Man says $5.7 million lotto jackpot won’t change him
By bob Okon email@example.com September 4, 2013 9:56AM
Xuan Ngo Thu at the age of 29 when he served in the South Vietnamese government. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 7, 2013 12:37PM
The interesting life of Xuan Ngo Thu, a political refugee from Vietnam, took a thrilling turn last month when the Crest Hill man won a $5.7 million prize in the Illinois Lottery.
Thu, 72, has taken his shockingly good fortune in stride. That may be because of what he has seen in life.
He said he joined the South Vietnamese Army at 21, rose to the rank of captain and later became a member of South Vietnam’s National Assembly, essentially serving the role of a congressman for four years before the fall of the government.
After the North Vietnamese took over South Vietnam after the war, Thu became a political prisoner because of his political and military involvement, he said.
Thu said he was released after 10 years in prison because of the efforts of the American government during the Reagan administration, and he came to the United States in 1991 to start a new life.
As for hitting the jackpot, he has no big plans for himself, Thu said Wednesday during an interview at his home.
“No, because I’m 72,” Thu answered with a laugh when asked if he plans to live it up. “I have cholesterol — no meat, no lobster. I have medicine for high blood pressure and cholesterol.”
What he wants to emphasize, Thu said, is his appreciation for the life he has in the U.S.
“I thank American government and American people,” he said. “They give my family and friends a second chance in life.”
“Many friends,” Thu said, referring others who were brought out of Vietnam.
Thu also is thankful for the Illinois Lottery, although his winnings also bring worries. Thu did not want his photo taken by a reporter, saying he was concerned that if he is recognized as the Lotto winner, it could mean trouble for his family.
A photo, however, was available from the Illinois Lottery, which on Tuesday announced that Thu had won the Lotto jackpot Aug. 15. Thu bought the winning ticket from the Speedway gas station on Jefferson Street in Joliet.
Thu’s jackpot was more than halved by the time he got the money. Because he decided to take it in a lump sum, the amount was reduced to $3.9 million, according to the lottery. Federal and state taxes brought it down further to about $2.7 million.
Thu said he has plenty of plans for the money.
He will help out a son in California, whose trucking company went into bankruptcy. The widowed father of four also plans to share the money with his other children and plans to donate more to causes to which he already contributes.
One of those charities is American Leprosy Missions, which helps out lepers in Vietnam and other countries. Thu said he knew many people in Vietnam with leprosy.
A Catholic who goes to Mass at St. Paul’s Church in Joliet, Thu said he also plans to donate to Catholic Charities. And he will donate to veterans’ organizations, he said, remembering the American veterans with whom he fought during the Vietnam War.
“Americans go to my country and help my country. I’m always thinking about American veterans,” he said.
He was asked what he thought of communism now — four decades after the end of a protracted war that divided America and made South Vietnam a battleground in trying to stop what was seen then as the threat of world domination by Soviet and Chinese communists.
Thu waved off the question, saying “now everything is over. Now I’m 72 years old.”
He leads what looks like a modest life in a Crest Hill subdivision, where his house is like those of others in the neighborhood and where he resides with two of his children and grandchildren.
Thu also has a house in California where he used to live, but that house nearly went into foreclosure before he was able to get a new loan thanks to a program created by the Obama administration, he said.
He calls the Lotto jackpot a “special gift” from God.
“First, I thanked God,” he said. “Then I thanked American people. They gave me a second chance for my life and family’s life.”