Jim Gatzke, Local Illinois Jackpot Winner, Lives an Unorthodox Life as a Millionaire
Updated: Monday, 13 Sep 2010, 3:26 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 09 Sep 2010, 8:04 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 09 Sep 2010, 8:04 PM CDT
By Mark Saxenmeyer, FOX Chicago News
The accompanying posted video to this story is a "director's cut", showing a more in-depth story than what originally aired on FOX Chicago News.
He lives in a one-room, southwest suburban motel. He drives hundreds of miles just to find a good meal in random midwest restaurants. He says that all he really needs in life is love from his dozen or so stray cats.
Oh, and he's also a multi-millionaire.
When Jim Gatzke eats in Durbin's, one his favorite restaurants in the southwest suburbs, ordering a Diet Coke and a 12 oz filet mignon (always medium rare), sometimes people recognize him as "that guy". He's remembered as the guy who couldn't convince anyone he actually won the lottery.
Sitting in the cozy, neighborhood restaurant, Jim chats with a man who recognizes him from across the bar. "They wouldn't give you the money," the man said, remembering the stories he had heard.
"Right, right," Jim replied.
Back on Nov. 23, 2003, Jim took his winning Illinois lottery numbers into the gas station in Calumet Park where he bought the ticket. The sign out front trumpeted his prize total of $5.5 million. Yet when Jim went to cash in the ticket with the state lottery, identifying himself with his drivers' license and photo, he was turned away.
"I hadn't has a shower in nine months," he said. "I used to go in the store and people used to gag. I didn't have water in the house for about a year and a half. No heat for six months. No phone for a year and a half." Needless to say, he hardly resembled his driver's license photo any more.
In fact, Jim thought the end was near. He was suicidal.
"The only thing I was looking forward to was having dinner in heaven with my parents," Jim said.
Jim lived in a dilapidated house in Calumet Park--his childhood home. He worked off and on as a security guard and a cab driver, always trying to find ways to support him and his elderly parents. After his parents died in the mid 1990s, Jim remained unemployed. "No one would hire me because of my stench," he said.
Since he was basically indigent, the state wanted to make sure Jim was mentally competent before handing over his lottery winnings. "They had the Cook County public guardian after me," he explained.
Jim was desperate and says he had no one to turn to, confide in, or talk with for help. So he walked into Airline Towing Garage, down the street from his home, in search of an old acquaintance, JR Bramlett.
"He wanted to get paid and they were givin' him the run around," JR explained. "I said to (the state) if this is gonna continue we gonna be in court."
JR took Jim under his wing.
About six months later, JR says the state sent Jim a letter expressing its loss of interest in pursuing the case. JR now serves as an unofficial "guidance counselor" for Jim, advising him on financial matters. "Otherwise, people would take advantage of him."
Back at Durbin's, Jim continued his conversation with the man at the bar.
"You cleaned up nice," the man said.
"Thanks," Jim said.
Jim chose to receive his winnings in yearly installments. He gets $211,000 gross one a year, which rounds out to $151,920 after taxes. The payments, in total, come for 26 years, until Jim is 70 years old.
Jim no longer lives in his dilapidated childhood home--but perhaps surprisingly he doesn't live in a mansion or a brand new condo either. He now stays in a one-room, residential hotel that only costs him $250 a week.
"People that run the place, they're real nice and stuff like that," he said. "It's almost like the 'Shad Rest' from 'Petticoat Junction,' where you can get some good sleep," he said, referring to the 1960s TV show.
Jim says he's splurged on a few a trips for himself. He's been to Las Vegas and Orlando, places he's never visited. In fact, he says he's never even been on a plane before.
But he has no computer and no cell phone--no phone at all, actually. He says he carries around quarters and looks for a pay phone when he needs to make a call.
He does drive a new car. A nice, silver Mazda3, according to Jim. This is his third care since winning the lottery. He spends a lot of his time driving around, seeking out the best meals that the midwest has to offer.
"Last Friday I went to Ladd, Illinois," he explained. "That's 82 miles from where I live at and I get fried chicken and fish. I order like a dozen dinners. I have the whole table covered."
Jim also loves to visit historic sites.
"I went to Independence, Missouri back on Sept. 21, 2008," Jim said. "I left at two in the morning and i got back at two. I seen Harry Truman's residence and all like that. I went 1,176 miles in 23 hours, roundtrip."
He didn't stay overnight, though. He came right back because he needed to feed his stray cats.
"Yeah, I come feed 'em every night," he said.
The cats gather in a junkyard adjacent to JR's business. Jim says that the cats have been his only true friends his entire life.
"The cats made my day, everyday," he said. "They were there for me. They were compassionate and all like that, but people always looked down on me. That's what's wrong with this world today. People are not as compassionate as animals."
And while he's been single his whole life, Jim says having money hasn't made him change his mind about dating.
"I like to enjoy life," he said. "I like to have my freedom and that stuff." He admits he likes to visit an occasional strip joint. "To hell with the relationship. Let's get on to the honeymoon, you know?" he said, laughing.
On a more serious note, Jim donates some of his money every year to others who need assistance, because of his own past. For example, he just gave $1,000 to a cystic fibrosis charity. In the past, he's also bought squad cars for a police department in Mississippi that suffered severe storm damage.
But what he hasn't done, he says, is invest his money. Jim prefers a simple savings account at his bank where he gets a consistent 3% interest rate.
Jim still plays the lottery as well, and in 2006 he won another $60,000. He says that his good luck is a matter of good karma. He took care of his parents when he was younger, he says, and he takes care of animals now that he's older.
"You know," JR said. "I think he's gonna be all right. It's a miracle. It's more than winning the lottery."
Back at Durbin's, Jim quietly finishes his 12 ounce filet mignon and thanks his waitress.
"I've enjoyed it the last seven years," Jim said. "It's been the best seven years of my life."
From homeless and hapless, to happiness... plain and simple.