Volume 43 | Number 2 | Spring 2013

Lottery Winner Remains Committed to Teaching

Spring 2013 Issue | By Chris Gabettas

Mark Wendelsdorf
Photo by Chris Gabettas

Ever dream of winning the lottery and quitting your job — or at least scaling back a bit?

It never crossed Mark Wendelsdorf's mind after he won a $1 million Powerball prize in September 2012. He never thought about stepping down as Caldwell fire chief or giving up his teaching job in the Fire Services Administration program at Idaho State University-Meridian.

"I love my job and the people I work with," he said.

Wendelsdorf struck the jackpot last Sept. 19, the day after he bought $10 worth of Powerball tickets at a Stinker Store in Caldwell, 25 miles west of Boise. One ticket matched five numbers in the Idaho Lottery drawing, which was good enough to win the million bucks.

"My head was spinning a million miles an hour," said Wendelsdorf. He'd won $5 or $10 playing the lottery, but never big money.

Wendelsdorf and his wife, Kim, contacted their tax accountant and bank. Three weeks later, the couple stepped forward to claim their prize.

Federal and state taxes took a chunk of the $1 million, leaving them with $520,000 "free and clear to do what we wanted," said Wendelsdorf. The couple paid off their mortgage, cleared their debts, put money in savings and bought two new vehicles.

PAYING IT FORWARD

Wendelsdorf, a 22-year veteran of the Caldwell Fire Department, is passionate about firefighting and helping people. He asked Caldwell city bosses if he could stay on the job after winning the lottery. They told him yes.

Wendelsdorf, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, earned a bachelor's degree in fire service management at Southern Illinois University and a master's degree in public administration from Governor's State University in University Park, Ill. He serves as president of the Western Division of the International Fire Chiefs Association, which is made up of 10 western states.

For the past four years, he has taught online courses in ISU-Meridian's Fire Services Administration program, which is designed to prepare students for leadership positions in firefighting.

Wendelsdorf says he's grateful to the teachers, firefighters and supervisors who've mentored him throughout his career and he wants to do the same for others.

"I love teaching. It's an opportunity to raise the bar higher for the next generation of fire-service professionals," he said.

And that's good news to Michael Mikitish, ISU-Meridian's emergency services director and coordinator of the Fire Services Administration program. He describes Wendelsdorf as a "dedicated professor and mentor" who has helped shape the program, which offers associate and bachelor's degrees.

"I continually rely on Mark to provide me feedback on the direction of the program and changes or improvements we can make to better the program," he said.

As for Wendelsdorf, he says he'll probably retire in another 10 years. But no slacking off until then. He plans to teach, run the Caldwell fire department and work on a doctorate in emergency management.

"Then maybe it'll be time to pass the baton to the next generation," he said.