EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series on the top stories in Pasco County during 2013 as selected by The Pasco Tribune staff.
ZEPHYRHILLS — All eyes focused on Zephyrhills in May when a winning Powerball ticket worth $590.5 million was sold at a Publix there, making an instant millionaire of someone who briefly remained a mystery.
Speculation ran rampant through the town about the winner’s identity as news crews staked out the Publix and put Zephyrhills in the national spotlight, if only for a short time.
“When it came out that the winning Powerball ticket was purchased in Zephyrhills, it was almost unbelievable. Stunning in fact,” said Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, was talking about it. Visions of a new community center seemed only a name away.”
The winner, an 84-year-old retiree from Maine named Gloria. C. MacKenzie, eventually emerged to claim her prize in Tallahassee in early June, taking the lump sum of $370.9 million and avoiding reporters’ questions as she left with her son.
About a week after MacKenzie claimed her prize, there were rumors she was behind a generous gesture at BuddyFreddy’s Restaurant, where an unidentified woman paid for dinner for 180 customers.
A restaurant manager on duty, though, was skeptical that the woman who paid for the meals was MacKenzie, saying she did not look like the woman he had seen on television.
According to news reports in her home state of Maine, she really was behind another generous moment, offering to pay nearly $2 million to repair the roof at Schenk High School in East Millinocket, Maine.
MacKenzie’s daughter is a longtime biology teacher there, and her son had served as a past member of the school board and the Board of Selectmen.
School Superintendent Quenten Clark told WABI-TV in Bangor that her donation was a “real blessing to the community.”
In Zephyrhills, MacKenzie had lived in a small duplex on Lane Road, but she quickly put part of her winnings toward a more upscale abode, buying a 6,322-square-foot, five-bedroom home in a gated golf course community in Jacksonville, the city where her son was living.
So any hopes Zephyrhills residents had that a multi-millionaire philanthropist might soon be living among them were dashed.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little disappointing that she left without a word, or a gift to a local charity or for a community capital project,” Mikkelsen said. “But she certainly deserves her privacy and peace. And she deserves to spend her newfound wealth as she wishes.
“She is an educator, a retired teacher, so she must have a good heart. Actually, I believe the end of the story is yet to be written. She knows where we are and if she is inspired to bring about something special to the Zephyrhills community, she will find us again.”