Million-Dollar Surprise Brings Hope and Complications

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Jim Bronzo won $1 million on a scratch-off ticket on Jan. 25. The first thing he did was buy a pair of tennis shoes at Goodwill for nine bucks.

Bronzo isn’t going to buy a G6 luxury jet or travel to all parts of the world from Africa to Alaska, burning money wherever he goes. He has spent a good portion of his life scrambling for dollars, running a non-profit animal rescue shelter called Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Florida.

It’s been a wild ride since he established the sanctuary in 1985, most of it encapsulated within the last two years.

Around 1:30 a.m., on Feb. 4, 2019, a screaming peacock awoke Bronzo to a terrifying scene: Flames were enveloping his home at the sanctuary. Three of his dogs would be among the 41 animals who perished. “Saddest day of my life,” Bronzo said.

But Bronzo has persevered, thanks in large measure to the kindness of friends and strangers, who raised more than $190,000 after the tragedy.

COVID kicked in during January, 2021, and Bronzo spent five days at Florida Hospital. 

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

Fast-forward to Jan. 25, the date of his late mom’s birthday. She always had scratch-off fever, and Bronzo buys a ticket now and then to honor her memory. On that fateful day, a $20 game of chance morphed into a million-dollar payday.  He won a $1 million prize from the $5,000,000 LUCK Scratch-Off game after buying a ticket at a 7-Eleven.

“I lucked out with that lottery ticket,” he said.

He’s not exactly sure where to go from here. He took a one-time payout for $760,000. Then came the taxes. He has netted $570,000.

At 62, Bronzo is struggling with what to do with that money. It’s been invested already because his best friend is an executive with Wells Fargo Advisors. But where to go from there? Buy a house? Spend the money incrementally on the animals? (There are over 300 at the sanctuary, more than 80 requiring special care.) Invest in himself and self-care?

Meanwhile, he’s tried to stay low. It hasn’t worked. The story blew up on social media.

“I’ve tried to stay anonymous as best I can,” he said. “People kept putting it on Facebook. It was the last thing I wanted.”

Besides, at the time, Bronzo had more significant things to worry about. He was driving to Melbourne, dealing with another personal crisis: His 95-year-old father was in Hospice care.

“He is begging to die,” Bronzo said solemnly a few days before his father died.

Life can come at you fast. Great news, horrible news. Jim Bronzo, lottery winner and animal rescuer, has a story to tell about both. And for Bronzo and the hundreds of animals at Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary, who depend on his unconditional love, life goes on.