MADAWASKA, Maine — In February 1986, Robert and Jeanne Gagnon had the winning Megabucks lottery numbers for the weekly drawing.
Not that it mattered.
“I had all the numbers,” Jeanne Gagnon said Wednesday. “But my husband forgot to pick up a ticket that day.”
“And I’ve been hearing about it ever since,” her husband, Robert Gagnon, said, shaking his head.
Now it appears all is forgiven. Two weeks ago, the retired couple learned they held the winning numbers in the Feb. 19 Megabucks drawing worth $3 million.
On Wednesday, the local couple returned to Bob’s Neighborhood Store, where they bought the winning lottery ticket, to talk about their newfound wealth and subsequent fame.
Jeanne Gagnon said she has been playing Megabucks since the state started offering it in 1985. In fact, she has her first ticket and the numbers drawn that week taped inside her special lottery wallet. She switches the numbers she plays each week based on a system she’s developed.
“Every Wednesday night my son goes on his cellphone to find out the winning numbers,” Jeanne Gagnon said. “Two weeks ago he gave me a piece of paper with the numbers and I said, ‘Are you kidding? I think we have it.’”
The winning numbers were 2, 4, 11, 17, 18, 28.
Robert Gagnon had already retired for the evening and Jeanne said she really did not want to disturb him.
“My son told me to wake him up,” Jeanne Gagnon said with a laugh.
The two were at Bob’s Neighborhood Store bright and early the next morning to confirm their winning ticket.
“When I saw you pull in at 7:30, I knew you were the winners,” store owner Pete Williams said to the Gagnons Wednesday.
For selling the winning ticket, the store receives $30,000.
After learning of their good fortune, the Gagnons said they had to wait a few days before going to Augusta to claim their prize.
“We wanted to go down that Thursday, but there were no hotel rooms because of the high school basketball tournament,” Jeanne Gagnon said.
“I told her we could go and sleep in the truck,” her husband said. “But she did not want that.”
On Friday, the state was hit with a snow and ice storm, so it was not until Monday the couple finally made their way to the lottery office in Augusta.
“They took us from room to room,” Jeanne Gagnon said. “Then we got to the person who asked us how we wanted to receive the money.”
Lottery winners have the option of taking their winnings in a lump sum representing 50 percent of the overall prize or getting the total amount in annual installments over 30 years.
Before answering the official, Jeanne Gagnon said she whipped out her handheld computer and did some quick tax calculations.
“I don’t think [the lottery official] was expecting that,” she said.
In the end, the Gagnons determined they would be better off with annual $70,000 payments, for which they are establishing a family estate.
“If we had taken the lump sum we would have lost $700,000 right off to taxes,” Jeanne Gagnon said. “I wasn’t having that.”
Robert Gagnon is a retired millworker and the two have one son who is disabled and lives at home with them.
The money, they said, will help ensure he is always taken care of.
As for other plans, the Gagnons are considering a new garage and maybe a tractor-operated snowblower to replace the smaller, hand-operated machine Robert Gagnon now uses to clear the driveway.
Beyond that, Jeanne Gagnon said, nothing much will change.
“I am still using my newspaper coupons,” she said. “That will never stop.”
Nor will her near constant knitting projects.
“I can’t stop knitting,” Jeanne Gagnon said. “I have too much yarn at the house, a lot of yarn.”
Her husband just smiled and nodded.
“A lot, a lot of yarn,” he said.
As the impact of winning the Megabucks begins to sink in, the Gagnons said they are consulting with a trusted financial planner and accountant on how best to deal with the influx of cash.
Not that they are lacking for suggestions for where to spend it.
“Have you met my mom? I’m her adopted son,” one customer in the store joked.
“I am, too,” Pete Williams shot back. “How are you doing, brother?”
Over the years, Jeanne Gagnon has come up with her own system for selecting numbers and said for the first several years of the lottery she tracked and analyzed every winning combination.
“I have my own little system,” she said. “It’s not collegiate, but it’s a system.”
They also purchase scratch tickets.
“She buys those to keep her husband busy,” store co-owner Susan Williams said with a laugh. “Today she is getting the ‘bingo’ cards and that is going to take him time to play.”
The Gagnons have been married 47 years and hold an upbeat outlook on life.
“You have to be positive,” Jeanne Gagnon, a childhood polio survivor, said. “What else is there?”
Coming in to purchase his own tickets Wednesday, Ronald Cyr, who worked with Robert Gagnon at the Madawaska mill, was thrilled to learn of his friend’s good luck.
“This couldn’t have happened to a better person,” Cyr said. “When you work all your life, you deserve a good break.”
The Gagnons plan to continue playing Megabucks.
“I bought a ticket this morning,” Jeanne Gagnon said. “I will keep buying them [at Bob’s Neighborhood store], there is no need to go anywhere else.”
It’s a safe bet her husband is never going to forget picking one up ever again.