By BROOKE WOLFORD
COEUR d’ALENE — Never underestimate the power of an act of kindness.
It can be worth a few kind words — or, in the case of Hayden’s Robert Swider — a $350,000 house.
Not a bad return on a hundred-buck gift.
“NO WAY!” Swider exclaimed after he was told over the phone Wednesday night that he’d won the North Idaho College Foundation Really BIG Raffle grand prize. “I just figured it was like a donation because it’s a donation every year because I thought it was a good cause.”
Unlike 2,500 other people, Swider couldn’t attend the festivities at Cheamkwet Park on the NIC campus. But it didn’t matter.
Swider was driving home with his wife, Debbie, after dropping the kids off in Spokane when he received the call from foundation executive director Rayelle Anderson. Swider had purchased one ticket and said he just considered it a donation, as he and his wife had for 11 years of buying Really BIG Raffle tickets.
Instead, they got a really big return on their investment.
The house is a 1,586 square foot rancher built in the Mill River neighborhood near the Spokane River south of Seltice Way. Located a couple blocks from the home is the waterfront, available to the neighborhood’s residents.
The home comes landscaped, with a dishwasher, garbage disposal and a detached garage that includes undeveloped living space above it to be used as a guesthouse or spare room. It was built by NIC carpentry students.
The prize parade didn’t end there.
Major prizes included a $20,000 car, a $10,000 boat, a $3,500 vacation and a $2,000 shopping spree. However, winners could take the prize’s dollar value and use it toward a different prize of their choosing.
The North Idaho College Foundation used proceeds from last year’s raffle and this year’s ticket sales to buy the lot for the house, purchase construction supplies, fund other prizes and promote the raffle. The foundation began selling the $100 tickets for this year’s raffle at last year’s drawing and ended ticket sales June 27, when all 5,500 tickets sold out as they have for 24 consecutive years, Anderson said.
The remaining balance goes toward next year’s house and other NIC Foundation supported programs. This year’s net proceeds amounted to about $200,000.
The raffle began after the NIC carpentry and construction program partnered with the foundation almost 30 years ago to provide a learning lab for students to get hands-on experience. After three years of selling homes they’d built, construction costs rose and the program became too expensive. To maintain the learning lab, the foundation organized the raffle.
Many patrons at the event were long-time Really BIG Raffle ticket buyers, including Tyler Brown of Coeur d’Alene, who buys tickets every year to show his support for the program.
“It’s unfortunate that in high school, they’ve gotten rid of all of the other technical programs, so now you’ve got to pay to go to college to learn what you should have learned in high school,” Brown said.
Chris Cherry of Spokane is a student at NIC who enrolled after returning from working in construction over seas. He decided to start buying raffle tickets in 2014 and said he’d continue to buy them to support the school and the community at large.
“It’s a great program to be honest; one, you’re supporting the community. Two, you’re supporting the college and people getting job skills that you normally wouldn’t see. You can’t beat that,” Cherry said.
Cherry also empathized with workers in the construction trade given his experience in the field.
“Especially in today’s society where you have to get a degree or a certificate showing you have something. I did construction overseas for years, and I come back, and they’re like, ‘Oh no. We can’t give you a job, you don’t have a degree.’ So that’s one of the reasons I support this,” Cherry said.
$350,000 Home: Robert Swider, Hayden
$20,000 Prize: Clyde Ylitalo, Coeur d’Alene
$10,000 Prize: Audrey Thayer, Rathdrum
$3,500 Prize: Richard Campbell, Coeur d’Alene
$2,000 Prize: Don Johnston, Coeur d’Alene
Early Bird $2,000 Costco Giftcard: Cathy Matresse, Spokane