Not even winning a $23 million lottery pot can keep a farmer like Randy Mefford from working the fields. Five years after winning a jackpot in the Texas Lotto, Mefford and a few farming friends—better known as the “Bethel Dozen” of Gould, Oklahoma—have remained on the land they love.
“We invested pretty well, and we just kept farming,” Mefford said. “Most everyone in the group is still around here doing the same thing that we were doing, in the same houses, on the same land, but maybe just breathing a little easier.”
It all got started when Terry White saw the story of the “Roby 43” on 48 Hours. The next day during his regular morning coffee gathering, he told his buddies in the Bethel Store, a farmers’ supply store in Eldorado, Oklahoma, that they should try their hand at the lottery. They might get lucky like the 42 people from Roby, Texas, who won $46 million. “They [the Roby 43] were the same type of people we were,” White explained. “So from then on, we got a pool together and didn’t play it until the jackpot got to $20 million.”
They may have laughed that day, but not long afterward, Tom Macon, a member of the group, began making the drive to the Super 7 convenience store in Quanah, Texas, to purchase tickets on the weeks when the pot exceeded $20 million. And on August 28, 1999, the Lotto Texas winning numbers matched those of the 120 tickets held by the eleven farmers, their wives, and the one John Deere equipment representative, and they chose the cash option over a 25-year payout, splitting what came out to be $11.8 million after taxes.
With winning the lottery came what seemed like endless phone calls from the press that left many of the farmers feeling uncomfortable. “The newspapers called for a good while,” Mefford said. “Every two or three years there were some papers trying to do some follow-ups, and some of us got misquoted, so people got gun-shy talking to them much,” Mefford explained. “It was kind of a human interest deal that everyone dreams of. People like hearing about someone whom it actually happened to.”
The media never found any lottery horror stories of frivolous spending and drastically different lifestyles in Gould, a farming community of 250. For Mefford, whose brother and sister were also in the lottery pool, a Harley-Davidson was his only big purchase. “I would like to travel some. I would like to get away to maybe Hawaii or Mexico,” Mefford said. “Or just take off riding my bike.”
Robby Robinson, Mefford’s brother-in-law, said the highlight of his post-lottery life was taking his whole family to Cancun, Mexico, for a vacation. “My wife has retired from teaching. Work-wise, I haven’t really noticed a change,” Robinson said.
As it goes with most farmers, White, Mefford, and Robinson were raised on farms and eventually took over the family business. “I grew up on a farm. My dad was a farmer, and I have lived in the country all my life,” White said. “The country is peaceful; it’s the peace and quiet I love. It’s a really good life. I enjoy common things.”
Mefford claims he will “slow down someday,” but working for a living is something he’s apt to do for a long time. “Winning was kind of one of those unbelievable once-in-a-lifetime deals I guess,” Mefford said. But what has really made this farmer of thirty years “tickled pink” is having his two grandchildren and his 29-year-old son, Michael, back farming with him.
Life is good for the Bethel Dozen. Before White headed to bed to make it up for his four-thirty wake-up call, he had to know one thing: “How are the folks in Roby doing?”