottery tickets every week after they sealed their pact in 1992. But Cook said he would never go back on his word by simply explaining, “A handshake’s a handshake, man.” How refreshing.

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And Cook and Feeney opted to take their earnings in a lump sum, which would put about $5.7 million in each of their pockets after state and federal taxes. They both said the cash would give them the opportunity to enjoy retirement. Cook quit his job as soon as he found out that he’d won, while his friend was already a retired fireman.

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Without having to work, Cook and Feeney said they would be spending more time traveling – as well as time with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Having a few million dollars in the bank would make that easier, of course. Cook said, “We can pursue what we feel comfortable with. I can’t think of a better way to retire.”

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A promise fulfilled and a lifelong friendship struck a chord with those who heard Cook and Feeney’s story. Even state lottery director Cindy Polzin chimed in to congratulate the pair. She said in a statement, “The power of friendship and a handshake has paid off. I’m thrilled for them – their lucky day has arrived!”

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As Cook’s generosity proves, sharing is most certainly caring. And one couple from Missouri, Mark and Cindy Hill, seem to live by the same morals. When the lucky pair won half a record lottery jackpot, they knew they had to give back to the community. So generous were Mark and Cindy’s purchases, in fact, that the locals in their neighborhood were left completely stunned.

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Like many winners, the Hills lived a relatively quiet life before purchasing the proverbial golden ticket in November 2012. Mark was a factory worker, while Cindy was unemployed after losing her office manager job in 2010. The pair also have three adult sons and an adopted six-year-old daughter from China.

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With a record $587.5 million Powerball jackpot on offer, Cindy bought five tickets at a local Dearborn gas station for $10. Instead of choosing the numbers herself, she allowed the computer to pick them for her and then left the tickets in her car overnight. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Missouri native didn’t have high hopes for a money-spinning victory.

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Cindy told ABC News, “I was just telling my daughter the night before, ‘Honey, that probably never happens.’”  However, she was proved wrong the next day as she took her six-year-old to school. Upon learning that Missouri had sold a winning ticket, she drove to a convenience store to check out the lucky numbers.

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After looking through her tickets and finding the winner, Cindy wanted Mark and his mother to confirm the result. “I called my husband and told him, ‘I think I am having a heart attack,’” she recalled. “‘I think we just won the lottery!’”

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The Hills had just won half of the record jackpot – around $293 million. At the time, Mark had been working at a hot dog and deli packaging factory. But now he could put his feet up and relax. For that reason, his son Jason was delighted.

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“I’m very happy for him,” Jason told ABC News. “He’s worked hard in his life; well, not any more. Well, I hope we all stay very grounded, stay humble and don’t forget who we are.”

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For Cindy, the win presented an opportunity to travel the world with her family, knowing work would no longer get in the way. “It’s really going to be nice to spend time – not have to work – and be able to take trips with our family,” she said. “We want to go back to China, Ireland of course – we’re Irish – and wherever the win takes us.”

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Three months later, though, the win seemingly led them back home to Missouri. In fact, the couple continued to live in Dearborn, while also donating money to civic projects in Camden Point, Missouri: Mark’s hometown. Their generosity certainly didn’t go unnoticed among the locals.

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“They are very conservative people,” Walt Stubbs, a former high school friend of the Hills and chief of the area’s fire department, told the HuffPost. “They are doing some really nice things for the community, and they’ve taken care of their family.” However, their ambitious plans for the community didn’t stop there.

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The Hills went on to pay for a new fire station, which could also house ambulances, in Camden Point. The new facility would offer a direct connection to the main roads, as the old station didn’t have the best access to the local highways. In addition to that, the building would also be energy efficient and offer living quarters.

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“It’s a situation where if we had to do it ourselves, it would take 25 years,” Stubbs added. For Mark, though, this was a very important cause close to his heart. After all, his father had been saved twice by volunteer firefighters in the past.

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Mark asked KMBC, “How many towns of 500 people have an ambulance service that’s manned 24-7? Very few. I’m proud to be part of that.” And as well as the new fire station, the Hills paid for a new ball field and donated more than $50,000 to the community.

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That money was used to buy land for a new sewage treatment plant, which in turn would allow the residents to eventually give up their individual septic tanks. Unsurprisingly, Camden Point’s mayor, Kevin Boydston, expressed delight with their generosity.

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Boydston told HuffPost, “I’ve said all along that these lottery winnings could not have gone to a better couple. They are giving back to the community, just like they said they would.” The Hills’ old high school benefited from their lottery win as well, further showing their dedication to lift the area.

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In fact, the pair both graduated from Dearborn’s North Platte High School and that’s what prompted them to donate to the school’s scholarship fund. And while the locals were no doubt appreciative of their actions, Mark’s mother, Shirley Hill, was beaming with pride at the time.

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Shirley told HuffPost, “I’m real proud of them. They have stayed grounded. That’s their nature.” The pair’s generosity did not go unnoticed by the town, either. On July 16, 2016, the community gave something back to the family.

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Yes, the Camden Point Fire Department officially dedicated its new facility to Mark and Cindy, allowing the locals the chance to celebrate their actions. “He’s very private, and he doesn’t like to make a lot of splash about things,” Camden Point Fire Protection District board president Steve Folck said of the former to KCTV.

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Folck continued, “But he’s done things for the city of Camden Point, for North Platte High School, and it’s ongoing.” He added, “I mean his generosity just knows no bounds. It’s just an amazing family.”

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