Former East Millinocket resident who won record Powerball jackpot offers to repair high school roof, superintendent says
EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Florida resident and town native who bought a winning $590.5 million Powerball ticket, the largest single jackpot in American lottery history, has offered to donate $2 million to repair Schenck High School’s roof, Superintendent Quenten Clark said Tuesday.
Rumored since 84-year-old Gloria MacKenzie came forward with the winning Powerball ticket on June 5, collecting a lump sum of $370.9 million that totaled $278 million after taxes, MacKenzie sent word of her intent through family members who visited Clark’s office shortly before noon, he said.
“They want their privacy respected so I don’t think they will have any comment publicly,” Clark said Tuesday, calling the word from the family “a verbal assurance.”
MacKenzie family members could not be reached Tuesday to confirm the offer. Former Selectman Larry MacKenzie, one of Gloria’s sons, has an unlisted telephone number.
Gloria MacKenzie and her family have declined to comment on winning the jackpot since it occurred. Her daughter Mindy teaches biology at Schenck High School, Clark said.
Townspeople have wrestled with the problem of the school’s leaky roof all year. The school board has recommended that voters support a $1.87 million proposal to fix the roof and make some other repairs at a referendum that has been delayed until the school system’s proposed budget is passed.
Schenck, which also houses K-4 students in the Opal Myrick Elementary School wing, will get about $636,000 in state aid for the roof job. The Board of Selectmen opposes the project, but opted to let voters decide the issue.
The passage of the budget is among the conditions of the MacKenzie donation that have been discussed, Clark said.
Katahdin region residents have congratulated MacKenzie since her winnings, describing her family as a contributor to the region for decades. Larry MacKenzie has served as a member of the school board and as a selectman.
She most recently made news by buying a house in Florida for $1.175 million.
Clark will discuss with the school board’s attorney how the schools can accept such a large donation. He said he was told that the family is establishing “some sort of charitable fund that they said they will do more, a lot more, for the community.”
Clark, school board Chairman Daniel Byron and Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, praised the MacKenzie family for its generous offer.
“We are very fortunate to have them in the community,” Byron said. “They take their heritage to heart when it comes to the town and helping the town out. It [the $2 million offer] is a great gesture on their part.”
“I think they are wonderful people,” Linscott said. “Mindy MacKenzie has been very quiet through all this. She’s a dedicated school teacher.”
Linscott said he was not surprised to hear of the offer because MacKenzie “is a very dedicated Schenck High School teacher. She has remained very respectful [to differing opinions] during this whole process. She is a good person.”
“It is kind of amazing,” Clark said. “They lived in the community for generations and they are willing with their good fortune to help the community.”
But how much will it help East Millinocket to repair the school? In some ways, officials said, the project, which includes the replacement of a cracked wall and the gymnasium floor once the repair work exposes it to the elements, is the least of the town’s problems.
“To my knowledge it is the most immediate problem,” said Byron, who called upon selectmen to support the school board’s latest budget to help the donation to occur.
Byron has estimated that totally renovating Schenck, a building of 1957 vintage with an aged boiler system, would cost as much as $7 million. He believes school officials can cut a few million from that estimate.
“Do we have to totally renovate the high school and Opal Myrick? I don’t think so,” Byron said. “Whether or not they [MacKenzie family members] are going to be interested in funding those issues is totally up to them.”
A more fundamental problem is how over the last 40 years the population of the region’s largest town, Millinocket, plunged from 7,742 to 4,466 residents while East Millinocket dipped from 2,567 to 1,723. East Millinocket schools that had 380 students in 1995 are expected to have 209 next September, a 45 percent drop.
Local governments have automatically adopted zero-growth budgets that prevented the roof’s repair and some other capital projects.
“We need to be able to keep our young people here to keep our schools and businesses going,” Byron said. “For the last 20 years it has been more difficult for them [town families] to do that. We are not keeping our kids here for lack of employment. That needs to change.”
The MacKenzie family’s offer, officials said, buys time for the region’s economy to rebound. The project’s completion will alleviate Millinocket officials’ biggest stated concern about consolidating with East Millinocket schools and help the Schenck building to remain viable as a high school for town, Medway and Woodville students or as a proposed Katahdin region junior high school.
The offer “adds one more piece of protection to the idea of keeping a school in the town,” Linscott said.
“It doesn’t solve every problem but it does help solve some of them,” Clark said. “It opens the doors for a lot of cooperation within the communities of the region.”
“It is positive news,” Byron said. “Maybe something good will come of it.”