Million Dollar Winner

Karen Weber-Mendham won a million dollars in the 2013 Lay’s Potato Chips “Do Us A Flavor” contest. Yet from my perspective, her life hasn’t changed. She still works at the Land O’ Lakes library in northern Wisconsin, still gives her family top priority, and still loves and supports her community. 

She entered the contest on a whim. Seven years ago, on Labor Day weekend, her son noticed the contest advertised on a bag of chips. He loves the blend of flavors in pot roast and wanted to enter that flavor, but the term “pot” was flagged so they weren’t allowed to use it. Karen and her family entertained one another thinking of other flavors like licorice or S’mores. Karen entered 30 flavors, writing the name, the ingredients, and the inspiration for each. One of their entries was especially appropriate for Wisconsin. 

Months passed. Karen had forgotten all about the contest when a woman called her at the library and asked if she’d entered a PepsiCo contest. Karen replied, “No.” 

“Are you sure?” the woman asked. After she mentioned “Do Us A Flavor,” Karen recalled her entries. The woman told her she was one of three finalists. Two finalists would receive $25,000 each. The winner, chosen by popular vote, would get a million dollars. 

Beyond excited, Karen began telling people at the library. The woman called back minutes later and told her she wasn’t allowed to mention it yet since Karen still needed to sign forms and pass a background check. OOPS! Finally, though, Karen was able to share the exciting news. 

PepsiCo flew the three finalists to Dallas. Karen’s hotel room included a huge gift basket complete with treats and trinkets. She felt like a movie star. Thus began a whirlwind of meetings with the marketing executives, film crew, and highly accredited chefs. Her nation-wide tours 

included Hollywood and a high-tech kitchen that looked like a science lab. She got to learn how flavors are replicated and finally taste, for the first time, her entry. 

More dinners and meetings and plush hotel rooms with 4-poster beds and amenities added to the excitement and fun. PepsiCo invited the breathtakingly beautiful and kind Eva Longoria to announce the grand winner at the New York stock exchange. Karen’s husband, Phil, was at her side. The people praised Chicken and Waffles chips and the hot and spicy Sriracha chips, but it was Karen’s entry that won the million dollars—Cheesy Garlic Bread chips. 

After appearing briefly on Good Morning America, where she stood next to actress Kathryn Heigl who was on next, Karen and her husband returned to small-town Wisconsin. Karen commented that the Lays’ representatives were accustomed to urban living and didn’t understand just how close-knit small communities like Land O’ Lakes can be. When they warned her that everyone in her town would soon know her name, she replied that they already did, along with what car she drove, whether she had company over, and what she served for dinner. 

When asked what Karen did with the winnings, she explained that, although she is very grateful, people need to realize that a million dollars is whittled down to half once the government is through. Her two splurges included a gas grill and, since she and her family live on a lake, a jet ski. They found a used one big enough to pull a tube. Karen’s three children were delighted. 

Karen didn’t replace her old Pontiac Vibe, buy a mansion, or travel the world. Instead, she and her husband paid off their house, wrote a check for braces for their two sons, and set money aside for their kids’ education. 

All of this was possible because of entering a contest with her son on a lark and earning the support of voters especially in her small community. Karen considers herself lucky. “I’ve outlived my dad by three years. I’m the age of my mother when she died, but I‘m healthy and so is my family. I’m living in a small community that’s perfect for raising children. I love how kind 

and supportive people are here, and that I can walk into a store and know most of the people inside. I’m grateful for how and where I live.” 

Supportive friends, family, and community, many of us would say, is worth more than a million bucks. 

One Reply to “Million Dollar Winner”

Sue Berk Koch

Congrats to Karen! It’s great to hear about good people being rewarded. Thanks for sharing the story.

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