Honeymooners win surprise raffle in Destin

Savannah Vasquez
Bill and Julie Stephens (from left) are presented with thier raffle prize of a new boat by Ronald McDonald House representative Jerry Andrews. [SAVANNAH VASQUEZ/THE LOG]

Julie and Bill Stephens were enjoying their honeymoon in Destin when they happened upon the last few days of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Amongst the hubbub of the fishing docks, the couple saw a raffle entry for a boat with proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House in Pensacola. With just one look at the charity, Bill said he knew he had to support the cause.

“I seen the Ronald McDonald House, and they’ve done a lot for my niece,” he said. “I seen the ATM and entered with five tickets for $20.”

The couple headed to St. Augustine a few days later, but Bill said he was excited about the raffle and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“We left here that Friday and went to my cousin’s in St. Augustine. While we were there, Julie told me her phone was going dead, and I jokingly told her she better plug it up in case the boat people called, and I said, if it’s an 850 number, she better answer it!” Bill said.

Julie then recounted the moment the call came in.

“We were all in the kitchen, but I went back into the bedroom where my phone was plugged in, and right then it rang,” she said. “It was an 850 number and they said, ‘You won the boat!’ I put them on speaker and ran to the kitchen and then there were high fives all around. We just couldn’t believe it!”

The couple returned to Destin last week to claim their prize – a brand new 17-foot Sportsman boat – from Gulf Coast Boating Center. Jerry Andrews, a volunteer with Ronald McDonald House and the Big Mac Classic Fishing Tournament that sponsored the raffle, was there to meet them.

“I always tell people when they buy a ticket that it’s good karma,” Andrews said to the couple. “The $20 of tickets that you bought put up two families for the night.”

Andrews explained that the Big Mac Classic Fishing Tournament in Destin is the biggest fundraiser for the non-profit and he noted that to-date the tournament has raised $528,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. He further explained that the Ronald McDonald House allows a place for families to stay free of charge while their child is in the hospital. 

“I try to emphasize to visitors and vacationers that the house is theirs too,” he said. “Last year, we had 290 families from out-of-state stay in the house, and we are always working hard to raise money to continue on with the Pensacola house, and over 300 houses in 30 different countries.”

This year, the Big Mac Classic raffle sold 12,000 tickets and raised $42,000 dollars for the Ronald McDonald House in Pensacola, and Andrews said he can’t wait to do it all again next year.

“Me and Mike Wright got this started back in 2010, and it’s continued to grow,” he said to the Stephens. “We couldn’t do it without all the good people like yourself.”

As for the Stephens, they said they haven’t decided yet whether they will keep the boat or sell it, but they agree that the real winner is the charity that they helped support in the process.

“(We're) very excited to help support the Ronald McDonald House,” Bill said.