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Seth Tupper, The (Mitchell) Daily Republic, Published June 14 2009

Newspaper gets letters for SD man who won $88.5M

MISSION, S.D. – Neal Wanless is a hard man to contact.

He lives in an especially rural pocket of South Dakota, down a long dirt road that at last check was guarded by a padlocked, barbed-wire gate. Internet searches on his name yield no publicly listed address or phone number.

About all that’s known of him is that he’s an unmarried cowboy, he lives near the reservation town of Mission, and he pocketed $88.5 million from a winning Powerball ticket earlier this month.

Hundreds of media outlets have tried to scrape together more information about the 23-year-old instant celebrity, but they’ve been hindered by his isolation. His family’s ranch is hundreds of miles from the nearest daily newspapers and network television affiliates.

At about 185 miles to the northeast of the ranch, The Daily Republic is as close as any major South Dakota media organization. Perhaps that’s why some people, left without any method of contacting Wanless directly, are addressing their letters and e-mails for Wanless to the newspaper.

“Please, if you can find it in your heart to help a stranger,” wrote a single mother from Texas, “your blessing will be returned 10 times over, the Bible says.”

The woman’s husband recently abandoned her and the couple’s two children, according to the letter, after their home was foreclosed.

A woman from Maine detailed the hard luck that has befallen her town and wrote that she “would love to be able to pay off” her mortgage, but added that she is “not asking.” She just wants Wanless to “enjoy life.”

A man from Utah wrote that he knows a “young Sioux lady” living in a Rapid City, S.D., homeless shelter who needs to sell 320 acres and a bison herd near Kadoka, S.D., that she inherited from her father. “Her dad left her this property and no money to operate it,” the letter says.

Wanless said during his brief press conference June 5 that he plans to continue ranching and would like to acquire more land. He said he recently told his horse, Eleanor, that “It’d be nice if we go for a longer ride than usual on a bigger ranch of our own.”

The letter-writer from Utah figures that the Kadoka-area land – Kadoka and Mission are about 80 miles apart – would be “right up Neal’s alley!”

“I can see the headlines,” the letter says. “Cowboy wins jackpot on Indian land and helps local Indian woman and family.”

The most far-flung request came from Bucharest, Romania, where an American couple wants Wanless to send “a small team of mature, intelligent and civic-minded officials from your community to Romania to learn how to manufacture eight of our liquid ecological fertilizers.”

Had Wanless not said anything at his press conference about wanting to help people, the letters would surely still be coming in. But he did say something about that. He said, “My family has been helped by the community and I intend to repay that help many times over.”

And so the letters are coming – not only to The Daily Republic, but also to the Mission Post Office, where Postmaster Kathy Bryan said Thursday that she has a couple of small boxes of mail for Wanless to pick up.

“I’m sure that before all of this is said and done, there’ll be quite a lot of it,” Bryan said.

The Daily Republic and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.