JACKPOT! - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News


In first interview since becoming rich, former bank teller, single mom talks about life's changes

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Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:00 am

Holly Lahti has had several people impersonate her on Facebook.

FedEx made multiple stops at her home and her family's homes each day, delivering real estate and business invites, including one from the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

She has received many letters from inmates and, of course, there has been a barrage of marriage proposals from strangers.

That's what happens when you split a $380 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot. It was the second-largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history at the time and now ranks as the fifth-highest.

Soon after she hit that jackpot in January 2011, Lahti (pronounced Lot-ee), now 31, fled to California from her hometown of Rathdrum and all the hype that came with the win.

But, in her first interview since striking it rich, Lahti told The Press this week she's finally starting to settle into her life's next chapter.

"What I thought would happen (after winning) is that I'd leave for a couple weeks and come home," said Lahti, who formerly worked as a teller at Inland Northwest Bank in Post Falls. "What I found out is that I never came back.

"I couldn't see myself moving back. Reporters were showing up to my home and trying to dig up anything and everything they could. I felt my privacy was invaded. I felt it was best to keep the kids out of that situation."

Lahti still visits family and friends in the area and is expected to be a guest bartender at her former employer's fundraiser for the American Cancer Society on Monday at Caddyshack in Hayden.

Her focus has been on trying to return to everyday life, especially for her 14- and 12-year-old daughters at a California coast location she declined to disclose.

Post-jackpot trials

Lahti's post-lottery roller coaster ride was rockier because she was separated yet still married to Josh Lahti when she hit the jackpot. The two are now divorced after 10 years of marriage and Holly declined to say how or if the lottery funds were divvied up.

"The divorce is sealed and I am not allowed to discuss the outcome," she said. "He and I are on good terms. We've grown a lot together since this happened."

After taxes and splitting the jackpot with Jim McCullar of Ephrata, Wash., Lahti took in $80 million as a one-time cash option. It was the second-largest lottery win by an Idaho resident. Brad Duke of Star, near Boise, won a $220.3 million jackpot on May 28, 2005.

Lahti said Josh has visited her home and their children, and she visits with him when she comes back to Idaho.

"I love his family," she said. "I don't have a bad thing to say about him despite the reports."

Records indicated a strained relationship at times in the early years of their marriage, but she said everything has been "civil" between the two.

Lahti said she had a relationship with another man after the divorce, but it didn't last.

"I didn't want to take the focus off my children," she said.

She said her girls, who attended Twin Lakes Elementary here, are now enrolled in two different private schools in California.

"They're doing amazing," Lahti said. "I'm so excited to be able to get them this education and open doorways for them that they wouldn't have otherwise. I hope they'll end up continuing their education after high school."

Easing in to home life

Lahti finally purchased a home on two and a half acres a year ago after renting for about a year. She and her girls enjoy their black lab Zeus and husky-rottweiler mix Titan.

"The house was practically empty for months - we were sitting on bean bags - but I've slowly been furnishing it," she said. "It still scares me to spend large amounts of money, but it's slowly starting to feel more like home.

"I'm putting down my Idaho roots in California."

Lahti said she can recall playing the lottery only one other time in her life before she hit the jackpot.

"I had to ask the girl at the register (at Ady's Conoco in Post Falls) if I choose my own numbers," she said.

Lahti admits she bought one ticket once since winning the jackpot.

"But it was for my mom, not me," she said with a laugh.

Her first feeling after the shock of winning the jackpot, Lahti said, was fear.

"I was scared for my girls and didn't know what was going to happen," she said. "I just wanted to protect my kids and my family and Josh and his family."

Lahti said she and her girls keep the lottery win as quiet as possible, hoping to blend in with society and everyday life.

"It's easier to get lost in California than it is Rathdrum or Coeur d'Alene," she said. "There are a lot of people out here who have more money than I have and who couldn't care less about what I'm doing. I like that."

Lahti started working at 16, was a single teen mom and received a GED in high school. She was raised knowing the value of a dollar, she said.

There are times she wishes she had her days in North Idaho back.

"Sometimes I wish I could get ready to go work at the bank - I had some great memories there," she said. "I was in a very happy time of my life when this happened."

