In 1992, Tom Cook and Joseph Feeney made a crazy, unlikely promise, the sort that two longtime fishing buddies would make:
If either of us ever wins the Powerball, we split the winnings 50/50.
For 28 years, each bought lottery tickets every week, but their biggest prize was 100 bucks. Sure, they talked about hitting the jackpot from time to time, but, really, who thinks something like that will ever happen?
Happen it did.
Last month, when Cook was out for breakfast with his wife, he compared the winning numbers for the $22 million jackpot to his ticket … his winning ticket.
Many longtime friends can finish each other’s sentences, so we’ll let Feeney tell it:
“He said to his wife when he got back to the table, ‘You read this.’ She looked at it and said, ‘Oh my God.’ She handed it to somebody else and said, ‘Can you read those numbers for us?’ ”
The friend, reading the numbers, told the Cooks, “It looks like you guys won the Powerball.”
Cook called Feeney with the news.
“Are you jerkin’ my bobber?” Feeney asked.
No. They had caught their big fish.
The two Menomonie residents, who were identified this past week as the $22 million winners, split the cash prize in half, as promised. Each received nearly $5.7 million after taxes.
Friendship forged at restaurant
The two met decades back at, well, a restaurant.
Cook was already sitting at a table with a friend and invited Feeney to sit next to them. In the years since, they’ve traveled together to Niagra Falls, Yellowstone and the Football Hall of Fame. They grab a meal together almost every week.
Cook, a maintenance worker, retired after winning the Powerball. Feeney, a former firefighter and EMT, had already retired.
Growing up, Feeney lived in a two-bedroom house with his parents and 12 siblings in Elk Mound, Wisconsin.
“We both grew up with not a lot of money, so this is really something special,” Feeney said.
For years, Feeney had said that if he won the Powerball, he would travel with his family. The coronavirus pandemic has put travel on hold for now, but he’s looking forward to future trips once it’s safe again. He also plans to set up college funds for his grandkids.
With the news of their win out there, Feeney said everyone has been very gracious.
“Everybody’s been so friendly and said it couldn’t happen to two better couples that they know of,” Feeney said. “And we’re so thankful.”