Ron and Ellen Beckmann walked into a tent set up outside the Nashville American Legion headquarters to a hero’s welcome Wednesday night.
Ron Beckmann had just had his name drawn in the Legion’s Queen of Hearts raffle. He had a one-in-five shot of picking the Queen of Hearts and bringing a yearlong contest to an end. Those same people who were cheering the Beckmanns also hoped that they picked the wrong card, meaning another chance for them to win a pot that had swelled to $377,469.
After making his way through the crowd, Beckmann chose No. 34. When it was announced that he had picked the Queen of Hearts, equal parts cheers and groans rained down on the Bartelso couple. With the glare of television cameras shining in their faces, the Beckmanns couldn’t believe their luck.
“We’ve been entering for about five weeks,” Ron Beckmann said, as Ellen smiled and giggled while greeting well-wishers. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. I have to come down to earth first.”
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The Beckmanns were part of a group that pooled $140 each week to enter the contest. They will split the pot seven ways after the Legion takes its 10 percent cut. That means each person or group will take home $48,531 before taxes.
The atmosphere around the Legion hall was festive. Anticipating a huge crowd, the legion set up two tents outside the hall. Those tents were packed well in advance of the 7:30 p.m. drawing. The inside of the legion hall also was filled with people. An estimate of 2,000 people done by one Legion official was well under the number of people on the property.
The raffle started in January as a fundraiser for the Legion. It will use its 10 percent of the pot to renovate the building, including the construction of a handicapped-accessible restroom and expansion of the bar area.
“We didn’t think it would get quite this big,” said Larry Boreup, vice commander of the Nashville Legion. “It’s good because we have some work we need to do.”
As people continued to stream through the Legion hall to buy tickets for the raffle 45 minutes before the drawing, it was easy to tell that the raffle was beginning to take a toll on Boreup and his fellow Legionnaires.
“We could use a Christmas break,” Boreup said.
Before the winning ticket was selected, Legion officials announced that “win, lose or draw” they were going to take two weeks off. The next drawing will be Jan. 11 with tickets sales starting Jan. 4.
Sisters Kayla and Jessica Weihe were among those who were hoping to strike it rich. The Hoyleton residents aren’t like many who hopped on the raffle bandwagon. Each has been coming for a while. Kayla began coming weekly in September, while Jessica made her first appearance after turning 21 last month.
“I’ve been coming for a while, but now it’s just one of those things where you want to come because I’m interested to see who wins it,” the 24-year-old Kayla Weihe said. “It was just in the basement of the Legion, and now we have two full tents, and the Legion is full, too.
“I don’t know many of those people. When I first starting coming, I knew most of the people that were here.”
The Beckmanns said that, like many others in the area, they were swept up in raffle fever.
“It’s been totally chaotic,” said Ron Beckmann, who owns his own plumbing business. “We left today around 4:30 p.m. to come down here. We figured we’d have a few Bud Lights and then go home.”
“We never expected this to happen,” Ellen Beckmann added.