At the time, Lahti was pursuing a business degree at North Idaho College. She said she hasn't ruled out eventually returning to college.

"I'm waiting to settle down and, after just over two years, I think I'm almost done settling," she said. "I definitely want to do something, but I'm just not sure what that something is."

Lahti said she has also thought about starting a business or a nonprofit.

"I'm not the type of person who wants to stop working," she said. "I've always been highly motivated. It's just the type of person I am. I like to set goals and achieve them."

How she spent some of it

In addition to buying her home and putting her daughters in private schools, Lahti bought her father a home in California after his previous place was destroyed by a fire.

"A year after I won, he lost everything," she said. "It was a nice feeling for me to help him."

Lahti recently took a vacation to Hawaii. It was her first time flying over the ocean.

"I have yet to travel outside the country," she said. "I haven't done much traveling. I've been trying to do more settling than anything else."

Unlike bizarre stories of lottery winners burning through their dough, Lahti believes her money is soundly invested.

"My girlfriends think I'm very frugal," she said. "I haven't squandered it. Being a single mom living on a budget with two kids is instilled in me. I'm not one to throw money up in the air and live like Paris Hilton."

Lahti said she has been able to assist other family members and friends and donate to charities, including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the American Cancer Society.

Lahti said she has had several relatives and friends succumb to cancer.

"Cancer is everywhere," she said. "It hits home for almost everybody. It's so sad for family members and an awful thing to see somebody go through. I really hope we can one day find a cure."

Lahti was also the guest bartender during INB's ACS fundraiser in Coeur d'Alene last year.

"It was the first time I saw a lot of my old customers," she said. "It was heartwarming to see them show up and support this great cause."

Lahti said the saying that "with more money comes more problems" has been true in her case. Life's ups and downs continue, no matter how much money you have. That's hard for some to understand, she said.

"People laugh when I say I still have problems," she said.

One of her first thoughts after winning was that she was going to limit how much the money changes her life, but that has been difficult.

"Looking back, I now realize there's no way somebody can win $190 million and not have it change them," Lahti said. "It's impossible. I've lost a few friends; I've gained a few friends. People are willing to risk their integrity, morals and values - everything - out of greed. It's sad, and it's opened my eyes."

She said it was difficult uprooting her children where they grew up, but she's also now able to provide for them in ways she couldn't before.

"It feels good just to get them braces and the kinds of clothes other kids wear," she said.

Even though the realities of her new life are sinking in, Lahti said she hasn't forgotten about those back home.

"There's a lot of people close to my heart that I haven't been able to reach out to," she said. "I love and miss all my friends, family and old customers. I haven't forgotten about anybody."

Holly Lahti: Guest bartender

Holly Lahti will serve as guest bartender at an American Cancer Society fundraiser called Tips for a Cure at Caddyshack, 1100 W. Prairie Ave., Hayden, on Monday from 5:30-8 p.m. The event will be held by the Inland Northwest Bank's Relay for Life team, Lahti's former co-workers. There will be karaoke and raffle and door prizes. Tips at the restaurant and bar will benefit the ACS.

Who's next?

The Powerball jackpot of $550 million for Saturday's drawing ranks as the second-largest in the game's history and third-biggest overall in U.S. lottery history.

The largest jackpot ever was $656 million, a Mega Millions amount won on March 30, 2012, on tickets sold in Maryland, Illinois and Kansas. The largest Powerball amount was $587.5 million won on Nov. 28, 2012, on tickets sold in Missouri and Arizona.

The odds of winning the jackpot on Powerball, played in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are 1 in 175 million.

The jackpot for today's Mega Millions drawing will be at least $190 million, the highest it's been this year. It is played in 42 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands and the odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 175 million.

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  • NAS4AH2 posted at 12:13 pm on Fri, May 17, 2013.

    NAS4AH2 Posts: 71

    Why not just announce where she's going to be for all us vampires to visit?

  • wheels1 posted at 8:57 am on Fri, May 17, 2013.

    wheels1 Posts: 454

    So her scumbag ex husband got 1/2 or $80 mil of her lottery winnings as a so called 'settlement'.F'shame.

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