The annual Trustworthy Hardware Willie Boat raffle event brought in $15,000 for local youth sports and sent home a lucky winner with a new Willie drift boat Friday afternoon in Soldotna.
The boat raffle, now in its 11th year, sold 1,000 tickets for $50 a ticket in 2019, helping to bring in $50,000 of fundraising in less than three weeks. After expenses, Trustworthy Hardware co-owner Scott Miller said $15,000 went to funding youth sports for the community.
The event is primarily a fundraiser for Soldotna youth sports, a list that includes Soldotna Little League, youth girls soccer, Pop Warner football, Whalers wrestling, Soldotna Silver Salmon swimming and the Soldotna Youth Rodeo.
“This is a really good event,” Miller said. “It’s just been a great week.”
The funds also go to help the Wounded Heroes event, a sub-unit of the Wounded Warrior’s nationwide program that brings veterans out for a day of fishing on the Kenai River. The Wounded Heroes event is run by the Kenai River Foundation.
Miller said the event has brought in $140,000 over 11 years, along with the fishing boats that the Willie Boats company has provided each year.
This year, a Willie drift boat, with a motor provided by Peninsula Power Sports, was raffled off with help from the Kenai Peninsula Saints Pop Warner program and members of the Soldotna Silver Salmon swim program. The lucky ticket was that of Girdwood resident Dan Kuber, who was told by phone of his ticket Friday. Kuber said he has bought a ticket in the boat raffle for “eight or nine” years.
“It’s more to help the kids,” Kuber said “But I didn’t expect to win, so I’m stoked.”
Kuber said his two sons currently play little league baseball in Girdwood, and said the money being raised for youth sports makes a big difference in children’s lives.
“It’s why I put in for it originally,” Kuber said.
Kuber said he plans to be using the boat to fish for silvers on the Twenty Mile and Placer rivers.
Miller said both he and his brother and co-owner Brian have been active in the Soldotna Little League program for years, both as players in their youth and later as coaches. Miller said their late father Paul Miller, who passed away in 2016, played a role with other community organizers in leading the way in youth sports.
“Little league is near and dear to our hearts because we all grew up doing it,” Miller said. “This year, we kind of focused on the younger crowd.”
With funds needed for high school sports travel, new uniforms, field management and equipment, Miller said the money being raised for the various sports programs is fundamental to establishing healthy, active lifestyles for children. Raffling off a boat only helped pull in more interest.