By Joseph Robertia
Ola Mullikin, of Homer, can never again say she never wins anything, as she and Jake Morris, of Sterling, are the only two Kenai Peninsula-based winners of the 25 who correctly guessed this year’s winning time for the Nenana Ice Classic.
The tripod on the Tanana River officially went out at 3:48 p.m. April 25 Alaska Standard Time — the seventh-earliest breakup on record — but it takes weeks to sort through all the tickets to determine the winners.
“Almost all of it is done by hand,” said Cherrie Forness, Ice Classic Manager. More than 300,000 tickets were sold this year at $2.50 per ticket guessing the date and time, down to the minute, that the ice would break up enough to move the tripod.
“We’ve got about 100 workers who go through them all, organizing them numerically, then entering them into a database, then rechecking the actual ticket to the database, and if anything doesn’t jive we do it again. That’s what takes so long,” Forness said.
The workers checked as many as 10,000 to 15,000 tickets per day, working two shifts — one spending up to 14 hours a day entering the data, and the other shift spending eight hours comparing and correcting the data. With that work finally done, the winners were notified, and checks will be mailed to the winners June 2.
“It’s still pretty shocking,” Mullikin said. “I had no strategy to my guess. It was just a total fluke.”
Mullikin’s family has played for several years and bought eight tickets this season. She said they knew when the time was announced that they had won, but they had to wait a few weeks for the official call. This gave her clan plenty of time to discuss what to do with the family’s winning share from the $363,627 jackpot.
“We have a list that we’re still talking about,” she said. “We have practical things, like improving the house, getting a new hot water tank, things like that. And we have a list of fun things, like taking a vacation to somewhere warm and south.”
Mullikin said that she would share the wealth with her children, ages 6 and 9.
“I told them we could go to the toy store and they each get one thing I can’t say ‘No’ to,” she said.
Morris, of Sterling, said he’s been playing the Nenana Ice Classic for nearly 50 years.
“When I turned 21 I bought my first ticket and came within a minute of winning. I thought, ‘This is easy,’ but I’ve never gotten that close again until now,” he said.
The first recorded bet on when the Tanana would break up was in 1906, with six entries and the winner receiving a couple of rounds at the local bar. In 1916, the idea was revived by railroad workers, and it’s been going strong since. The total amount bet in 1917 was $801.
Morris bought 20 tickets this year and said he had no reason behind picking the winning time. Even now that he knows he won, he still can’t believe it.
“It just doesn’t feel like reality, but maybe it will when the check comes in June,” he said.
Morris said he is sure how he’ll spend his winnings.
“I’m going to be responsible with it. My partner and I need new easy chairs. We also need new teeth, dentures and new glasses. I’ve also got four kids, so I’ll throw them some money for school. It’s pretty much all gone,” he said.
This might be the last time Morris or Mullikin win the Nenana Ice Classic, but it certainly won’t be the last time they try.
“Oh yeah,” Morris said. “I’ll definitely keep playing.”