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Missoula photography student to pay tuition with lottery winningsPosted on July 17

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Lee Hays came to Montana for the summer expecting to learn more about photography. He didn't expect to win $20,000.

"I was a bit on the dumbfounded side because I'm not used to those kind of things," said the soft-spoken Hays. "It was a very, very pleasant surprise."

Hays, 64, won the Montana Cash jackpot July 11. He bought the winning ticket from Noon's at 540 E. Broadway in Missoula, letting the Quick Pick machine determine his numbers.

Hays traveled from Shenandoah, Iowa, to take a class at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, and after the financial boost, he might be staying longer than originally planned.

Part of his winnings will go toward his tuition for the summer's intensive photography course; he will use the money to pay for a more advanced class in the fall if he decides to stay.

Other than that, Hays has no definite plans about what he'll do with the jackpot. He might invest in some photography equipment.

"My daughter has some ideas on how I can invest in her future," said Hays with a smile. "It's a pretty safe bet that a majority of the money will stay in Montana."

Hays has done consulting work in engineering, and he has helped companies equip coffee factories.

After his last project, he decided to come to the photography school. Three years ago, he saw the Missoula instructors at a presentation in Omaha, and was impressed by their interaction. He took a weeklong Photoshop class two years ago at the Missoula school, and since then has wanted to take the summer intensive class.

One of Hays' favorite places in Montana is the National Bison Range in Moiese. During the 20 years he lived in Seattle, he would travel to Montana and often find himself at the Bison Range. He also likes exploring the backroads of eastern Montana, "where there are no people and a lot of space."

Although photography probably won't become a full-time job, he hopes that eventually some people might decide to invest in his photographs.

For now, he will continue learning from the Rocky Mountain School of Photography and perhaps go on to complete another course.

"The school is fabulous, absolutely great," Hays said.

As is winning the lottery.

"Over the years, I've been playing lotteries across the country - I've probably broken even now," said Hays, chuckling.

Alaina Abbott is a senior studying print journalism at the University of Montana who is interning at the Missoulian this summer. She can be reached at 523-5251 or at

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