Tuesday, April 8, 2003 | 9:45 a.m.
WATERTOWN, S.D. -- When Bev and Jack Kasdorf of Estelline became instant millionaires two months ago, worries about high medical costs kept them from quitting their jobs.
"It just scares the heck out of us to be without a job," said Bev, 56.
The Kasdorfs are among 34 Powerball winners, most of them employees of Minnesota Rubber in Watertown, who shared a $101 million jackpot with an Indiana man. Each of the South Dakotans cleared $588,507 after taxes.
So far at least seven of Bev Kasdorf's co-workers at Minnesota Rubber have left their jobs after winning the jackpot in February. Jack Kasdorf did not work at the plant.
Bev, who inspects rubber parts at the plant, said she needs the health-insurance coverage provided by her job. She has medical problems stemming from a long-ago stroke.
Jack continues working as a fuel deliveryman, although he may retire next year when he turns 62.
Others, however, quickly quit.
Wendell Bruns, 60, took early retirement after 36 years at Minnesota Rubber.
"Somebody was looking out for me, or it was just dumb luck, but it did change my life," he said.
On a recent sunny day, Bruns was doing some landscaping at his home in Henry. He and his wife, Alice, plan to replace their mobile home with a prebuilt house on land they have lived on for years.
Birds and squirrels feast at a bird feeder in the front yard of the home, which is located near the edge of town and provides a good vantage point to watch wildlife.
"Everything in the world wants a free lunch," Wendell said.
The couple first thought about buying a house on a golf course, but decided that they would not be comfortable with that lifestyle.
Before striking it rich, the Bruns had been planning to get a new house and car. Winning the lottery makes those purchases easier.
"It probably gave me a little more of a comfort zone to do things I probably would have budgeted for anyway," Wendell said.
They invested the remainder of their winnings.
"At our age we just want this gift, basically, to work for us the rest of our lives," he said.
In over 38 years of marriage, the couple have never taken a fancy vacation. That will change in a few weeks when they head for the glamour and glitz of Las Vegas.
The Watertown 34, as the state Powerball winners are called, were the first to win a share of the lotto jackpot since South Dakota joined Powerball in 1992.
Though debts have been paid and many new cars and new homes purchased, the winners seem to be continuing life as usual. But their standard of living has improved, and they enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having money in the bank.
Bev and Jack Kasdorf intend to use part of their nearly $1.2 million to buy a home in Watertown, and Jack got himself a fishing boat. They paid off bills and invested the rest.
"It just makes breathing a lot easier," Bev said. "It's fun to know I don't have to worry about how my next bill is going to get paid."
Another Minnesota Rubber worker, Barb Lundgaard, 52, bought a new house in Watertown. Because of current economic uncertainty, she and her husband, Arlen, did not put their money in the stock market. They decided that a new home is the best investment they could make.
Sitting on recently purchased taupe-leather furniture in the living room of her new, split-level house, surrounded by photos of the couple's four adult children, Barb said she and her husband want to be good stewards of their money. They see the $588,507 prize as a gift from God.
"This is just such a blessing, such a blessing," she said.
A comforting thing about such a large windfall is that she can go into the store and not ask herself if she can afford something. "That's nice."
Arlen splurged by buying a 2001 pickup truck. Barb said they didn't necessarily need it, though it came in handy during their recent move.
"That was the one stupid thing we did," she said. "We got a vehicle we didn't need."
Barb's advice to future lottery winners: Don't make any rash decisions, but have fun with the money.
"Enjoy it for yourself," she said. "Do what you want to do."
Bruns also has advice for future winners. They should carefully consider what to do with the money, and talk to insurance agents and stock brokers, he said. Bruns, too, said winners should use some of the money for amusement.
"I have to say, it's more fun to have money than not," he said.
Bruns thinks some of the plant winners will make bad choices and quickly waste their money, while others will guard it wisely.
"It's going to be interesting if we could get together in about two years and find out how everyone is," he said.
Marsha Ringler of Watertown continues to work at Minnesota Rubber, but she said she is financially set for life. She has used some of her winnings to help her elderly mother.
"If she needs anything now, she knows she can have it," Ringler said.
The Powerball winners had been warned at the outset that strangers would find them and ask for money.
But Bruns said the only people he did not know who contacted him just wanted to offer congratulations.
"It was a very pleasant experience," he said. "We didn't have people beating on the door saying, 'Give me money,' " he said. "I can't say anything negative has happened because of it."