CINCINNATI — Ohio resident Abbey Bugenske woke up Wednesday wishing for a new car. Before the day ended, she’d have enough money to purchase the most expensive car on the lot.
The 22-year-old woman, who lives in a Cincinnati suburb, is the inaugural winner of the state’s $1 million Vax-a-Million lottery, aimed at increasing the number of people getting Covid-19 vaccination shots.
A proponent of vaccinations, Bugenske had taken the shot before the lottery was announced to protect her friends and relatives.
“Vaccines have always been in my medical history. It was a pretty easy decision to go and get the vaccine as fast as I could,” she said in a press conference Thursday. “I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine. If winning $1 million isn’t enough, I don’t know what would be.”
Bugenske was at the beginning of a four-hour drive to Cleveland and her phone rang. She thought it was a joke.
Indeed, it wasn’t.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was on the other end, surprising her with news about her new fortune.
Once the announcement was made public, her phone started blowing up and her social media following increased.
“I was screaming enough that my parents thought I was crying and that something was wrong,” she said. “And when I started yelling that I won $1 million and was going to be a millionaire, they told me to calm down and make sure it wasn't a prank.”
Bugenske said she doesn’t know how she plans to spend the money, but some will be donated and some will go toward the new car she’s been wanting. The rest will likely be invested, she said.
Raised in the Cleveland area, she obtained a degree from Michigan State University last year. She said she is working toward earning a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Ohio State University.
In January, she moved to Silverton, just a few miles outside Cincinnati, for a job with General Electric. She plans to keep working.
“Last night, I pretty much just ignored my phone. Going forward, I still don’t have a plan,” she said of handling her new celebrity.
She was one of 2.76 million adult entries in the drawing, which will take place for five consecutive Wednesdays.
There have been about 1 million cases of the coronavirus statewide. About 39 percent of the state's residents, or 4.6 million people, had been vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Thursday morning.
“I felt like we needed to create some excitement and interest. This decision also came directly out of my visits from vaccination sites around the state,” DeWine said at the press conference.
“As we talked to people being vaccinated, it became clear some would get it or might get it, but there was no sense of urgency.”
The governor added, “The faster we can get people vaccinated, the better it is.”
Bugenske was one of two winners announced Wednesday night.
The other, 14-year-old Joseph Costello of Englewood, won a four-year scholarship to any Ohio college he chooses as part of the lottery.
He said he doesn’t know what he will study yet but he’ll probably choose Miami University in Ohio or Ohio State University.