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New Millionaire, 91, Lacks Nothing -- Except Maybe A Wife

By Cristina Elías | Sentinel Staff Writer

August 30, 2003
Copyright ©2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

If you ask Luis Ermelindo Salazar what his biggest perk has been since he won a $16 million Lotto jackpot in May, he smiles mischievously.

"It's a little $29 Olympus camera that I got on sale," says the 91-year-old Puerto Rican man.

"You see, I never had a self-rewinding camera before."

Salazar bought the ticket -- the winning numbers were 8-13-19-24-27-47 -- at a Winn-Dixie in Buenaventura Lakes in Kissimmee, where he once worked bagging groceries. He said his millionaire status hasn't changed his attitude toward money.

However, he bought a new home valued at nearly $300,000, and a 2002 Chevrolet. Salazar says he isn't the one on a spending spree; it's his family.

"They are the ones that get everything here," he says with a laugh.

"I only get the bills."

For example, there was the living-room chair a relative selected.

"When we bought the chair, I said, 'I can't believe I'm going to sit in an $800 chair.' But oh, well. We bought it."

Salazar says his millions -- he took a lump sum of $10.1 million, which was reduced to $5.3 million after taxes and other fees -- have not changed him.

"My life is the same," he says. "I am still humble and a sports fan. I don't smoke or drink, and my life still revolves around baseball games."

But his riches have brought him celebrity as the oldest jackpot winner in Lotto's 15 years.

Late-night talk-show host David Letterman invited Salazar to his show. Salazar said he was "too busy" to go but is interested in appearing on The Price Is Right and the popular Spanish-language talk show Cristina, hosted by Cristina Saralegui.

Even a millionaire celebrity cannot avoid life's ups and downs or its little inconveniences.

The hardest part of his life nowadays is getting along with people whose attitude toward him has changed, including arguments with family members who "want to run his personal life."

Otherwise, he is "normal," says Adelaide Cintrón, his caretaker of almost a year. "It's the environment around him that has changed."

Sometimes Salazar is "a little more feisty" than he used to be, she says. That's when Cintrón reprimands him, saying, "You are not going to be like that with me because I knew you before the money."

Even after three months, Cintrón said, strangers approach Salazar to ask for money or to offer "business deals." The lucky Lotto winner, though, has his mind set on charitable giving.

One of his first tasks as a millionaire was to make out 125 checks to various charities and causes. He also kept part of a promise -- made nearly 10 years ago to Father Vidal Martínez, the founding pastor at St. Catherine of Siena in Osceola County -- to donate $100,000 to the church.

"He did not give us the $100,000 we had heard about," said deacon Eliezer Maldonado of St. Catherine's. "But $35,000 [he gave] still is an astounding sum.

"We didn't even remember the promise. He had to remind us."

Salazar said he's planning to leave the remaining $65,000 to the church in his will.

In the meantime, Salazar plans to do some traveling. He recently returned from a three-day excursion to Puerto Rico, which he hadn't visited in 14 years. And he's planning a longer trip to his native island and another one to the Big Apple.

He's also busy with preparations for an intimate bash to celebrate his 92nd birthday, to which he plans to invite his current love interest -- a 42-year-old woman he calls Tisela.

The widower of five years says he has not thought much about marrying again but is open to changing his mind.

"If I get the chance," he said, "I'm telling you I'm going to take it."

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