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Montana Legends look forward to their 14th year of fundraising for veterans
The Daily Inter Lake - 5/26/2023
May 26—Fourteen years ago, just before Memorial Day, Richard "Hog Dick" Fliehler and Mitchell Allen Kopczyk lost their lives in a car accident near Bigfork on their way to the A Bar in Ferndale, where they planned to meet friends John "JP" Pettigrew and Fella Mulberger.
The deaths of Fliehler and Kopczyk, both members of the motorcycle club Montana Legends and local motorcycle enthusiasts, was felt across the valley, Pettigrew said. That Memorial Day, in their memory, Pettigrew started a poker run with the proceeds going to local veterans organizations as Fliehler had served in the Army.
To Pettigrew, donating to local veteran organizations seemed the best way to honor his friend.
"They serve us, we gotta serve them," Pettigrew said.
Fourteen years later, the event is still going strong — raising thousands of dollars for local veterans. This weekend, hundreds of motorcycle riders will meet at the A Bar in Ferndale for the 14th time and will take a lap around the Flathead Lake, stopping at the Polson VFW, Mavericks and the Bigfork VFW, before ending the night at the A Bar with live music and a silent auction.
The Montana Legends Poker Run, formally called the Hog Dick and Mitch Memorial Run, has seen steady growth over the previous 13 years of fundraising. From a simple $750 raised in 2009, their first year, the group has since raised a combined total of nearly $300,000 for Northwest Montana veterans.
"Come and support the veterans. Because that's what this is all about. It's all about the veterans. All the money we make, it goes to the veterans," Mulberger said.
Pettigrew met Fliehler in 1978 after noticing that he had a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a rarity in the valley at the time, according to Pettigrew. Pettigrew hopped on his own Harley and followed Fliehler to the Kootenai Lodge. The pair became fast friends and then business partners, traveling across the country building log houses together.
"He was pretty well known. I did the celebration of life, the funeral for him, up at Crossroads church, and there were probably 1,000-1,500 people there," Pettigrew recalled.
An Iowa resident, born in 1953, Fliehler had a "tremendous love of life," as stated in his 2009 obituary in the Inter Lake. Along with the Montana Legends, he was a member of the United Veterans and the American Legion. Friends said he loved all of his family, whether related by blood or not. Fliehler's brother, Doug, is flying in from Iowa for this year's event.
Pettigrew, part of Fliehler's extended chosen family, has kept the men's memory alive since their deaths by helping the local community in their names. Today, the event is able to help a plethora of veteran organizations in the area.
According to Pettigrew, the $750 made from the group's first poker run went to the Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry.
Today, they are the food bank's largest single donor, with a yearly donation ranging in value from $15,000 to $20,000. The group purchases the supplies at Bigfork Harvest Foods, who add their own donation into the mix as well.
The legends also fund four veteran scholarships at the Flathead Valley Community College and three scholarships at the Salish Kootenai College. At Christmastime, they buy gifts for residents of the Columbia Falls Veterans Home. They provide holiday meals at the Bigfork VFW on Christmas, Thanksgiving and St. Patrick's Day, giving veterans a place to find community.
More of the group's donations go to the Flathead City-County Health Department, the Northwest Montana Veterans Coalition, Vets for Valor, Underwater Soldiers and other local organizations in the area.
"We probably contribute more to the veterans in a single event than I've heard about in the rest of the Northwest," Pettigrew said.
This year, the group expects around 250 bikes, although cars are welcome too. They are auctioning off a 2001 Harley Factory Custom Deuce at $20 a ticket, as well as a custom built .223 caliber AR-15 style rifle with a red dot sight, at $10 dollars a ticket.
The event kicks off at noon on May 27 at the A Bar, and is followed by live music and a homemade meal featuring nearly 60 pounds of pulled pork, cooked by Pettigrew. The silent auction and raffles end at 8 p.m.
The poker run itself costs $10 a hand, although playing more than one hand is encouraged, organizers said.
The sign up for the poker run is at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the A Bar. According to Pettigrew, everyone is welcome. Camping is available on the premises.
"The more people who know about it, the more people will show up," Pettigrew said. "The more people who show up, the more good we can do for the veterans."
There is no pre-registration required for the event. For more information, interested individuals can call JP Pettigrew at (406) 261-3043 or Katie Burns at (406) 249-7279.
Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at email@example.com or 758-4459.
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