By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
The Associated Press
Monday, March 19, 2007; 10:51 PM
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A retired postmaster from Florida and his new Tennessee wife had been looking a long time for their dream home. Then it found them. "This is too much," said Robert "Bob" O'Neill, 69, of Johnson City after learning he was the 2007 winner of cable channel HGTV's $2.5 million "Dream Home Giveaway."
He gets $250,000 in cash, a doggy dream home, a sport utility vehicle and the grand prize: a custom-built, fully furnished home in the Rocky Mountains.
Hundreds of congratulatory e-mails flooded Knoxville-based HGTV's "Dream Home" Web site. The contest had more than 41 million entries. O'Neill said he entered seven to 10 times.
A few people, however, wrote they were disappointed "that the winner did not seem at all surprised" when HGTV host Joan Steffend presented him with a big check on live TV Sunday night as he dined with dozens of friends in a restaurant.
Was it staged? O'Neill said Monday he simply was stunned.
The retired postmaster from Brandon, Fla., and his wife of six months, Lorie, had gone to the restaurant on a ruse _ thinking it was a send-off dinner for O'Neill's son, Bob Jr., of Mooresville, N.C., the only one in on the secret.
"It is just a total shocker," O'Neill said. "I still feel like I am on third base and somebody hit a home run and I am standing there looking stupid saying, 'I don't know what to do.' But everything will work out."
O'Neill came to Tennessee last year after his longtime wife, Melanie, died of cancer. He had traveled north to visit his son and decided to visit his wife's former co-worker and friend Lorie.
"I fell in love with Lorie and with the mountains, and I decided this is where I want to call home," he said.
"He always was lucky," Lorie told Steffend on Sunday night. "But this is better than lucky."
Lucky in love, the couple married in September. But they had no luck finding a house. Every Sunday for more than a year was "spent at open houses," he said. Finally they had house plans drawn, but were still looking for a site.
O'Neill said the plans for a modest 2,300-square-foot abode captured "the house in my dreams." But they pale compared to the HGTV "Dream Home" _ a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath ski chalet with three fireplaces and a two-car garage in Winter Park, Colo.
The trophy home is about 60 miles west of Denver and 1,500 miles west of Johnson City.
Few HGTV "Dream Home" winners keep their prizes. In 10 years, HGTV knows of only two _ an Illinois man who moved his family into the 2005 winning home in Texas and a California woman who maintained the South Carolina home she won in 1998 as a vacation retreat until 2005.
Most have sold so they can finance their own dreams closer to home.
"We will see what happens," said O'Neill, who will visit his new Colorado prize this weekend. "I'm not making any decisions yet, because I am still on third base."