Exclusive interview: Gretna Powerball winners 'not looking to go all opulent' - Omaha.com
Published Monday, December 16, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 9:20 am
Exclusive interview: Gretna Powerball winners 'not looking to go all opulent'

David Harrig leaped up and down early Thursday, giddy that his Powerball ticket had just turned him from a hardworking, blue-collar guy to a millionaire many times over.

Then the reality of change and responsibility hit him.

“I prayed that I stay grounded,” Harrig said with tears in his eyes Friday afternoon. “I said, 'Lord, keep me grounded through all this.' ”

Harrig and his wife, Erica, described their reactions to their newly-won wealth while in attorney Darren Carlson's west Omaha office. They sat beneath a Michael Godard art print that Carlson acquired five years ago. It features dice burning a hole through a $100 bill.

The Gretna couple conveyed a mixture of emotions, ranging from joy to fear, anticipation to worry. Material changes are coming. Transformations in character, they hope, are not.

“We just want the basics,” David Harrig said. “We're not looking to go all opulent.”

The Harrigs told The World-Herald they are one of two winners of the $122 million Powerball jackpot. The other is in Massachusetts.

The Gretna couple expect to choose the cash payout of $34.18 million. Taking the annuity option would yield a total of $61.45 million paid out annually over 29 years.

The Harrigs said they will have been married 16 years in April, and they described leading lives of toil and frugality. They have four children, including two adult children who are from David Harrig's first marriage. He knows money troubles; David filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s.

One of the couple's favorite pastimes is competing in a mixed bowling league in Elkhorn. Date night, they said, is spent at Walmart.

Erica Harrig, 36, said she drives a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 170,000 miles on it. Her 48-year-old husband drives a 2000 Chevy pickup with a fuel pump that stopped working Thursday — shortly after a 6:30 a.m. television broadcast cited the exact Powerball jackpot numbers he selected Wednesday at Speedee Mart in Gretna. Most of the numbers, he said, came from family members' birthdates.

After learning they had won the jackpot, David Harrig texted his wife, who was at work. “We're millionaires,” he messaged.

She phoned him and chided him for sending such a silly message. He said he was serious and texted her a photo of the winning ticket. One of her co-workers called up the winning numbers on a computer and verified that they matched those on David's ticket.
“And I said, 'Holy crap,' ” Erica Harrig recalled.

Word that Gretna had big winners emerged Thursday, causing a sensation at Speedee Mart, which will receive a $50,000 bonus from the Nebraska Lottery for selling the winning ticket. This is only the 10th Powerball jackpot won in the state since the Nebraska Lottery began offering Powerball in 1994. It's the first since a group of ConAgra Foods plant co-workers in Lincoln split a $365 million prize eight years ago.

David Harrig, who was in the Air Force for 10 years, works at Duncan Aviation in Lincoln, building and re-upholstering aircraft interiors. He also has a part-time job at Gretna Gas & Lube. He has typically worked at Duncan from afternoon to early morning.

He works at his part-time job in the morning some weekdays, changing oil and fixing tires.

Erica Harrig works as a nurse's aide and secretary in the pre-operation and recovery areas at Bergan Mercy Medical Center.

David Harrig said he intends to talk to his boss Monday. He said he's leaning toward retiring. “Two things I never thought I'd say — 'I'm retiring' and 'I won the lottery.' ”

Erica Harrig said she doesn't intend to leave her job in the near future. “I love my job,” she said.

During the interview Friday, David Harrig wore a Husker cap and a small earring in his left ear. They said they'll remain people in blue jeans and ballcaps.

“I need my friends, my family, my support more now than ever,” Erica Harrig said.

They'll pay off medical bills. Three people in their household suffered broken bones over the past year, he said.

They hope to buy new vehicles and build a new house with a front porch, a grand staircase, a hot tub and a swimming pool. They'll buy David's mother in Kansas a record player, because that's what she said she wanted when she heard the news.

They'll travel. “Anywhere,” Erica said. “Africa would be fun. Hawaii, we've never been. Alaska. Paris, y'know, something like that.”

The Harrigs said they may start a foundation from which to donate money to organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “We want to be able to provide for generations of our family,” David Harrig said. “We know there's a responsibility, with doing our part for our community.”

He said he feels overwhelmed. Once the euphoria ended, he said, “I thought, 'What do we do next?' Then you start thinking about the responsibility. It's powerful, that's for sure.”

They don't want their children to be burdened or badgered. This newfound wealth can be “a blessing and a curse, I guess,” he said.

Asked if they're worried they will change, David said yes, he does.

“ 'Cause you always hear the bad things that happen to lottery winners, the stupid things they do,” he said. “I don't want that to be us.”

World-Herald staff writer Bob Glissmann contributed to this story.

Contact the writer: Rick Ruggles

rick.ruggles@owh.com    |   402-444-1123    |  

Rick covers health and medicine. He also occasionally covers cops, breaking news and events around town.

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