Ryan and Crystal Pengelly appeared uncertain as they walked into the unfinished house on Looking Glass Avenue in Kalispell. With everything that has happened to the couple in the past year, they can hardly be blamed for their cautious nature.
First, there was the fire that took their home on Nov. 7, 2011. Destroyed in the blaze were Ryan’s war medals, earned over two tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan. Then there was Ryan’s year of therapy to treat the scars of war. And more recently, Crystal has been in and out of the hospital with her own medical needs.
But that look of uncertainty quickly turned into stunned silence, when Ryan uncovered a sign that read, “Future Home of the Pengelly Family.”
Ryan and Crystal were surprised with a new house on Dec. 6 as part of Operation Finally Home. The nonprofit group broke ground on the house this summer and since then contractors and suppliers have been donating time and money to build the three-bedroom home.
Founded in Texas, Operation Finally Home builds houses for wounded veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Terry and Deb Kramer started the Flathead branch a year ago.
“This is going to help them move forward,” said Terry of Kramer Enterprises. “This will change their lives. But really this is about thanking our veterans.”
Ryan and Crystal were part of a small group of local veterans who had been nominated to receive the home. After being nominated, the families went through an interview and application process before being picked by a selection committee.
When they arrived on the afternoon of Dec. 6, Ryan and Crystal had no idea that they had been selected. They thought they were meeting the board at an open house event. It was an “open house” that included representatives from the National Guard, Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s office and a lot of local media.
“It blows me away,” Ryan said.
But the surprises weren’t over. A representative from Tester’s office awarded Ryan with replicas of the medals he lost in the fire. Crystal was reduced to tears.
The Montana Army National Guard’s 639th Quartermaster Supply Company helped nominate the couple. Capt. Mark Juntunen said Ryan and his family have been through a lot in the last year and he was proud to see one of his soldiers recognized.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people to give back to veterans what they deserve.”
According to board member and project manger Tyler Frank, the house and property will be worth around $200,000 when completed. Frank said local contractors and suppliers donated time, labor and money to the project. Operation Finally Home’s national branch purchased and donated the land the house sits on.
Kramer said finding land is the biggest challenge facing the upstart group. He said once the group secures another piece of property, it would begin the search for another deserving veteran and start building.
“Once we get the land, our local building contractors come forward to help,” Kramer said.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/OFHFlatheadValley.
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