“I’m Yoooolannnnda Vega!”: New York’s Lottery Icon Still Chugging Along
She had only been on the job for nine years when I met her, but she was already a New York icon, and yet, she was grounded and one of the most humble and kind women I've ever met. Her name? Yolanda Vega.
Through my job in radio, I'd had experience dealing with globally known musicians. I hung out with Pink one late night when I was stuck at work working on a project and she randomly showed up while killing time, waiting for a flight out of Albany. I had dinner and danced with David Cassady, I played on the floor with a very young Lil Bow Wow. And, there was the time I was driving the girls from t.A.T.u. to the mall to do a center court performance and ended up taking them to the wrong mall, making them late for their show (mortifying).
Except for the nervousness, I felt when I realized the colossal mistake I'd made with t.A.T.u., none of my other celebrity encounters even fazed me until my encounter with Yolanda Vega. I was representing my radio station at the "I Want To Be Yolanda Vega" contest at Crossgates Mall in Albany in February of 1999 when the one and only, the real-life Yolanda Vega plopped down in the chair next to me like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Yolanda was just as infectious as one would imagine her to be but she was also very down-to-earth and humble. She took my hands in hers, looked me in my eyes, and asked me if I had a genuine passion for my job. When I said that I did, she smiled and told me that I should be prepared to fight for it.
This was 1999 when the radio and television industry was still very much male-dominated and being a female on the inside wasn't for the faint of heart. The unspoken words this incredible woman wasn't saying spoke volumes. She didn't know me and yet she wanted me to succeed and live my passion. As a young woman just starting her career in the entertainment industry, those unspoken words meant everything to me.
I have to admit that I've not watched the lottery drawing in well over a dozen years, but over the years I've found myself wondering what's going on in Yolanda's life. This time when her name popped into my head, I decided to find out. Did you know that when she first began working for the New York State Lottery in 1990, Yolanda was only paid $12 an hour? According to GovSaleries, her pay was $112,019 in 2019. Somehow I expected it to be more.
Yolanda happened to be in the audience at a taping of the Wendy Williams show in 2019 and mentioned that Wendy that at the age of 63, her friends kept asking her when she was going to retire but that she had no desire to.
In 2010, Yolanda told the New York Daily News, "I'm going to continue to do the numbers until I can't see them anymore." Yolanda wasn't kidding. Now, at the age of 65, she continues to work for the New York Lottery as a member of the "Draw Team" and still shows up to award big lottery winners their checks.
Yolanda has been part of our lives for over 30 years and I truly hope she will still be shouting out "I'm Yooooolannnnda Vega!" for another 30.