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Volunteer talks about village life

April 4, 2017 GMT

In the front of the room of most Bigfork meetings is a man with greying hair who often slips jokes into speeches he delivers from a bullet-point list in his head. Though Paul Mutascio has acted as one of the unofficial leaders of the village for more than a decade, he never expected a community in Montana would become his home - let alone his biggest project.

“Bigfork can’t incorporate because we just don’t fit the standards laid out by the state,” Mutascio said. “So if we don’t take care our ourselves, nobody else will.”

The president of The Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork, Mutascio looked at the view of downtown Bigfork from his office on Electric Avenue. A proposed map of the community’s most recent project, a connected trail system, lay across his coffee table. Grant applications and a contact list shared space on his computer screen.

Though his role as president of the foundation is a volunteer position, it typically takes about 20 hours a week.

For nearly five decades, the nonprofit has acted as a voice for the village’s growth, both recreationally and economically. It’s members work to preserve and display Bigfork’s art and history. That can include leading major city projects, providing community service grants or simply keeping the sidewalks shoveled and swept year-round.

“If you look around this town, you can see the fingerprints of the people who have worked under the banner of the foundation from its beginning,” Mutascio said.

MUTASCIO grew up as the middle child in an Italian family in Palm Springs, California.

Palm Springs was a refuge for movie stars trying to escape Hollywood for the weekend. But other than that, Mutascio likes to say the city’s “not that different” from Bigfork, or “at least it wasn’t in 1951.”

He said like Bigfork, he remembers watching people rotate into the area based on seasons. And, like his life in Bigfork, Mutascio’s world revolved around community.

“Just like here, the community felt like a family. But I guess you could say community involvement is in our DNA - mom was a Doe, dad was an Elk and a Lion,” he said describing the civic engagement clubs his parents joined.

When Mutascio was old enough, he joined the Leo Club - the kid-version of the Lion Club. He also joined the Boy Scouts and frequented the community youth center.

Mutascio balanced his after-school activities with his work in his grandpa’s businesses, an Italian restaurant and a couple of hotels.

“They were never really big successes,” Mutascio said. “They were more of just intended to feed the family and a few others as well.”

In fifth grade, Mutascio and his family moved into a house attached to one of his grandpa’s hotels. The home was split between Mutascio’s family of five, his aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents.

After school, Mutascio mingled with the city’s newest guests as he escorted them to their rooms. He would carry the guests’ luggage and describe the places they shouldn’t miss. He wanted each person to know about the best his home had to offer.

“Working together, to do what was good for our community, it was instilled in us,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. And it was exciting.”

MUTASCIO spent the first part of his career working for the City San Diego Manager’s Office.

Though his job title changed throughout the years, Mutascio specialized in long-range financial and economic projects - something he’s applied in Bigfork.

After working for the city for roughly 15 years, Mutascio joined his wife’s growing graphic design business.

“We hit the wave just right, the sweet spot,” he said. “But we began looking around, and California felt crowded.”

It took one visit to Bigfork for the couple to fall for Montana. Granted, they made the trip with a friend who happened to be a real estate agent.

Mutascio and his wife, Jill Gotschalk, bought a property along the Swan River in 1993. They originally intended Bigfork to be a getaway from California but soon made the village their full-time home.

“We didn’t know much about Bigfork, and didn’t want to be those invasive species called ‘Californians,’” he said. “We took our time getting to know the area before throwing our ideas into the mix.”

He said it’s the village’s history that helps him and the foundation continue to map out its future.

Though his life in Bigfork didn’t begin until the 1990s, Mutascio has memorized the families who have donated time, money, or property to help the community.

“I can’t really take any credit for anything, other than being willing to put my chin out there. You have to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and willing to help do the work,” he said. “So much was done before I got here, and there are a lot of things still to be done.”

To learn more about the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork, go to http://cfbbigfork.org.

Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at khoughton@dailyinterlake.com.