How 5 Lottery Winners Paid It Forward

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A 2010 Princeton University study found that a boost in income increases a person's happiness, but only up to a certain point — a $75,000 annual salary. So money can buy happiness ... if you don't have too much of it. No wonder these lottery winners found their fortune when they gave their money away.

1. Bob Erb

Lottery winners can afford to leave a good tip, but they're usually not this generous. In late June, Bob Erb of Terrace, British Columbia paid for a burger and fries with a $10,000 check and told the restaurant owner, Cliff Luther, to keep the change. The two men met a week earlier when Erb and his girlfriend stopped by for lunch while on a road trip. Luther told the out-of-towners that his daughter also lived in British Columbia, and that she'd recently been diagnosed with cancer. Erb empathized—he lost his own son to the disease a few years ago. On his way home, Erb returned to the restaurant for lunch and a good deed. He told the Vancouver Sun about Luther's reaction to the check: "[Luther was] so overwhelmed, so befuddled by it that I ended up having to flip my own burger, because he was real emotional.”

Erb's first charitable act after winning $25 million last November was more controversial. He donated $1 million to 420 Day, an annual event that advocates marijuana legalization. Erb has also donated money to a school and rewarded $10,000 to $20,000 to each employee at the gas station where he bought his winning ticket. Why live like a high roller when you can give back?

2. John Kutey

Some lottery winners share the wealth by donating to existing charities or starting their own. John Kutey, one of seven IT specialists who shared a $319 million win in 2011, decided to build a $250,000 water park. Spray Park opened in Green Island, New York on July 1, replacing an outdated park from the 1940s. Kutey and his wife Linda dedicated the new summertime attraction to their parents. If Kutey's fellow winners, all co-workers at New York State's Division of Housing and Community Renewal, follow his lead, they could revitalize an entire city.

3. Allen and Violet Large

Research has found that the higher the jackpot, the more likely winners will go bankrupt. But Allen and Violet Large of Lower Truro, Nova Scotia, didn't worry about that. When the elderly couple won $11.2 million in 2010, they donated 98 percent of their newfound wealth to the Red Cross, churches, fire departments, and hospitals where Violet was treated for cancer. At the time, Violet told the Toronto Star, "What you've never had, you never miss."

Alas, not everyone has such good intentions. Email scams have been one side effect of the Larges well, largesse. In one widely-circulated email, a person pretending to be one of the Larges promises a donation in exchange for a bank account number. Allen Large worries that the scam tarnishes his late wife's name—Violet died in 2011. He still buys weekly lottery tickets in her memory, though. If he wins again, he plans to donate it all.

4. Anonymous

The easiest way for lottery winners to avoid "mo' money, mo' problems" might be mo' mystery. In 2008, True North Community Church in Port Jefferson, New York received a $3 million winning scratch-off ticket from one of its parishioners, who wants to remain anonymous. Ask and ye shall receive! Since its windfall, the church has been able to expand and donate to various other charities. Pastor Bertrand Crabbe remains mum on the generous donor and gives the real credit to God.

5. Dennis Mahurin

A seminal 1978 study found that Illinois State Lottery winners were not much happier than people paralyzed in accidents. Financial highs and circumstantial lows fade within a few months, returning people to a happiness baseline. Coincidentally, Dennis Mahurin has lived in a Bloomington, Illinois homeless community since the year of the study. When he won $50,000 on a scratch-off ticket in April, he announced that he was staying in his tent. Mahurin plans to go to the dentist, visit his son, save a bit of money, and give $100 to every homeless person he knows.

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July 5, 2013 - 11:00am
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