FISHER – Every week for three and a half years, co-workers Pam Lytel and Donna Mayer played the lottery together, using the same numbers.
Sometimes they won money – $3 here, $100 there. They socked it away in a special account, which paid for the tickets they alternated buying. They work together at Parkland College's financial aid office.
Dec. 3 was Lytel's turn to buy the ticket, so she picked it up at the Casey's General Store in Fisher, where she was putting on a financial aid night for Fisher High School. She lives in Bellflower.
Less than two weeks later, she and Mayer were back in Fisher, this time to accept a $3.5 million prize from the Illinois Lottery.
"We hoped we'd win but never really thought it would happen," said Mayer, who lives in Champaign.
Lytel said by the time they get their lump sum, it'll be about $2.1 million before taxes.
But even so, Lytel said she and Mayer feel like millionaires. Both plan to use the money to get out of debt.
Mayer said she'll retire sooner than she had planned, and will focus on her hobbies: genealogy and writing books, including mysteries and history books.
Lytel will use the money to pay for her kids' college: her daughter is a freshman at Parkland and her son is a junior at Blue Ridge High School. Both revised their Christmas lists since their mom won.
Casey's got a $35,000 check from the state for selling the winning ticket. Lytel always bought tickets at Casey's around the area because her husband, Bret, works as a technician for the company. He plays the lottery more than she does, she said. She figured he'd be sharing his winnings with her, she said, rather than the other way around.
Mayer said she found out she and Lytel won early Tuesday morning. She checked the numbers as a morning ritual.
"I checked about 10 times," Mayer said, to make sure she wasn't imagining that the numbers matched.
Right away, she tried to call Lytel, who wasn't answering her phone that early in the morning. But when Mayer finally got the news across, both remember feeling shocked.
"I couldn't breathe," Lytel said. Both said their win hasn't really sunk in yet.
Of course, they'll continue playing the lottery. They bought scratch-off lottery tickets for their co-workers for their office Christmas party.
"I've played the (same) ticket again at Casey's," Lytel said.