Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, Published June 08 2009
Jackpot winner’s uncle has University of North Dakota ties
Neal Wanless, the 23-year-old South Dakota rancher who won the giant Powerball lottery, is the son of Terry Wanless’ brother, Arlen, and his wife, Nancy.
The ranch Neal and his father, Arlen, own and operate near Mission is the place where Terry, Arlen and their four brothers grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota.
Neal Wanless bought the ticket May 27 in Winner, S.D.
Touted as a $232 million jackpot because its annuity value over 30 years would total that much, the ticket actually was worth
$118 million in cash and – after federal income taxes were deducted – $88 million to Neal Wanless, who came forward to accept the check last week.
South Dakota is one of a handful of states with no state income tax; so according to some estimates, Neal Wanless received
$8 million more from the ticket than, by comparison, a Minnesota winner would have collected, post-taxes.
“We’re obviously excited for him,” Terry Wanless said Sunday from his Sacramento home about his nephew. “His life is going to change dramatically, but he will handle it well. He will do a great job.”
Wanless, completing his seventh year as athletic director at Sacramento State University, said he hasn’t talked to his nephew since the big win.
“As you can imagine, you kind of put yourself on guard to take care of normal business, because life is not normal anymore,” Terry Wanless said. “He will do a great job with it. He’s well-grounded, a great kid.”
On Friday, when accepting the money, Neal Wanless said. “I want to thank the Lord for this opportunity and blessing me with this fortune.”
He also promised to share his good fortune with his community, which he said had helped his family in hard times.
Arlen and Nancy Wanless have an older son who is a career Navy man. “He’s a great kid, too,” Terry Wanless said. “Arlen’s got two great sons.”
Terry Wanless, who is 61, said his father, who is deceased, was a county agricultural extension agent who moved around South Dakota a little. While assigned to begin a 4-H program in Todd County, he started a ranch and the family raised Hereford cattle, working them with horses.
Arlen, 54, and Neal raise cattle, sheep and horses on the same place in the nation’s seventh-poorest county. Things have been tough, and they had gotten behind on some property tax payments. Arlen Wanless also buys and sells scrap iron.
Terry Wanless was UND’s athletic director from 1990 to 1999 and is remembered not only for the wide success of Sioux athletics during his tenure, but for dismissing hockey coach Gino Gasparini. Wanless thereby attracted the wrath of Las Vegas casino owner, UND mega-benefactor and ex-Sioux goalie, the now-late Ralph Engelstad.
Until Wanless was gone, Engelstad told UND in 1994, he would not give another dime to the school’s athletic programs. Engelstad ended up donating $110 million for the hockey arena named after him.
Neal Wanless’ father, Arlen, was the only one of the six Wanless boys who stayed on the home ranch after they all attended Todd County High School, Terry Wanless said.
His brother and nephew, like many ranchers and “like many other residents of that community, were struggling to make a living,” Wanless said. “That’s one of the things about Arlen, he is an extremely hard worker, and he always has done whatever it took to take care of his family. So, this is certainly a blessing to him and his family.”
While Powerball odds are about 1 in 195 million, Terry Wanless had absolutely no chance of winning such a jackpot May 27.
“I have never personally bought a Powerball ticket,” Wanless said. “Maybe I should to see if lightning would strike twice. We were kind of laughing about that. What do they say? That you are twice as likely to be hit by lightning as to win a Powerball.”
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