Although it took enormous luck to win $1 million in the New York State lottery, in the end Wayne Schenk ran out of time.
The 51-year-old veteran who tried in vain to get his $1 million in lottery winnings paid out in a lump sum so that he could pay for costly treatments for his lung cancer, died Monday.
Last December, Schenk was diagnosed with cancer and was told he had less than a year to live. A few weeks later, he played a $5 scratch-off ticket and won the big prize. But New York State lottery officials would pay him only in 20 annual installments of $50,000, citing the rules of the game.
Despite the efforts of his friends, a local New York state assemblyman, and several media accounts that reported his plight, Schenk was unable to get a top cancer facility to accept him as a patient in return for the winnings.
Schenk, who served in the Army from 1976 to 1980, did not have health insurance but was receiving treatment from the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Syracuse. Since that facility had limited resources, he wanted to move to a specialized cancer center that would have required $125,000 upfront and $250,000 in reserve.
As his health declined in recent months, Schenk was able to get an appointment at Buffalo's Roswell Cancer Institute, which cost him $1,500. "But it was too late," said Assemblyman Joseph A. Errigo, who has been pushing a bill in the legislature to bend the lottery's rules. "They told him that it was incurable."
Knowing that his days were numbered and wanting to share his wealth, Schenk married his longtime girlfriend, Joan DeClerck, April 4. About 18 friends gathered at a friend's house to celebrate the nuptials as his bride teased him. "You finally did it!" During the ceremony, Schenk was in such a weak state that he was breathing through an oxygen tank.
In addition to his military service, Schenk owned a local tavern and worked odd jobs. Some of his favorite pastimes were hunting and fishing.
Longtime friend Nick Pascazi still remembers one particular hunting trip to Quebec in 1992 or 1993.
"He shot two caribou and I shot two," says Pascazi. "And we had to carry them back in the canoe with us. The water was rough and a storm was coming up. The water was coming up to the edge of the canoe. I thought we were going to capsize. But I saw another caribou and I just had to shoot it. I was getting ready to aim and Wayne went nuts. 'What are you crazy? How are we going to get that out of here?' We couldn't stop laughing and the boat kept rocking from side to side."
Pascazi will be a pallbearer at the memorial for Schenk Friday at St. Januarius church in Naples, N.Y.
"He wasn't ready to die, that's for sure," says Pascazi. "It was a terrible, terrible thing. You win a million dollars and you don't spend it. How's that?"