Noel Native Son
The Missouri Lottery announced yesterday evening that last Friday's winner in the multi-state Mega Millions game purchased his or her ticket at a convenience store in Noel, Missouri, my home town. The prize of $25 million represents the first-ever Mega Millions grand prize win in the Show Me state.
Noel is situated in extreme southwestern Missouri (McDonald County) along the banks of the beautiful Elk River. The main road coming into Noel is covered by beautiful limestone bluffs which hang out over the entire roadway. Icicles cling to those bluffs in the winter months resulting in a gorgeous seasonal scene as well as a constant concern for motorists. Today tourists come to Noel in the summers primarily to camp and canoe along Elk River and Indian Creek.
Noel has been known since the 1930's as "The Christmas City of the Ozarks," and each year thousands of people from around the country send their Christmas cards to Noel so that they can be stamped with a special "Christmas City" stamp. The town is known for a train blast that occurred there in 1969 that killed one individual and leveled the center of the community. It was also the scene of the infamous Noel bank robbery of 1989 in which the bank's president, Dan Short, was forced to open the bank and the vault after hours by brothers Shannon and Joseph Agofsky. The Agofsky brothers later killed Short by chaining him to a chair and dropping him off of a bridge into the Grand Lake of the Cherokees in Oklahoma.
Noel's population in 2013 was 1,809.
The store where the winning ticket was sold is called Rio Alce - which is Spanish for "Elk River." That store was around when I first moved to Noel in 1958 at the age of ten. Back then it was called the "Elk River Tobacco Store" and its primary business was selling liquor and gasoline. There was a big influx of Hispanics from south Texas and Mexico in the 1990's who came to town to work in the local poultry processing plant. That plant, now a facility of Tyson Foods, is located directly behind the Rio Alce store.
During the time that many Hispanics were moving to Noel, a young man named Genaro Salas with a young family arrived in town and bought the Elk River Tobacco Store renaming it Rio Alce. He modernized the place, added a car wash, dance hall, and home cooked meals to go, and became an important member of the community. Genaro helped to establish a soccer field for local youth, and he was later elected to the city council. Genaro and his family truly represented the spirit and potential of the new Noel.
And now Noel may have a multimillionaire - depending on whether the person who bought the ticket lives there or was just passing through. (I was last in the Rio Alce store this past April when I also bought a lottery ticket or two - but, alas, lottery lightening did not strike me!) I hope that whoever did win that enormous pile of cash is deserving of their good fortune and uses the money, at least to some degree, to benefit their community. Then he or she truly will be a winner - and so will the little town of Noel.
Good luck, whoever you are!