Missouri’s big winners gather each year to catch up and to give back to the community. This year’s group was worth more than 635 million dollars, and the gathering spot was at a carnival.

Gary and Beverly Ruff of St. Charles played the Powerball and won about ten years ago. When they won, they won big — $50 million.

The Ruffs and about 25 other Powerball and Lotto winners gather each year at different spots around the state. At the same time, they tie in community service, whether it’s with children, the needy or animals.

This year, the millionaires hosted a carnival for kids at the Special Learning Center in Jefferson City, where kids with developmental disabilities receive instruction and therapies. It’s a way, the Ruffs say, to give back to the community.

The event was part of the 24th annual Millionaires Reunion, held in Jefferson City and the Lake of the Ozarks.

“The Special Learning Center in Jefferson City is such an amazing place,” said May Scheve Reardon, executive director of the Missouri Lottery. “Anyone who has visited it knows what an incredible job these people do and what incredible accomplishments the children make. We thought it would be a great place for our millionaires to give back and enjoy some summer fun with the kids.”

During this year’s event, the millionaires helped the children participate in carnival activities such as a ring toss, duck pond, pony rides, face painting and more. Local vendors and volunteers that helped with the event included: Scholastic; Hy-Vee; the Show-Me Clowns Club; Cheri Bullard-Buckner, who provided pony rides; former baseball star Tom Henke; and 11-year-old former Learning Center student Samuel Luetkemeyer, who provided musical entertainment.

Reardon noted that since the Missouri Lottery’s mission is to raise funds for education, the Special Learning Center was a good fit.

Debbie Hamler, director of the Special Learning Center, says “The kids work so hard during the school year, and this will be a chance for them to have fun.”

The millionaires also heard a presentation about consumer protection presented by Tom Durkin, public education director for the Missouri Attorney General’s office.

“One valuable part of the reunions is the networking; winners sharing their stories and advice with each other,” Reardon said. “It’s therapeutic for them to be with others who have been through similar experiences.”

The Missouri Lottery organizes these reunions, and the millionaires pay their own expenses. In addition to the emotional support, the reunions provide a chance for the Lottery to educate winners about pertinent issues, including choosing financial and legal assistance, tax changes, how to avoid scams, security and personal well-being topics.

Since it began in January 1986, the Lottery has created 300 millionaires, with prizes ranging from $1 million to $258.5 million. The 27 millionaires attending this year’s Millionaires Reunion have won more than $635.5 million in jackpot prizes.

Jessica Machetta reports [Download / listen, Mp3]