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Wadena couple enjoys being Minnesota millionaires

Photo by Rachelle Klemme Lea and Mike Snyder hold up a $1 million Minnesota Millionaire Raffle poster with Jenny Canfield, acting director of Minnesota Lottery, standing at right during a press conference at the Holiday gas station Jan. 10.

Mike and Lea Snyder of rural Wadena are new Minnesota Millionaires after Mike purchased two tickets for the big prize.

Wearing "Winner" sweatshirts provided by the lottery, they were formally announced at a 1 p.m. press conference at the Holiday gas station in Wadena, where the winning tickets had been purchased.

A $5,000 bonus paid to Wadena Holiday -- where Mike purchased the ticket -- was also presented to manager Steve Kohls.

Jenny Canfield, acting director of Minnesota Lottery, said that as she arrived into town, she heard people in the area were excited.

Mike Snyder had only played Minnesota Millionaire a few times, and this year he purchased two tickets instead of just one as usual on Nov. 18.

Mike was watching Monday morning news on TV when it was announced that one of the two winning numbers drawn Jan. 1 was purchased in Wadena County. He recalled thinking, "Boy that sure looks like mine," and woke up his wife.

Lea didn't even know he had bought tickets.

Mike said he didn't quite believe it until the money was in his account, and friends and family didn't believe it at first.

"Until it's validated it's not real," Lea said.

Instead of coming forward right away, the Snyders took the ticket to Roseville to make sure they had really won.

Lea said she doesn't gamble - just the occasional scratch off - and they are very conservative in their habits.

"I'll probably buy a ticket this year," she joked.

Mike said he never ever thought he would get it.

How is winning the lottery during a recession?

Mike said it will make life easier for them, and added they are down-to-earth people.

"We're still going to use coupons," he said.

Mike retired about a year and a half ago after owning Mike's Appliance and Repair.

Lea works for Tri-County Health Care.

She said the winnings would pad their retirement, and they would also help the community and their kids.

No drastic lifestyle changes are in the cards - Lea said they are very quiet, calm people, and that she would keep working rather than retiring earlier than normal.

"I love my job," Lea said.

"We might buy one toy," Mike said.

Mike said he told about four people at McDonalds, but then it spread so some people knew about them before the official announcement.

"Congrats, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer couple," onlooker Bev Savaloja said at the conference, which was attended by friends and family members as well as the press.

"What a great couple. They really are," Canfield said.

About 600,000 tickets were sold for Minnesota Millionaire, and some of the other prizes were still unclaimed at the time of the press conference.

According to the press release, the other $1 million prize had not been claimed yet.

"I always buy a ticket because I figure my chance is as good as anybody else's," Snyder said in the press release. "I never dreamed of winning $1 million. I thought if I won one of those smaller prizes, that would be great."

The Snyders are not the first Wadena residents to win big at lottery games in recent years, although $1 million is the largest prize anyone has won. According to the Minnesota Lottery website, Vanessa Torkkola of Wadena won in May 2010, Sandra Moench won in March 2009 and Ted Fischer won in May 2007.