‘They deserve it’: Progress made at Southwest Montana Veterans Home building site

by Montana Standard, Ted McDermott

“A washer and a nut,” Bob Pavlovich called out on Saturday morning in an empty 10-acre field near the intersection of Blacktail Loop and Mount Highland Drive.

When Rich Dwyer gave him what he asked for, Pavlovich secured a bolt that helped affix a large, hand-painted sign to a pair of wooden posts, announcing, in all caps, that this is the “future site of Southwest Montana Veterans Home.”

Tightening a bolt might not seem like much, but for the 88-year-old Pavlovich, it represented an important, tangible step toward finally fulfilling a vision he’s been fighting to realize for 25 years.

That vision is of a home for veterans in need.

“They deserve it,” says Pavlovich, a veteran himself. “They fought for their country. They kept us safe and sound. They made us still free. They deserve it. If we don’t take care of them, who are we gonna take care of?”

Pavlovich first conceived of the need for a veterans home in 1993, he says, while serving as a Democrat from Butte in the Montana House of Representatives. That year, he introduced a bill to construct a veterans home in southwest Montana.

“And it passed,” Pavlovich says, “no problem.”

But when legislators from eastern Montana made the case that there was a greater need in their part of the state, arguing that western Montana already had the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls and the Fort Harrison Veterans Affairs center in Helena, Pavlovich agreed. His bill was amended, and the funding he’d secured was used to build a veterans home in Glendive.

“And then I told them, ‘I’m going to come back for southwest Montana. I need your help,'” Pavlovich says.

But that help was delayed for more than two decades and didn’t fully arrive until last month, when Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester announced he’d helped secure more than $8 million in federal funding for the project.

Asked how he felt when he heard the news, Pavlovich says, “I was tickled pink.”

Those federal funds are being added to state funding that Democratic state Sen. Jon Sesso of Butte garnered for the project almost a decade ago. The land where the veterans home will be built was donated by Don Harrington, a Butte resident who died in 2013.

Looking back, Pavlovich says, “If I had knew it was going to happen like this, I would’ve never conceded in ’93.”

While he acknowledges the various impediments to the project “upset” him “a little bit,” Pavlovich never let up, even after he left the Legislature and others took up the cause.

In 2010, he served on a committee that considered six counties in southwest Montana before selecting Butte as the future site of a veterans home.

Soon after that, fellow Butte veteran Rich Dwyer built and painted a pair of signs to alert people of what the site would become. But as the years passed, the west-facing sign along Blacktail Loop started to fade. So when news broke that the project would finally be able to move forward, Pavolvich asked Dwyer to refurbish it, and Dwyer agreed.

On Saturday morning, he brought the spiffed-up sign to the site, and Pavlovich did what he could to help Dwyer, Charlie Delaney, and Bill Holton – the brother of Air Force Capt. Robert Edwin Holton, a Vietnam veteran who was missing in action for 48 years before he was finally laid to rest in Butte last year – put it back up.

After a quarter-century spent working to ensure what the sign said was true, Pavlovich expressed relief: “Now we’re gonna get it, God willing.”

Pavlovich said the project could break ground in late July or August.