After years of surprising fans of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” with their contest winnings, Westchester native Jeannie Klisiewicz was shocked when DeGeneres surprised her with a Ford EcoSport and an audience seat dedicated in her name to celebrate her 10th anniversary working for the show.

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“This is not what I expected for my life. I thought I would be a teacher, and that would have been a wonderful life. This was never the journey that I had planned, and the fact that it is my journey and it is my story is overwhelming in the best of ways,” Klisiewicz told the Tribune by phone after the segment aired this week.

Klisiewicz recalls planning her University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign schedule around “Ellen,” wearing “Ellen” pajamas and constantly writing to producers. She had recently graduated with an elementary education degree and was on her parents’ Sugar Grove porch 10 years ago when she received a call from DeGeneres that changed her life.

“So you’ve entered every contest and you’ve never won one contest?” DeGeneres asked Klisiewicz. “Do you know why I’m calling you? To tell you you still have not won anything. Nothing. … What do you need?”

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And so Klisiewicz headed to California and taped a red-carpet segment, which eventually led to a correspondent job that has allowed her to criss-cross the country to give away cars, large checks and tickets to major sporting events.

As part of these sweepstakes, Klisiewicz has had the opportunity to share some very emotional moments with “Ellen” fans. One of her favorites was a reunion of long-lost siblings featured on an episode of “Life’s First-Evers with Jeannie,” a new digital series with Ford.

Klisiewicz, 31, has had her share of surprises as well. DeGeneres, whom Klisiewicz considers to be her mentor, got her a dream walk-on role in the Broadway production of “Wicked” in 2015.

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DeGeneres surprised Klisiewicz with the Ford EcoSport and the audience seat by having Klisiewicz try to surprise a woman who turned out to be an actress in on the gag. Klisiewicz was the one who was stunned when DeGeneres invited her on stage.

“When she revealed that seat, that was so emotional because I remember sitting on my couch in college and watching audience members sit in those seats and all I really wanted was to be able to sit in them too,” Klisiewicz said. “And now the fact that one of them has my name on it is unreal. It sounds so goofy because it’s a plaque on a seat, but it means more to me than I can express.”

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“I don"t know what the future holds. I hope that I"m doing something where I’m able to give back just like I am here. I am one of those people, I"m a firm believer that sometimes in life you have to stand still and look around at all the blessings that you have,” she said. “And this show and the people that I’m with and this job is the biggest blessing. I"m just so proud to be here.”


A seat in the "Ellen" audience is dedicated to Westchester native Jeannie Klisiewicz. (Warner Bros, / Handout)
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