Michigan State University

February 22, 1973 : Hermus Millsaps of Taylor Wins First Michigan Lottery Million Dollar Prize

Jon Harrison
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Gus Harrison, the Michigan lottery's first commissioner, fondly recalled the first winner -- Hermus Millsaps of Taylor -- who walked away with $1 million on Feb. 22, 1973.

"He was 53 years old, a native of Tennessee and he worked at the Chrysler plant... He just hung around after the drawing, and we didn't understand it," Harrison said.

Well, it turns out, the winner and his wife came to Lansing earlier in the day and spent all of their bus money. They didn't have the bus fare to get home. So, Harrison had a lottery agent drive the couple home.

"It's ironic, here he is with most of a million dollars in his pocket and he didn't have the bus fare to get home," he said.

For the full article, see John Gonzalez, "Michigan Lottery celebrates its 40th anniversary; announces online sales in 2013", MLive, November 15, 2012.

Highballs with Hermus

Hermus Millsaps, a factory worker from Taylor, became the Lottery’s first million-dollar winner on February 22, 1973.

Some suggested the Lottery PR people had invented a character, because the back story was almost too good to be true. His car was on the fritz the day of the drawing, so he and his Russian-born wife hopped a Greyhound bus to Lansing. They carried a brown paper-bag lunch to save money. Hermus did invest 57 cents on a chartreuse rabbit’s foot for luck.

After he won he led a group of journalists across the street to a watering hole, where the bartender explained that he couldn’t cash Hermus’s $50,000, first-installment check. The scribes bought the drinks.

Hermus immediately quit his job. He later grew weary of the media attention and quit giving interviews.

This reporter was writing a package of stories about the 5th anniversary of the Michigan Lottery and Hermus’s big win. I decided to take a chance and pay a cold-call visit on a Saturday afternoon. His wife answered the door and said her husband didn’t want to be bothered. As I made my case on the front steps, Hermus peeked out his head.

He swung open the door of their small Taylor home, which featured a heated driveway to melt the snow, five televisions and old newspapers stacked on every chair and couch in the house.

In the basement he brought out his guitar and amp, pulled out his dental plate and with great enthusiasm sang the “Wabash Cannonball,” complete with howls imitating the horn of a train. He fixed us both a “highball” — followed by multiple others.

As I was leaving after a couple-hour visit, Hermus insisted I not go away empty handed. He retrieved a glass container of pickled pig’s feet from his fridge and a cheap, tin ashtray stamped with “Iowa” and in the shape of the Hawkeye State from a cupboard and handed them to me.

I couldn’t help chuckling as I walked down his sidewalk, half in the bag, carrying gifts from the unlikeliest of millionaires.

Addendum:

Millsaps died virtually penniless in 2002.

Source : Reporter's Notes : Charlie Cain Unedited, July 16, 2009.

Michigan Lottery Page

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