Tribune looks at Linda Kollmeyer, the TV Lottery Lady

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Posted by on March 11, 2009 at 10:50:31:


Smile! It's lottery lady Linda Kollmeyer

By Kevin Pang | Tribune reporter

March 11, 2009

If she could be a flower, Linda Kollmeyer would pick a dandelion. Dandelions, she wrote in a poem as a child, wielded much power: "They are yellow and bright, and they turn into white fluffy balls, which with the wind spread their seeds of love and kindness to everybody."

She punctuates sentences by punching the air! And letting out a woooo! And a yessssss! She believes strongly in the power of naps. Plus, she uses the word "blessing" more than any human you're likely to meet.

Linda Kollmeyer is the relentlessly sunny on-air face of the Illinois Lottery.

And she shall save us all from impending doom.

Here is why.

Tune into WGN-Ch. 9 on most days at 12:40 and 9:22 p.m., and you'll hear the dance-clubby beats of the Illinois Lottery theme song, an instantly recognizable jingle sandblasted into every Chicagoan's cranium. In 1989, much like today, our economy was sputtering. This was the year Linda Kollmeyer, St. Louis-born and raised, was introduced into our lives.

Here came striding onto our television sets a registered nurse turned game-show host, all Midwestern niceties and Ms. Congeniality grin. Through three TV incarnations - "Illinois Instant Riches," "$100,000 Fortune Hunt" and "Illinois' Luckiest" - Kollmeyer and company handed out millions to regular folks, not because they could answer in the form of a question, but because of plain luck. And that is the beauty of the lottery: Luck does not discriminate.

"Those game shows were a highlight of their time, absolutely," Kollmeyer reminisced at WGN studios one afternoon. "The contestants were given at least $100,000 every week, and that was unheard of for game shows."

In that sense, Kollmeyer, 47, is the public face of luck.

She does this with the polished flair of a beauty pageant contestant (She was Miss Columbia, Mo., and Miss St. Louis.). Every sashay is smooth and slinky, every word delivered in a singsong quality. She draws out certain vowels for dramatic effect: I'm Liiiiiiinda Kollmeyer ... the first luuuuuuucky number is ... If ever she becomes a skit on "Saturday Night Live," Kollmeyer will be played by Kristen Wiig.

Of course, there are her sayings, the ones that have defined Kollmeyer's onscreen persona for the last 20 years (producers, not surprisingly, wouldn't reveal the salary range a "lottery talent" draws). Her fortune-cookie lines of empowerment - which she writes in her head and improvises during the broadcast - are rooted in her faith. "We're all children of God," Kollmeyer said. "How can you not be happy about having this gift of life?"

Her aphorisms were meant to fill time. After each Pick 3 drawing, there is roughly a 12-second gap while the Pick 4 machines are switched on. Other hosts might tout the jackpot dollar amount, but Kollmeyer throws in a pithy, life-affirming line that segues back into the drawing.

Viewers Feb. 27 heard: "You'll never know what you can achieve if you don't try. You'll never know what you could win unless you ... buy! That's the Illinois Lottery ticket for Mega Millions tonight, that jackpot, $171 million!"

When it is suggested to Kollmeyer that people's destinies lie in her hands - she pulls the tabs that draw out the numbered balls, after all - she vehemently disagrees.

"It's all luck. Look at the way the machines are. I have no control whatsoever, absolutely not. It is all luck."

Phrased differently, perhaps she is the bearer of good news, sandwiched between news segments of doom and gloom. This she reluctantly concedes.

"I might be a luck figure for them. I like to bring a ray of sunshine even if they don't win."

Kollmeyer, a fitness instructor by day, can steer the blandest of conversations into ones inspiring hope! Courage! Blessings!

Somehow, a brief mention of Southern California launches this monologue: "Those people don't appreciate the sunshine. I went running there, and I was the happiest person, because they get it all the time. When you're inundated with it, you become numb to it, and that's anything in life. That's partially why people don't notice the flowers around them, or the birds singing, or the sun overhead."

On Facebook, there's a Linda Kollmeyer fan club. As one member wrote: "My favorite memory was on Christmas night several years ago. She had this look of horror while she said, 'And tonight's winning Pick 3 numbers are 6-6-6!' "

Kim Bishop, a travel agent from Channahon and a member of this online fan club, said, "If it's not Linda, we turn the channel."

Years ago, Bishop's husband, Mark, told her he had developed a crush on Kollmeyer, which became a running joke in their household. So even though they don't play the lottery, they would make a habit of tuning in nightly for the drawing. Kollmeyer would deliver one of her "Lindaisms," as Bishop called it, and the two would chuckle at the twee Midwestern quaintness of it all.

It got to the point that Bishop began jotting down her favorite Lindaisms in a notebook, which she keeps to this day.

"We'll tune in because we want to watch Linda and see if she'll say something to brighten our day," Bishop said. "She is passionate about pulling those numbers."

Does Linda Kollmeyer ever get cranky? If you cut her off in traffic, perhaps, but even so, "I try to get to that pleasant place. Maybe they're in a hurry because they're having a baby, or something."

Here's more on the Kollmeyer beyond the television: After college, she worked the overnight shift as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Lakeview. She enjoys reading the Bible. She teaches a yoga, Pilates or spin class by 6:30 a.m. three days a week. She lives with her dog and three cats, which she calls her "fuzzy kids." She has a special someone: "I've got the love of my life in my life," she said. Marriage may be on the horizon.

Also, she's not allowed to play the lottery, for obvious reasons - to which she answers, true to form, "It's OK. I've already won."

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