Anna Newton, left of rural Pine River, accepts a check from Publishers Clearinghouse Senior Manager of Human Resources Christine McDonough. Photo by Pete Mohs
A rural Pine River woman got the surprise of her life - all 85 years of it - Wednesday, May 13, when a Publishers Clearing House vehicle rolled into her farm yard bearing a giant check that had her name on it.
Anna Newton has been sending in her Publishing Clearing House contest entries for 35 years, and never won before. But her day to be a winner finally arrived.
Two representatives from Publishers Clearing House traveled from New York City to find Newton and award her prize - a check for $1,000.
Newton stood speechless in her living room, her daughter Joyce Smith by her side, as Publisher's Clearing House representatives Elliot Maldonado and Christine McDonough told her she was a winner, handed her a bouquet of flowers, a bunch of balloons and a giant "billboard-sized" check with her name on it.
"Oh, my; oh, for goodness sake," said Newton, not expecting company, her hair in scarf and rollers, and looking stunned. "I never would have believed this could have happened to me. I've never won anything before, nothing big anyway."
Just finding Newton on her remote farm yard about five or six miles west-southwest of Pine River was one the most difficult cases Publishers Clearing House staff have ever had, Maldonado said.
"I can say that in my history of giving out prizes, I have never had a tougher time finding a person," he said. "We are mandated to get all prizes into the hands of the winner within three days. We advertise that; it's important to us to honor that commitment. I spent two frantic days searching, and doing a lot of praying."
All he had to go on was a Nisswa post office box address for Newton. Maldonado called it a "nightmare scenario" when a post office box is all they have to work with.
Maldonado first called the Nisswa police to no avail. He then tried the Nisswa Post Office, and only learned that she had moved, but did not have a forwarding address. He then tried the Chamber of Commerce, and they suggested he call the local newspaper, so he called the Lake Country Echo.
After just a few minutes of expert newshound sleuthing, Echo publisher Pete Mohs and editor Nancy Vogt tracked down Newton, which a relieved and grateful Maldonado called "investigative reporting at its finest."
Maldonado invited newspaper staff to accompany him and McDonough on the prize patrol trip out to the Newton home - and she was in for a big surprise to find five strangers standing in her living room, two of them bearing gifts, the others taking pictures, a video and notes.
"The fuel assistance people were going to come out and re-do my trailer and fix my furnace," Newton said. "I thought that was the biggest kind of blessing I could have had. But this, what a blessing."
Newton said she has a couple of ideas about what she might do with the extra cash. For one, she would like to visit her sister in California, whom she has not seen in 40 years. Another would be to make a trip to the Dollywood theme park in Tennessee.
Newton said she filled out her first Publishers Clearing House entry in 1974, and has been doing it faithfully ever since - sometimes making purchases of dolls or knick knacks -- other times just sending in her chance to win.
"It's only one stamp," she said.
Newton lives in a trailer house on her daughter's farm site. A big picture window in her home looks out west to a wide expanse of green pasture where white-faced black angus cattle graze serenely - a vista Newton said she never tires of.
"I've spent my life working in nursing homes," she said. "Now I spend my time looking out my window at my black angus."
Maldonado, who said he has spent his entire life on New York's Long Island, called the green, bucolic pasture scene of the Newton farm "amazing" and "stunning."
"This is just so beautiful," he said. "This is so real. This is what it's all about. Minnesota is a beautiful, beautiful place. When we were driving across Minnesota, I fell in love with the lakes. They are so blue - it's almost like someone put food dye into them to make them look that incredible blue. I also fell in love with the people here. Everyone is just so nice, so friendly - truly great, great people."
After delivering Newton's prize, Maldonado and McDonough were off to the Duluth area to hand out another prize, and then back to Publishers Clearing House Headquarters in New York.
They came to Minnesota by way of Enderlin, N.D., where Maldonado and McDonough had to brave a treacherously narrow muddy dirt road, bordered on both sides by frighteningly high floodwaters, to find a prize winner out on the remote Dakota plains.
Their visit to North Dakota and Minnesota was part of the Publishers Clearing House "prize patrol blitz" that sends 32 two-person teams fanning out across the country to deliver prize money to lucky winners.
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