An assembly of Bigfork middle-schoolers erupted in applause and chants of “Shave it off! Shave it off!” as their teacher took a seat in front of the gymnasium bleachers to have his beard shaved off Wednesday morning.
The unusual scene came as the finale to a week-long fundraiser for DREAM Adaptive Recreation, for which Bigfork Middle School math teacher Patrick Johnston agreed to shave his bushy red beard into whichever shape the students voted for with their donations.
For seven days, students poured loose change and bigger bills into three jars, each sporting a different picture of an outlandish facial-hair photo.
Abe Lincoln’s trademark sideburns and beard came dead last as the most conservative of the three choices, while the choices for more eccentric styles rivaled each other until the deciding day.
Johnston said he’d been growing the beard since last October and, at the request of his girlfriend, finally decided it had to go.
Hoping to raise around $100 or so, he approached the Bigfork Middle School student council and its presiding teacher, Bronson Ericksen, with idea of a “beard-raiser” event.
Much to Johnston’s surprise, the fundraiser took off.
“It’s stupid,” Johnston said, laughing. “All I’m doing is shaving my face…and it just blew up!”
Prior to the big shave, he announced on Wednesday that, in one week, his students had raised a total of $800.
And it didn’t end there.
In addition to his teaching job, Johnston works part time at Bias Brewing in Kalispell.
Knowing he’d be sporting his crazy beard following the fundraiser, he warned his boss at the brewery. His boss loved the idea and decided to jump on board, pledging to match whatever funds the students raised.
Johnston also set up a Gofundme account titled “Mr. Johnston’s Beard-raiser,” which raised an additional $900.
Altogether, his beard brainstorm raised a total of $2,500 for DREAM Adaptive Recreation.
Before announcing which crazy beard style won the contest, Johnston gave the kids information about DREAM Adaptive, their work and why he chose the organization to benefit from the “beard-raiser.”
It’s personal for Johnston, who is inspired by his older brother, Kevin, 32, who has spent his life in a wheelchair due to a disability that left him unable to either walk or talk.
“He still smiles. He still cries. He still gets up every day like every one of us does,” Johnston told the kids. “He’s still a person who loves life.”
DREAM Adaptive, he said, helps people with disabilities like his brother participate and enjoy activities such as skiing, paddle-boarding and other sports they might not otherwise experience.
One student spoke out from among the crowd, calling the decision to give to the organization “really, really cool.”
The moment came to reveal the winning beard style, and with a student-stomping drum roll, Johnston held up the jar bearing the photo of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside and his mustache/sideburn combo.
The students cheered and laughed as Johnston set up a webcam for them to watch while Ericksen did the honors with a brand-new beard trimmer.
“That’s six months of work gone,” Johnston said as students filmed the beard trimmings falling to the floor.
About 10 minutes of impressive amateur barbering later, Ericksen stepped back to reveal the newly shaven Johnston, dubbed by some students as “General Johnston.”
All smiles, Johnston fluffed up his new chops and sideburns to more closely resemble the general, eliciting another wave of applause and laughter.
Johnston said he planned to wear his weird beard for the rest of the week and told students he planned to extend the fundraiser that long as well before donating all proceeds to DREAM Adaptive.
To donate to the ongoing fundraiser before Tuesday, March 12, visit https://www.gofundme.com/mr-johnston039s-beardraiser.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.