$343.9 million lottery winner and single mom donates big to veterans

Sometimes it’s easy to put envy aside and just feel happy for a lottery winner — especially when it’s someone like Lerynne West, the single mom of three who collected her $343.9 million Powerball jackpot in Iowa earlier this month.

“I realize this is a life-changing moment,” West, of Redfield, Iowa, said as she claimed her prize at the state’s lottery headquarters on Nov. 5. “I’m excited to share my winnings with family and friends, plan to purchase a new car, and look forward to a long vacation — or several. I also plan to give to the causes and organizations important to my family through our newly established Callum Foundation.”

Lerynne West has already been wildly generous with her $343.9 million Powerball win. (Photo: Iowa Lottery)
Lerynne West has already been wildly generous with her $343.9 million Powerball win. (Photo: Iowa Lottery)

It’s particularly that last part, about her philanthropic plans, that has made West’s win so easy to celebrate — as has her latest announcement, made Wednesday on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, that she’d be donating $500,000 to the Travis Mills Foundation, a national support program and Maine-based retreat for injured veterans and their families.

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“The Travis Mills Foundation has had a very special place in my heart because my dad was a Vietnam vet,” West, 51, told DeGeneres. “I come from a long line of people who have served in the military — three of my brothers — and I think it’s very important to me that we never forget the sacrifices that our soldiers and our families make for our security.” She then made her half-million dollar pledge, holding up a huge, symbolic check that was whisked onstage from the wings.

West had already made another generous announcement, regarding the formation of her Callum Foundation — named after her grandson “who was born at 24 weeks and lived one day,” she explained through tears — which will fund charities dedicated to poverty and hunger, education, animal welfare and veteran affairs.

“When I won the lottery, I thought, I have a responsibility to do good for other people and to help out other people as well,” said West, one of seven children who was raised on a farm by her father, who was a welder, and her mother, a homemaker. She began working various farm jobs when she was quite young, according to her foundation bio, earned her GED and had a series of “blue-collar jobs” before having three daughters, now grown. While raising them as a single mother, West continued working full-time and attending night classes, eventually earning her human resources degree and working in the field — up until her massive lottery win.

Now the grandmother of six — and regular lottery player — will focus her energy on her family and the causes that are important to her.

As DeGeneres told West, just after the new multimillionaire announced her big donation: “That’s incredible. You’re so sweet. It’s an amazing gift.”