WHITING | Steve Ihnat sat on a stool Thursday outside Paradise Liquors at 1506 119th St., waiting for Hoosier Lottery officials to fulfill the dreams of 31 current and former Hammond employees and “five very good friends."
“I was the guy banging the drum for 30 years,” said the 62-year-old Hammond resident about spearheading the effort for a lottery pool among his colleagues for past three decades.
“We pooled our money for 10 draws into the future that included the June 14 Mega Millions.”
Ihnat’s persistence paid off because the group, known to state lottery officials as “The City of Hammond 36," matched five numbers in the June 14 Mega Millions drawing. However, it took until Aug. 2 before any of the winners knew about the $250,000 prize they would split.
That’s because Ihnat always checks the tickets he buys for the group at Paradise Liquors, but went in the hospital for hip surgery at the end of June.
“They had a Lotto sheet I made up at work, and they could have checked it,” he joked as Betsy Gutierrez, of the Indianapolis-based Hoosier Lottery office, presented a large replica check to Ihnat and two other winners outside the liquor store where the ticket was purchased.
“I checked the first seven drawings but didn’t look at the last three until I was recuperating from the surgery,” said Ihnat, a Hammond Street Department laborer.
The 36 winners include 14 employees of the Hammond Streets Department, seven from the Hammond Sanitation Department, eight employees of the Hammond Parks and Recreation Department and five family and friends.
Each of the 36 will receive almost $5,000 each after taxes.
Andy Tiebel, of Crown Point, owns Paradise Liquors and will receive a check for $2,500 for selling the winning match-five Mega Millions ticket.
Tiebel knew he’d sold a winning ticket long before the winners came forward.
“I was notified about eight days after the drawing,” he said. “I was telling everybody to check their tickets. It seemed like forever before Steve came in with the ticket.”
Ihnat said he’s buying a comfortable recliner with his winnings.
The DeAngelo brothers, who joined Ihnat at Paradise Liquors on Thursday, said they learned about the win Aug. 2, which is their mother’s birthday.
“My dad called me and I thought he was lying to me,” said Mark DeAngelo, of Hammond, an employee of Meats by Linz in Whiting. “My fiancee, Susan Vance, has already put it aside for our wedding next year. I’m also buying Steve a box of steak of steaks.”
Mark’s brother, Scott DeAngelo, of Crown Point, was on his way to Pennsylvania when his father, George, called him. A mechanic in the Hammond Parks and Recreation Department, Scott DeAngelo said he’ll pay bills and save some money to eventually buy an RV.
Asked if he had any tips for those who want to win big in the Hoosier Lottery, Ihnat said, “I just close my eyes. It was a quick pick.”