Every once in a while, you need a feel-good story about a Powerball winner who kept on being a cowboy, despite his take-home jackpot.
Sometimes, you just need a good, old-fashioned, feel-good story to warm your soul. And with all the tales of Powerball winners who spend frivolously or go for broke within the first year of taking home the jackpot, this story stands out from the rest. Like a warm sunset on your back as you ride your trusty steed along your fence line or a steamy cup of joe over the campfire set to a picturesque South Dakota backdrop, this Powerball winner didn’t let the jackpot change what mattered.
Back in 2009, Neal Wanless was living on a ranch in Mission, South Dakota. The then 23-year-old cowboy called this town his home in a county that nearly half of the population lived below poverty. Wanless was feeling the financial strain, too, as his family home was repossessed by the bank. Wanless, his brother, and his parents had all moved in together in a tiny camper. And in addition to meager earnings Wanless managed as a cowboy, his father would sell scrap metal just to help make ends meet. Wanless said in an interview, “we were struggling.”
But like so many Americans, Neal Wanless found himself at the local convenience store one day, feeling lucky. He was getting gas and took a chance on a playing Powerball. Low and behold, this young cowboy hit it big. He became the largest jackpot winner ever for the state of South Dakota and landed $232.1 million. It may not surprise you, either, to hear that the first thing Neal Wanless bought with his jackpot win was his own ranch. And he followed through on his promises, too, to repay his “kind neighbors” who helped his family during their times of struggle.
Local reactions were all enthusiastic. One of Neal Wanless’s former teachers gave an interview and worried that he might “get suckered” because he’s “such a nice guy.” Neighbors and those who know him all said it couldn’t have happened to a kinder, humbler, more considerate guy. Wanless had played in the high school band, ran cross country, and graduated as the second in his class as 2004 Salutatorian. It seemed that this incredibly huge Powerball jackpot went to just the right person this time.
Believe it or not, Neal is now 34 and happily married. And a few news outlets are reporting that he’s planning to sell his Powerball-purchased ranch, called The Bismarck Ranch, for $41.15 million. This idyllic ranch sprawls across the South Dakota hills, over 50,000 acres of grazing pastures, and a scenic river. If it sells for what he’s asking, it would be the most expensive single ranches ever sold in the state.
The Wanless’ said they’re selling the ranch to spend more time at the in-law’s cattle ranch in British Columbia. And the couple bought another home in Arizona. Neal says as much as he loves South Dakota, he’s not a fan of the South Dakota winter winds, so Arizona may be the winter haven for them.
Until the Bismarck Ranch sells, named for the trail heavily traveled during the days of the Black Hills gold rush, Wanless leases out his land to area ranchers. He also works with the Bureau of Land Management, which runs wild horses there. As of the latest stats, the ranch was home to more than 1,600 cows and calves, 3,000 or so yearlings, and about 1,000 wild horses.
This Powerball winner has a story that seems to warm the hearts of everyone who hears it. It’s just a reminder of how life-changing the Powerball jackpot can be. Now get out and play. Your winning story could be the heartwarming follow-up to this cowboy’s tale.