In 1967, Paul Wachholz was an up-and-coming banker with the Western Bank Corporation in the Denver area. His boss wanted to go to Los Angeles, but Wachholz shuddered at the idea of moving to the big city. So his boss asked him about his favorite place he ever lived. Wachholz had a quick answer: Sun Valley, Idaho in the 1950s, when he worked as a bellman at the resort. He loved the mountains.
So his boss came up with a different plan. Instead of moving Wachholz to California, he offered to send him to Kalispell to help run the Conrad National Bank. Wachholz had never heard of Kalispell but jumped at the opportunity. He’s been here ever since.
Fifty years later, Wachholz is giving back to his community with a $4 million donation to the Flathead Valley Community College for the construction of the College Center, a 50,000-square-foot facility that will become the heart of the school. The building, which is slated to open in 2020, will include a large performance and lecture hall that will serve as home of the Glacier Symphony and be available for public events, as well as two full basketball courts, an outdoor amphitheater and a reception hall.
“We are grateful to Paul for his incredible generosity,” FVCC President Jane Karas said in a Feb. 27 press release announcing the donation. “Paul’s gift will touch many lives in Northwest Montana and provide endless possibilities for students and the community long into the future.”
Wachholz was a born entrepreneur. His first job as a kid was delivering newspapers. Not long after he took on his second paper route, he cut a deal with the local milkman to deliver both milk and newspapers. Wachholz was so good with money that he started giving loans to his siblings. That’s when his mother knew the young man would grow up to be a banker.
Later on, Wachholz ran a lawn-care business. One of his customers, Dr. Carl Collins, a professor from Columbia University, always harped on the young man to make sure he went to college. Wachholz thought he could make good enough money through his lawn-care business, but the professor never let up, and eventually Wachholz enrolled at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. He then went to the University of Colorado’s Graduate School of Banking, graduating in 1960.
One of Wachholz’s first deals was securing tenants for the Cinderella City Shopping Mall in Englewood, Colorado, the largest shopping mall west of the Mississippi. Wachholz continued his banking career at Conrad National, which would eventually become part of First Interstate.
In 1981, Wachholz retired from banking and started a real estate company that eventually became the state’s largest, Coldwell Banker Wachholz Company. That same year, Wachholz and some partners purchased B and B Distributing, eventually turning it into Fun Beverage. He’s still involved with Fun Beverage today.
Wachholz said after a long and prosperous business career, he wants to give back to the community that has given him so much. He believes the College Center will become a cornerstone for both the community and its college.
“Throughout my life, I have not valued money by its worth, but rather by what it can specifically be used for,” Wachholz said. “Investing in FVCC and the College Center is personally very gratifying to me, because it will become a focal point of the expanding college campus, bringing students and community members together.”
Wachholz said he also saw the donation as a tribute to the man who encouraged him to go to college in the first place, Dr. Carl Collins. Wachholz said he appreciates that the community college responds to the needs of the valley and hopes that many more students take advantage of its offerings in the future, adding that doing so would benefit themselves and their hometown.
“FVCC has such a diverse course offering,” he said. “You can go there to learn to be a welder or a chef.”
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