A Mokelumne Hill home inspector is worth $2 million more this month after he cashed in a winning lottery ticket Sept. 10 in Sacramento.
Thomas Reese, 58, won $100,000 a year for the next 20 years when he scratched out the word "Life" on a $5 ticket in the "Set for Life" game. He purchased the ticket during the weekend prior at the Sierra Trading Post convenience store on Highway 49 in Mokelumne Hill. A player who buys a ticket about twice a week, Reese knew immediately what he had won.
"I reached for a pen and put my name on the back immediately," he said.
The cashier who verified the win "started going crazy," he said.
According to a California Lottery press release, the store will receive a bonus check of $10,000 for selling the winning ticket.
Reese went straight home to tell Joyce, his wife of 22 years, and a nurse for the state Department of Health Care Services.
"I was actually kind of shaking a bit. I said, 'I have a little problem,' " he recalled telling her.
"'What's that?' " he said she asked him.
"I think I won $2 million," he told her.
His wife kept repeating "No, no, no," he said.
Joyce never seemed to believe it 100 percent until they reached Sacramento safely with the ticket in hand, Reese said.
"I think it sunk in with her at the lottery office," he said. "She's always been the skeptic."
The Reeses were on lockdown last weekend waiting for the chance to officially claim their prize. The annual checks have not yet started to roll in, but the phone calls from would-be financial advisors and those claiming to represent charities have.
"I asked one guy, 'Hey, did I call you or did you call me?' He said, "Oh, no, sir. I called you,'" Reese recalled. "I said, 'That's the problem.'"
He hung up.
Reese said no long-lost relatives have yet tried to contact him and neither he nor Joyce plan to quit work and retire any sooner than four years from now. He is aware of the pitfalls notorious to big-money lottery winners. When he lived in Alameda County in the 1990s, he knew a $400,000 winner who simply bought a new home. He said he knew another man who squandered his $5 million prize in just two years and he even cashed in a $2,400 winner himself years ago, falling just one matching number short of a $13 million prize.
"I always swore if it ever happened to me, it wouldn't be something that I'd fritter away," Reese said. "Neither of us are frivolous. I'm driving a 10-year-old truck with 195,000 miles on it."
He said he and Joyce will sit down with an attorney within a week to make arrangements "in case anything happens to us."
Reese said after state and federal taxes he anticipates the prize will be about $65,000 a year.
"It really isn't going to change my life that much. It really isn't," he said. "Yeah, it's going to take some of the financial burden off."
Besides some friendly jabs and celebratory drinks and laughter with some close friends, life has remained normal, Reese said.
He recently spent more than 13 hours in the kitchen preparing dinners for a Calaveras High band fundraiser, he said.
"I don't see much of that changing," Reese said.
Daughter Shelby is a senior, a captain in the band who plays flute and piccolo. Reese also has a grown son Mike who serves in the U.S. Army Special Forces at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash.
Reese said he has not yet decided how to invest or spend his winnings. He said he has considered buying a restaurant in the past but doubts he will do so and still has the trademark he took out for an "OFU" apparel line.
It would be a brand for those with a self-deprecating sense of humor. He said the initials stand for "old, fat and ugly."
"It might go somewhere," he said. "It might not."
He also said he may try harder to quit smoking.
"I want to be sure I'm around for 20 years," he said.
Reese has long had an entrepreneurial spirit. He said he has been self-employed for 29 years including the past 11 in the home inspection business, which waned considerably after the housing bubble burst.
Nevertheless, "I enjoy what I do," he said.