Iowa grandmother claims $343.9 million Powerball jackpot

A 51-year-old woman who raised three daughters on her own and who celebrated the purchase of her first home last week vowed Monday to do good while claiming a $343.9 million Powerball jackpot in Iowa.

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“My girls and I used to dream of winning the lottery,” Lerynne West, a mother of three with six grandchildren, said Monday while claiming her prize at the Iowa Lottery headquarters in Clive. “Never thought we would be here today.”

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West grew up with seven siblings in Earlham, a town about 30 miles west of Des Moines with a population of 1,450, according to the 2010 U.S. Census and the Des Moines Register. She said Monday that she started a family shortly after earning her GED when she was 19 years old.

“As a single mom, I worked full-time,” she said Monday. “I went to school full-time at nights and weekends, and my daughters had to sacrifice a lot for that.”

She said that when she had the money, she played the lottery twice a week. Before the Oct. 27 Powerball drawing, she said her biggest prize had been $150.

Last week, she retired early from her job in the insurance industry after learning of her jackpot win.

"I know she'll do right with the money," West's friend, Ruth Easter, told the Register. "Single mom does good. She deserved it."

West bought her winning ticket at Casey’s General Store in Redfield, where she bought her first home late last month. She said she and her sister stopped at the shop for coffee and a slice of pizza while she was getting packed when she thought to pick up a lottery ticket.

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She didn’t think of the ticket again until Oct. 27, when a friend sent her a text asking whether she had won the lottery. She said the message was the first she had heard that someone from Iowa had won the Powerball jackpot, but after a search, she couldn’t find her ticket.

She called her sister, who had noticed the lottery ticket in her truck. She sent West a photo of the ticket.

“It took me a minute going back and forth to figure out that I had won, and I said to my sister, ‘Get that ticket, get in your truck, get up here now and drive slow,’” West said.

She said Monday that she decided to take her winnings as a $198.1 million lump sum payment.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

“I know the responsibility I have to do good with this money, and my life has changed forever,” she said. “I plan to make thoughtful and responsible decisions on giving to my friends and family and setting up so that my grandchildren will all have a college education.”

West and her family are also organizing the Callum Foundation, a charitable organization named for her grandson, Callum, who was born premature in April and lived only one day. According to Iowa Lottery officials, the foundation “will be focused on making grants in the core areas of alleviating poverty and hunger; education; animal welfare and veteran’s affairs.”

"We have a board set up that will go over the requests and decide what is in the best interests of the Callum Foundation," West said. "The whole thing of knowing when to pull together a team and work on these plans came from years of playing and daydreaming about winning the lottery. Then, once it finally happens, it's a whole new ballgame."

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West said she also plans to buy a car.

"She sacrificed a lot for us to make sure she could give us the best life that she could," Lerynne West's daughter, 24-year-old Skylar West, told the Register. "She's a great mom. … You can't put into words all the good qualities she has and all the things she would do to help us out."

Two winning tickets for a jackpot of $687.8 million were sold ahead of last month's Powerball drawing. The other winner, who has not claimed his or her ticket yet, bought a Powerball ticket in New York.

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