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Retired Ill. couple claims share of $656M jackpot

RED BUD, Ill. — 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 — $111 million after taxes — in a lump-sum payment.

Merle Butler, 65, said that until Wednesday's news conference, fewer than five people knew they had 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 former computer systems analyst said.

The couple, who have grandchildren, have no immediate plans other than to craft an investment strategy, then look into how to treat themselves in a few months or a year, 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 rare exceptions, 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.

Since the drawing, the collective hobby in Red Bud has been speculating about who 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 and its roughly 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.

Mayor Tim Lowry said the attention from the lottery win has been somewhat transformational for Red Bud, which is known in the area mostly for its annual firefighters' parade and elaborate Christmas displays.

"Everyone now knows who we are. We used to be a joke on a T-shirt saying, 'Where the Hell is Red Bud?'" Lowry said.

Several residents described the Butlers as a friendly but private couple, and LeRoy Bievenue, a retired public worker who knows them from church, said he isn't surprised they managed to keep their jackpot win so quiet.

"It's awesome for a little town in southern Illinois to have this kind of a winner, to put Red Bud on the map," Bievenue said.

Brenda Holcomb, a retired bartender, said she is happy for the couple and glad it was someone from town who won.

"They deserve it," she said. "Of course it would be better if I had it. I'd have a Miller Lite truck parked outside here right now."