Intermountain - Caring Solutions, Strong Families, Healthy Communities

2011 Festival of Trees Record Year

Renon Ford and Shannon Johnston sit in a new University of Montana Grizzlies golf cart. Tim Ford and Travis Johnston are on the right. The Ford’s purchased golf cart with the Festival of Trees Christmas tree for $12,750. The Johnstons, of Economy Autobody, designed the custom golf cart and sponsored the Christmas tree.

By JEFF WINDMUELLER Independent Record helenair.com

Tim and Renon Ford will have to hit the links a little more.The couple couldn’t resist purchasing “A Very Grizzly Christmas” tree at the 24th annual Festival of Trees celebration last weekend. The tree, covered in University of Montana’s maroon and silver from top to bottom and coupled with a custom-designed golf cart, was the biggest seller of the evening, raising $28,500 for Intermountain children’s home.
The tree actually sold twice, first being purchased for $15,500 by Dennis Manalo with Fast Enterprises. Manalo donated it back, and the tree eventually sold to the Fords for $12,750.

In the end, it helped push the auction to a record-breaking performance as Intermountain raised $204,000 on the night.
Longtime participants in the event and contributors of decorated trees since 2005, the Fords are diehard Grizzlies fans. Still, the biggest reason for purchasing the tree, Renon said, was to help out an organization that serves an important purpose in the Helena community.
“They do such a good job when they bring in a graduate from Intermountain to speak,” Renon said. “It makes you kind of sit back and be thankful for the life that you lead. They have a really great way of making you want to contribute to what they’re doing up there. It’s a really easy thing for you to want to be a part of.”

That’s why the couple has been coming back to the festival every year since 1987, purchasing either a tree or a vacation package each time. They had considered vying for the trip to Costa Rica, another favorite at the auction, but had their hearts set on the Grizzly Christmas tree.

“Somebody always asks us if we golf,” Renon said. “It’s one of those things we’ve saved for retirement.”

Though both of their parents were avid golfers and have spread the sport down to the Fords’ own children, Tim and Renon are just a little beyond lessons in terms of golf skill. They recently bought a home in Arizona on a golf course and know how golf carts are driven around the streets there.

“We needed a second car,” Renon said with a laugh.

Travis Johnston — whose business, Economy Auto Body, donated the tree — said it was a bit of a last-minute idea and his business’s first time participating in the event.

“We sat down and thought of how we could do something through our business that could raise money,” Johnston said. “We came up with the idea for a golf cart and we started thinking different themes. I went to the University of Montana and so I thought, ‘Let’s do a Grizzly tree.’ It turned out great. I’m looking forward to next year.”

The smallest amount paid for an auction tree was $800, while two others broke the $10,000 mark. Among those was the “Have a Wicked Christmas” tree. Painted black, it was based on the famous book and Broadway play “Wicked,” which became a musical spin-off of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Donated by Rudd & Company, the tree included a travel package to see the play in Las Vegas and was adorned with ruby slippers, flying monkeys and collector’s edition Barbie dolls in the form of witch characters. It drew $10,500 and was also sold twice.
Meanwhile, the “Cinderella Life Beyond the Fairytale Ball” tree sold for $10,750 and included furniture, a lambskin rug and more than 30 gift cards.

“I just think that every year it always surprises me how creative the trees are,” Renon said. “You always think, they’re not going to be able to top that, but they do.”

Jeff Windmueller: 447-4005 or jeff.windmueller@helenair.com

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