Mega Millions: $244 Million Could Be Yours

The Bolke family took home $29 million jackpot in February.

March 22, 2011 — -- If you find yourself holding the winning ticket after tonight's lottery drawing for the Mega Millions jackpot of $244 million, three words: Sign it immediately.

That was the advice of Carolyn Hapeman, spokeswoman for the New York State Lottery and the person tasked with going out and awarding those big checks to shocked folks.

The top prize in Mega Millions, played in 41 states, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been growing twice a week since Feb. 1, when the Bolke family of Illinois and a Michigan group of postal workers split a $93 million jackpot.

Hapeman said the odds of winning tonight's jackpot were one in 176 million. The $244 million can be received two ways: an annuity that is paid out in 26 payments over 25 years or a cash option of $155 million.

"It's an unreal sum of money," Hapeman said. "People are overwhelmed."

That is how Marsha Nowaczyk of Calumet City, Ill., felt when she realized her mother had won the Mega Millions in February.

"I just kept checking [the ticket]," she told ABC News today. "Then I called my sister in Reno."

Her mother, Martha Bolke, 87, of Lansing, Ill., said she had been playing the lottery for years and had never won. Bolke said the day she bought the ticket, she was in a rush and had the cashier pick the numbers. Three days later, during a visit to her mother's house, Nowaczyk took a look at the ticket and realized it was a winner.

"She jumped so high, she almost hit the ceiling," Bolke said. "She kept saying 'We won. We won. We won.' I was lucky. I won on one ticket."

Bolke's family received a payment of nearly $29 million before taxes. Bolke kept nothing for herself, giving it all to her five children. Her husband died 18 years ago. Each sibling received about $5.8 million before taxes.

"My children all needed it desperately," Bolke said. "They're good Christians and they work so hard. I didn't want anything. I'm living on Social Security. My home was paid for a long time ago."

She said her husband was watching over her. "He's my guardian angel," she said.

Nowaczyk retired from her job as a receptionist, which she'd held for three years. She said that most of her siblings had retired. They all paid off their mortgages and are now keeping a low profile.

'It's a Real Blessing'

"We made decisions on how we were going to take care of everything," she said. "It's still sort of incredible and hard to believe. It's a real blessing."

And if you don't find yourself blessed tonight, there's always Friday's drawing.