POLSON – As charity fundraisers go, the St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation’s is pretty cool – it asks local builders to construct and donate children’s playhouses to be auctioned off.

Foundation director Sue Klein’s idea raised $23,000 for the hospital nursery last year, when the first auction was held.

But no one, Klein included, foresaw what would transpire Friday, when the second auction went off with one hitch – and a very beneficial one at that.

Families had a variety of nifty playhouses to bid on. There was a windmill, a firehouse, a schoolhouse, a caboose and even a pirate ship.

High bidder for each, obviously, takes home the playhouse.

Except, when the firehouse went on the auction block, that’s not how things worked.

***

The firehouse eventually turned into a bidding war between two men, Tim Rose and Kevin McNammera.

“The playhouse is real neat,” Klein says. “It’s two stories, with a pole kids can go down and a slide off the top story.”

It was also built by two local volunteer firemen – Kevin Straub, whose wife works at the hospital, and Ryan Nelson of Nelson Construction in Polson.

When McNammera went to $6,500 in an effort to purchase the firehouse playhouse, Rose countered with a bid of $7,000.

It went once, it went twice, and then it sold to Rose for the $7,000.

Just as quickly, Rose and his wife Kristen – Seattleites who recently built a home on Finley Point – made McNammera an offer.

If McNammera would still pay his top bid of $6,500, they would let him have the firehouse playhouse – and the Roses would still turn over their winning bid of $7,000 to the foundation.

“It was pretty amazing,” Klein says. The one playhouse netted the foundation $13,500 on its own.

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After spending $7,000 on a playhouse they didn’t even keep, the Roses turned around and bought themselves another.

This one, a windmill built by Stephen Turner of Brothers Construction, they kept for themselves.

“Their family received excellent care and service from St. Joseph Medical Center and they just wanted to give back to the hospital,” Klein says of the Roses, who declined an interview request.

But with their generous offer on the firehouse playhouse, the Roses helped the foundation raise $38,000 at the auction, a $15,000 increase over last year.

Different areas of the hospital will apply to the foundation for funds for equipment or other things they believe will improve their departments, and the foundation board will determine where the money goes.

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Klein says the builders, who all provide their labor free of charge and either donate, or solicit donations, for the materials, have a lot of fun with their designs.

Jeff Gallatin of Gallatin Construction came up with the pirate ship, Mark Nunlist of Flathead Lake Builder put together the caboose and Dewey Swank of Swank Construction built the schoolhouse.

In addition, Hans Lund of Traditional Homes donated a playhouse that was auctioned off, but is yet to be built.

That’s because Lund will work with the winning bidder to design and build a custom playhouse for them.

“It’s just a great way to raise money for the hospital, and a great event for families,” Klein says of the auction. “You should have seen it – I bet there were 20 kids playing in each playhouse while the auction was going on.”

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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