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Side of Ranch

Lakewood Ranch aerospace journalist flying high after winning Super Bowl tickets

Don Malko and his grandson are heading to the Super Bowl courtesy of Verizon.

Lakewood Ranch's Don Malko, who won a trip for two to the Super Bowl, shows off his drawings of significant members of the aerospace industry.
Lakewood Ranch's Don Malko, who won a trip for two to the Super Bowl, shows off his drawings of significant members of the aerospace industry.
Photo by Jay Heater
  • East County
  • Opinion
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I never win anything.

Well, that isn't exactly true.

There were those two movie tickets I won when I was 18, from the local radio station. Of course, it was about $1 apiece to get into the movies at the time.

Thinking ... thinking ... thinking.

OK, I have hit a couple of Bingos in my time. Although my playing-to-winning ratio hovers around 500-1. I'm not sure you can categorize that as winning.

Auctions? I don't know why people always say you win when you have the high bid at an auction. Certainly, my wallet comes out. I don't consider that winning, either.

The folks from Publishers Clearing House never have come to my door, even though I have practiced my look of shock. I finally stopped completing those feedback contests on my Taco Bell receipts because I have yet to collect anything. Queen of Hearts at the Elks Club? I have Two of Clubs luck.

So when I saw that Lakewood Ranch's Don Malko won a trip for two to Super Bowl LVII on Feb, 12 in Glendale, Ariz., I had to meet this guy.

I pulled up to his cozy home in Country Club East and right away had the impression that this was a smart cookie. A former art education teacher for 32 years at Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District in New Jersey, Malko spends his retirement days putting together the Aero Brush magazine, a journal for the American Society of Aviation Artists.

Heady stuff.

He handed me a copy of the seasonal magazine, this one the fall, 2022 edition. His story was titled, "The Atlas Missile," a piece examining long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, their history and the art that emerged to document them.

It was not your everyday material.

The editor of the nonprofit publication since 2004, he explained his love of all things connected to aerospace art. He showed me his garage, which is more of a makeshift studio that included the many drawings he has done of influential people in the aerospace industry.

Lakewood Ranch's Don Malko and his grandson Graham Durick will be attending the Super Bowl after winning a Verizon contest.
Photo by Jay Heater

After serving in the U.S. Army Security Agency early in his life, the now 76-year-old Malko talked about the various opportunities that arose from his love of the aerospace industry and the art associated with it.

His conversation convinced me that besides being an artist and a journalist, he is a numbers guy.

One of his highlights was flying in a C-2A Greyhound that was built to land on aircraft carriers. He landed and took off from the USS George Washington, a CVN-73 nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

He rattled off that information and then offered that, upon takeoff, the plane went from 0 to 140 knots in 2.3 seconds to take off from a 278-foot runway using a steam catapult. This all occurred in 1999.

Being a guy who doesn't fare well in the Drop Zone at the carnival, I can't even imagine.

And even more to the point, I can't imagine how he can rattled off the makes and models of aircraft and aircraft carries, length of runways and speeds. At 76? My goodness, he is my hero.

Could all this have anything to do with his good fortune?

The contest prize of two Super Bowl tickets, exclusive access to Super Bowl weekend events, a 3-night stay at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown and two airline tickets, were awarded by Verizon, which was holding it to promote its app Verizon Up.

Malko was introduced to Verizon Up's various contests by his daughter and son-in-law, Kristin and Jeff Durick, who live in Bennington, Nebraska. Note that Jeff Durick is a pilot for United while Kristin Durick is a former flight attendant.

One of the contests asked those playing to be on the App at an exact moment to see if your click on a prompt would get through to earn $100. Malko hit it perfectly and put a C-note in his pocket.

On Jan. 6, Kristin Durick called him about another contest. This time, Verizon was giving away the Super Bowl trip, Only one would be awarded in the national contest.

Why not try?

When the prompt came up, and customers throughout the nation hit the prompt, Malko was on board.

"You have to wonder if somehow you can get through such a complex system," he said. "It is shooting through fiber optics and communication towers."

Malko stared into his computer as a secondary screen popped up.

"You've got Super Tickets," it read.

Pure luck?

Perhaps so, but Maklo said he built his home personal computer to be a faster system. He constructed it using "the latest hardware" and noted it is considered to be in the top 95% of computer maximum speed capabilities. It is a water-cooled system.

I guess I have to be a little more proactive before entering contests.

For weeks afterward, Malko wasn't absolutely sure he had won. His wife of 53 years, Charlotte, suggested he take his grandson, 12-year-old Graham Durick, because of his love of sports, but Malko hesitated to tell him until he received something a little more definitive from Verizon. When that eventually came, he Facetimed with his grandson, who was sledding in the Nebraska snow.

"He just rolled over into the snow," Malko said of his grandson, who had collapsed in joy.

Graham is a Cowboys fan, and they fell short of the Super Bowl, and then he was rooting for the Bengals, and that went badly, too. But his grandpa said he has lots of football cards, and he is looking forward to getting some of them signed.

It will be another week, and away they will go, proof that your winning moment might still be out there.

I thanked Malko for his time, and headed out his door.

"I never have won anything before," he said to me.

Yeah, I know the feeling.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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