Finally, a ‘Bingo!’ Rock Island couple wins Post’s diocese-wide game, grand prize

Tom and Jan DeSmet hold their winning Bingo card outside their Rock Island home. The longtime members of St. Pius X Parish successfully matched all numbers within the outlined blue cross and qualify for the grand prize of a $5,000 furniture shopping spree from Sherman's. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

ROCK ISLAND — The virtue of patience is paying off for Tom and Jan DeSmet, the apparent sole winners of The Catholic Post’s diocese-wide Bingo game and its grand prize of a $5,000 furniture shopping spree at Sherman’s.

That the DeSmets, members of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island for more than five decades, persevered through what must qualify as the world’s longest-ever Bingo game — 475 days and the drawing of 35 numbers, one in each biweekly issue of the diocesan newspaper since cards were included in the April 15, 2018, issue of the diocesan newspaper — is only part of the story.

The real test was the 48-hour wait between discovering they had won on Saturday morning and finally reaching The Catholic Post’s office by phone when it opened the following Monday.

“I practiced patience for two full days,” said Tom, 82, a retiree from International Harvester who enjoys gardening, including regularly trimming bushes on the St. Pius Parish grounds. He also likes a good laugh, adding “I’d been jumping up and down for two days and I was tired.”

“YOU MIGHT WANT TO LOOK AT THIS”

For 15 months, the DeSmets’ Bingo card had been tacked to a wall of the frame home where they have resided since downsizing in 2003. For the Post’s game, winning required filling in a cross shape outlined in blue — the entire vertical “N” row plus the second horizontal row from the top.

The DeSmets’ winning card.

“Every week I’d get the mail and I always told him the number,” said Jan. Her husband would mark matching numbers in pen with an “x.”

The DeSmets, longtime subscribers to The Catholic Post, got off to a fast start in the newspaper’s first Bingo game. “We only needed two more for the longest time,” said Tom. Recently, they were down to needing just one: N-45.

When the Aug. 4 edition of The Catholic Post arrived, the usual procedure at the DeSmet residence wasn’t followed.

“I didn’t look at the paper until Saturday morning,” admits Tom. “I began reading and saw the number drawn was ‘N-45.’ That sounded familiar.”

He calmly walked over to Jan, who was on the phone. Tom placed the card and newspaper on her lap.

“You might want to look at this after you’re done,” he told her.

MORE IMPORTANT VICTORIES

While the DeSmets have rarely been prize recipients — Jan remembers winning $250 in a drawing once — their happy life has included some more important victories.

In April, they observed their 60th wedding anniversary. A cross given the newlyweds by the priest who married them in 1959 at Tom’s home parish of St. Mary, Moline — the late Father Tom Coughlin — still hangs over their front door. The priest’s other gift to them, a portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, adorns one of their bedrooms.

Five years after their marriage, Jan embraced the gift of the Catholic faith.

The DeSmets have been blessed with two children, five grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Lexi Dinh, an incoming second-grader at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria Heights, drew what proved to be the final of 35 numbers in the diocese-wide Bingo game: N-45. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Five years ago, Jan became suddenly and seriously ill. Undiagnosed kidney stones led to her developing sepsis. She was on a ventilator for 10 days and would remain in the hospital more than four weeks. The life-saving treatment came with a price — it effectively cut off blood flow to her fingers and toes.  Jan would lose six fingers.

“It was Christmas time,” said Jan, who formerly worked as a medical secretary. “They called me a ‘miracle.’” Her gratitude to be alive is far greater than any sadness over the loss of fingers.

“The first thing I said was, ‘Oh, you saved my ring finger,’” she recalls. “I could wear my ring, and I was happy about that.”

“I was so proud of her,” said Tom, noting that Jan had to learn how to walk again. She also eventually figured out how to continue in her volunteer role as a collection counter at St. Pius X.

The day The Catholic Post interviewed the DeSmets, Tom was celebrating his own “important win.”

“This is my 38th anniversary of being sober,” he said. “August 6, 1981, was a big day in our lives.”

PLANS FOR THE PRIZE?

There were 8,000 Bingo cards mailed to Post subscribers when the game began. Tom admits that his interest in the game was unusual.

“I don’t do Bingos,” he said.

“I used to,” Jan added. “But I didn’t like the game because it seemed whenever I played and I would need one more number, someone would say ‘Bingo!’”

As of Aug. 8, The Catholic Post had received no other calls or emails from prospective winners. The DeSmets will wait a week or so before claiming their furniture prize.

Or not.

“We’re at the age where we’ve got an awful lot of what we need,” said Tom. “Maybe we could help somebody else somehow.” He noted the parish has an active St. Vincent de Paul Society. The DeSmets are aware of Christmas drives to provide beds for families whose members sleep on the floor.

“We’ll have to check into that,” said Tom. “We have no idea. But it is really neat that this happened and maybe we can do something.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Catholic Post expresses gratitude to Sherman’s for supplying the grand prize for our game, to the 35 individuals from around the diocese who drew numbers, and to all who played and followed along these many months. Claims of additional winners will be accepted until Thursday, Aug. 15. After that the results will be final. 

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