NEW PORT RICHEY
It may be the timeliest oil change in automotive history. The $25 maintenance investment 86-year-old Lillian Pariseault made in her car the day before New Year's Eve 2010 on Thursday made her a thoroughly shocked new millionaire. Pariseault paid for the oil change at New Port Richey's Haller's Automotive with her Discover credit card and unknowingly entered a sweepstakes the company automatically places its customers in each time they use their card.
Pariseault thought she had won 10 free oil changes. She was not the least bit suspicious, even as a white stretch limousine picked her up at home and delivered her to Haller's on Trouble Creek Road. Friends and family were there for the shocker.
"Oh God almighty!,'' she exclaimed. "This can't be happening to me. I don't deserve this!"
Discover U.S. Cards president Harit Talwar came to Haller's from his Chicago office to present the retired high school cook with a huge $1 million replica check with her name on it.
"You deserve this so much," he said, hugging Pariseault.
It was a sentiment echoed by the two dozen friends and family members who packed the small garage for the ceremony.
"I've never met a millionaire before. Can I shake your hand?" joked Pariseault's niece, Bernice Neumann, who came from Cape Coral.
Talwar offered Pariseault cake and champagne.
"I don't know about the cake, but I'll drink the champagne," Pariseault said with a grin.
Pariseault sat with some bubbly in her hand flanked by her daughters, Bonnie Hanje and Donna Pariseault, who marveled at their mother's luck — and her love.
Donna, 52, is mentally disabled and works at Red Lobster wrapping napkins. She lives with her mother, her primary caregiver.
Pariseault and her husband, Albert, retired to New Port Richey in 1980 from Massachusetts, and two other daughters still live there. Albert, her husband of 47 years, died in 1992 and Pariseault lives on Social Security.
"My mother has always been there for my sister. Drives her where ever she needs to go," Bonnie said.
Late in the afternoon on Dec. 30, Pariseault took her Honda Accord to Haller's for service. She had gone to this same garage for years.
Had she been a few minutes later, the transaction on her Discover may not have happened. Garage owners Shawn and Kelley Lauer wanted to give their employees a jump on the New Years holiday and were about to close early.
"We were a couple of minutes from closing when she pulled up and asked if she could get an oil change," Shawn Lauer said. "She is the sweetest lady, so we said of course. This couldn't have happened to a nicer person."
Discover gave the Pariseault family the limo for the rest of the night, but they didn't have an immediate plan for how to celebrate.
Pariseault, however, had already planned a trip to Biloxi, Miss., in the coming weeks. Now, said her daughter Bonnie, Las Vegas may also be in the cards.
"She has always played the penny slots,'' Bonnie said with a chuckle, "so maybe we will tell her to move up to the quarter slots this time."