Powerball winner and newfound multimillionaire Andrew "Jack" Whittaker hasn't named the three Church of God congregations he plans to share his record lottery winnings with, but churches in this corner of West Virginia were inundated today with requests for help -- just in case they happen to be among the chosen ones.
Meanwhile, Whittaker said that dozens of laid-off workers could be back to work at his water and sewer contracting business as early as next week.
And as Whittaker, 55, went on national television to explain his plans to share his wealth, even the taxpayers of West Virginia could be thankful for getting a piece of the pie. Whittaker's state tax bill on his lump sum payout of $170.5 million is about $11 million, coming at a time when West Virginia is facing a $220 million hole in its $3 billion budget.
On Thursday, Whittaker won $314.9 million, the largest Powerball jackpot in history and the largest, state officials said, ever won by one person anywhere in the world. He opted for the smaller immediate payout, rather than annual payments for the next 29 years.
Today, in New York for a round of appearances on morning television shows, Whittaker said that he welcomed the chance to share the money. He'll net about $111.6 million after all his taxes are paid.
"It makes it more special," Whittaker said, decked out in his black cowboy hat on NBC's "Today" show. "It's meant for me to do a lot with this money to help people."
Whittaker said he would send 10 percent of the before-taxes payout, about $17 million, to three different Church of God pastors -- one in Hurricane, near where he lives; one in Hinton, W.Va., near where he grew up, and a third in California, where the pastors are old friends.
"I talked with one. That's all I've been able to get through to," he said on CNN's "American Morning." "Every time I call the other numbers, they're busy. But I'm sure they've seen me and by now they know what's going on."
The pastor he did reach "was so overwhelmed that we would even think about giving him that much money," Whittaker said.
Whittaker also said he hopes to expand his contracting business, Diversified Enterprise Inc., by taking over projects that have run into financial trouble and putting his people to work on them. "I had about 25 people laid off, and I've already made plans to put them back to work right after the first of the year," he said.
Whittaker's pastor at the Tabernacle of Praise, where the sign outside the small, red brick building reads "It's all about Jesus," said today that he had not heard whether his 100-member church would get part of the millions Whittaker plans to donate to three churches.
The important thing, said the Rev. C.T. Mathews, is that his parishioner was the kind of man whose first thought was to share his windfall with others.
"Since somebody like Brother Jack won, he's returning it back into the community and the church and the people, and that's a great blessing," Mathews said. "All of us are going to be winners either way."
If his church does receive the money, Mathews said he would like to build a "Christian life center" to provide drug counseling to troubled teenagers and expand day care and Christian schooling opportunities in Hurricane. "I don't even know if Putnam County has a teen counseling center for drugs," he said.
Mathews said he has gotten calls from churches and individuals all over the country seeking help. One church wanted $11,000, another asked for $8,500, and a man asked for money to help out an aunt to whom he had given bad stock advice, Mathews said. "I told them, we don't have the money, so we can't help anybody right now," he said.
The Rev. Cecil Welch, the pastor for 19 years at the 50-member Hinton Church of God, where Whittaker and his wife, Jewell, attended services until they moved to the area near Hurricane about 10 years ago, said he hadn't heard from his former parishioner yet.
"Really, I haven't even thought about it," said Welch, who recently performed the wedding service for the couple's daughter, Ginger McMahon. "I'm not going to spend any money that I haven't got yet."
Of Whittaker, he said, "He's a hard worker, he takes good care of his family, and he's a down-to-earth person."
No one who knows Whittaker in this town of 5,200 residents was surprised that he decided to spread his good fortune around.
"He's just a generous man," said Billy Wright, 36, his nephew. "He's practically raised me the majority of my life. He's the one who taught me how to shave. If he sees someone who truly wants to better themselves, he reaches out his hand."
Cindy Everly, 41, a secretary at Whittaker's business, said her boss had encouraged her to take accounting and typing classes.
"He allowed me to work my schedule around, offered financial help if needed," she said. "These aren't news flashes -- he's that kind of person."