MONTROSE – Last Wednesday evening, after a soak at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, Nora Duckworth convinced her husband Bill to turn off at the Ridgway Conoco Station on their way home to Montrose so she could pick up a handful of lottery tickets.
It was the night of the big multi-state Powerball drawing worth $550 million. “I really wanted to buy a Powerball ticket,” said Duckworth, a naturalized American citizen who is native to the Philippines. Because she had $3 left in her wallet, she decided to buy three Colorado Lottery tickets as well.
One of them turned out to be a Lotto Jackpot winning ticket. Now Nora Duckworth is $6,180,879 million richer.
Ridgway Conoco Manager Kelly Kuboske said she received word on Thursday morning that her store had sold the winning ticket. She was thrilled that Duckworth, a fairly regular customer, had won. The store will get a $5,000 reward from the state lottery office.
According to Colorado Lottery Spokeswoman Heather Black, it was “completely a coincidence” that Duckworth’s Lotto Jackpot ticket was drawn on the same night as the highly publicized Powerball drawing.
“The Colorado Lottery is a completely different game,” Black said. “It just happened to occur during the same time as the crazy Powerball run. She [Duckworth] won more with that Lotto Jackpot than the person in Colorado who did win on Powerball.” (That winner got a mere $2 million.)
Call it coincidence, or call it karma – that Buddhist law of moral causation that says nothing happens to a person that she does not, for some reason or other, deserve.
The Duckworths have done a lot of things to help their fellow human beings over the years. Since 1996, they have brought over a dozen Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian refugees to their home south of Montrose to help them get a fresh start in the U.S. through an organization they founded called Western Colorado Friends of the Himalaya.
The nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization promotes cultural awareness of the Himalayan region and promotes world peace through educational and cultural programs as well as supporting relief work in the region.
“Nora is very deserving,” said longtime friend and fellow advocate Val Burnell of Montrose. “She has had so many people come through their home. They [Nora and Bill] have changed so many lives, it’s unbelievable.”
The Duckworths became inspired to start their organization after traveling together in Nepal in the mid-1990s.
“We met a lot of Tibetans and started conversing with them,” Nora said. She was moved by their stories of war, poverty and exile. “I told Bill, ‘I think I want to help these people.’”
Just like that, they started the Friends of Tibet.
The organization has since broadened its scope, and its name, to embrace the educational and medical needs of people in the whole Himalayan region. Some of the refugees the Duckworths have helped have since moved on; others have settled in the Montrose area.
Jigchen Tso is among those whose life has been profoundly changed. The Duckworths met the spirited young Tibetan teenager at a refugee camp in Nepal, brought her home for medical treatment and later adopted her as their daughter. She could barely speak English when she came to Montrose over a decade ago. Now, she has graduated from CU Boulder with a degree in biology and lives in Montrose once more with her Tibetan husband – the Duckworths’ son-in-law.
“People ask us why we do this,” Nora said, in English still flavored with her native Tagalog. “If you can change the life of one person, that’s good. It’s really nice to help them. Here they can have freedom. I love this country because it’s the land of opportunity. It’s true.”
Nora, almost 50, works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Montrose Memorial Hospital. She sends all of her modest salary back to her family in the Philippines. Thanks to her generosity, numerous nieces and nephews have been able to get a college education. “Nine kids already finished college, and four are in college now,” she said.
Many have followed their aunt’s footsteps and gone into the nursing field.
“I just want to make sure they can do it,” she said. “They are very smart. I know they have the talent. That’s why I do it.”
Since Nora’s big Lotto win, some of the folks whom she has helped over the years have been telling her, “You guys deserve it,” she said. “Like, something good happen to good people. I don’t know. I think just luck.”
Nora claimed her prize at the Colorado Lottery office in Grand Junction late last week, but declined to pose for the camera with the giant paycheck. She also declined to publicly share her story with lottery officials. Still, she said, word has since gotten out about her win.
“A lot of people get crazy already,” she said. “I get a lot of calls.”
Duckworth thinks she might quit her job pretty soon. She wants to be able to travel with her husband, who is 25 years her senior, while they still can.
“He loves to travel crazy stuff,” she said, like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, for example, or riding the TransSiberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow. The couple will stay rooted in Montrose, however, because “this is our home we love.”
Nora also plans to use her Lotto money to find ways to help more kids go to school. “I believe education is a wealth nobody can take away from you,” she said. “That’s the most important wealth you can have, is your education.”