The two Wisconsin men agreed to split their winnings with a handshake in 1992.
As soon as two western Wisconsin friends learned about the release of the Powerball lottery nearly three decades ago, they agreed that if either of them ever won the big money the game offers, they would split it equally.
Thomas Cook, of Elk Mound, and Joseph Feeney, of Menomonie, sealed the deal back in 1992 with a handshake, an act less likely to occur in current times because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month Cook kept his promise after realizing he had bought a winning Powerball ticket worth $22 million at Synergy Co-op in Menomonie. He and Feeney split the $16.7 million cash option, and after taxes, each man claimed $5.7 million, according to the Wisconsin Lottery.
Cook and Feeney declined to be interviewed by the media, but they appeared together in a YouTube video during which they described how Cook won the prize and split the winnings with his friend.
As he was eating breakfast one morning shortly after buying the ticket, Cook checked the ticket numbers and realized he had a winner.
“It was quite an experience when I read them first two, three numbers,” Cook said. “I kind of froze.”
Cook said he handed the ticket to his wife to double-check, then called Feeney, who said he was stunned to learn Cook had purchased winning numbers.
“We said whenever the big winner comes, we’re going to split it,” Feeney said. “So we’d buy one every week, you know, not really thinking it was going to happen.”
Cook and Feeney said they never doubted whether the other would split their winnings with the other.
“A handshake is a handshake,” Cook said.
Feeney previously retired from his job as a firefighter. Cook put in his two-week notice at work upon confirming he had the winning Powerball ticket.
The friends said they plan to use their money to live comfortable retirements, and to spend more time with their families. They and their wives have traveled together on trips in the past, and they plan to continue to do so in the future, ventures made easier with their newfound money, they said.
And even though he won the big prize, Cook said he intends to keep playing Powerball.
“What do I have to lose?” he laughed.