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Car raffle yields poignant moment for rural church

September 25, 2018

Stillwater Free Lutheran Church residents can’t help but feel there’s been some divine intervention in their quest to raise money for a new building to house the congregation’s children and youth ministries, along with a growing after-school program.

When an anonymous supporter of the building project donated a restored 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna last year for a raffle drawing, Paul Tutvedt, a lifetime member of the country church in the scenic West Valley, set his sights on winning the car.

“Paul started purchasing tickets right away,” Pastor Craig Scavo recalled. “He wanted to win the car and take a couple of people in the congregation on a trip to drag Main Street. His intention was to use the car for a few weeks and then [sell it] and donate the money back to the church.”

Of the 1,187 tickets that were sold for 6,800.

He didn’t live long enough to see his dream fulfilled, though.

Tutvedt suffered a stroke about a week before he passed away on Aug. 16 during harvest season and the Northwest Montana Fair week, two of his favorite summer events.

The church went ahead with the raffle drawing at Sunday services on Aug. 26, choosing a person not affiliated with the church to draw the winning ticket.

When the ticket was handed to congregational chairman Darryl Askvig, and Askvig announced Paul Tutvedt as the winner of the classic car, there were gasps and a lot of tears, then clapping and cheering.

It was the kind of moment that gives you goose bumps, church deacon Gerry Banzet said.

“When he read that off, Darryl could barely talk. It was that emotional for a lot of us,” Banzet said. “Everyone knew what Paul had been doing and what he intended to do with the car, and it was quite a shock when he had the stroke.”

Banzet had visited his longtime friend at the hospital during his final days, and when Banzet talked about the upcoming raffle drawing, Tutvedt tightly clasped Banzet’s hand to signal his support of the project.

“It was a pretty touching moment,” Banzet said.

The car was given to Tutvedt’s family, and they plan to follow through with his wishes.

“We are going to take a couple of his friends for a ride up and down Main Street, maybe to Sykes,” said Suzanne Tutvedt, his daughter-in-law. “Then we’ll resell it and give the funds to the church. That was Paul’s wish.”

Bonnie Upton and Ed VanScoten are the friends who will be the recipients of that special car ride, she said, adding that they were among a group of friends who routinely went out to eat after Sunday morning services.

Paul Tutvedt was born in a farmhouse not far from his church and rarely missed a Sunday service.

“He loved his family and his church,” Suzanne said. “Harvest was his favorite time of year, and he loved to watch the kids show their 4-H steers during the fair.”

He also had been looking forward to watching his granddaughter Megan, Suzanne and Brian Tutvedt’s 21-year-old daughter, at the rodeo queen coronation ceremony. She was crowned the Northwest Montana Pro-Rodeo Queen during fair week.

Stillwater Free Lutheran started its after-school program last year as a neighborhood outreach and an opportunity to fulfill the church’s mission statement, “sharing Jesus Christ with our neighbors,” Scavo said.

A church member had suggested started after-school program to help out the parents of students at the nearby West Valley Elementary School, and it was quickly a success. This year a before-school service was added.

“They’re here for up to a half hour in the morning,” he said. “The parents drop off and the bus picks them up. In the evening, the bus drops off here and parents come and pick them up.”

The church’s other youth programs are growing, too, so it was time to address an expansion, Scavo said. The congregation has raised about 500,000 and $600,000, depending on the final design, he added.

Banzet said the building project is an important neighborhood outreach effort.

“I couldn’t think of a better thing to offer than a safe place for our children to go before and after school,” Banzet added.

Donations toward Stillwater Free Lutheran Church’s building project may be mailed to the church at 1401 Church Drive, Kalispell, MT 59901; please note “building fund” in the check memo line.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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