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Local kids bring home wins in essay contest

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MISSOULA — Three local students were honored for their winning essays at the Daughters of the American Revolution Bitterroot Chapter’s awards tea Saturday. St. Ignatius homeschoolers Nathaniel and Patrick Larsson won the American History essay contest in their respective grade levels, and Charlo High School senior Kristi Lynn Fullerton took second in the Good Citizen essay contest, according to Bonnie Huber, Regent of the Bitterroot Chapter.

“It was beautiful … I think it was the best (award ceremony) we’ve had,” Huber said of Saturday’s tea, held at First Christian Church in Missoula. “As many kids showed up as could … we had a really good turnout.”

Huber said the Bitterroot Chapter sent essay contest information to 28 schools in Ravalli, Missoula and Lake Counties. The American History division is open to fifth through eighth-graders, while the Good Citizen contest is open only to high school seniors at any public, private or home school. 

This year, the American History contest required students to write from the perspective of either an immigrant who worked on the first transcontinental railroad, a Native American whose life was impacted by the coming of the railroad, or a settler who traveled out West by train. Each writer had to describe what his chosen character felt when the golden spike was driven in to the last railroad tie on May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah. 

“It was very much more creative writing (than last year’s essay),” the Larsson boys’ mother Audrey said. “A lot of information went into it, too.”

As a fifth-grader, Nathaniel was required to write 300-600 words, and he chose to write from the perspective of an Irish immigrant railroad worker. Patrick, a seventh-grader, took the viewpoint of a Chinese immigrant for his 600-1,000-word essay. The essays were judged on historical accuracy, creativity, cohesiveness and a variety of technical criteria.

“It was a lot of work,” Audrey added.

Last year, Nathaniel and Patrick’s older brother Robert, then an eighth-grader, went on to win at the state level after taking first in the Western Montana division. This year, essays weren’t submitted in time to be judged at state, Huber said, so the Larssons will have to wait until next year for another chance to win.

The American History essays were judged by Dave Fowlkes, United Veteran's Council for Missoula and Ravalli counties; Gloria Roark, Treasurer, American Legion Auxillary, Hellgate Unit 27, Missoula; and Jack Reneau, Senior Vice President for Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 209, Missoula.

“So for American History, we had military or ex-military people,” Huber noted.

The Larssons each received $50 and an award certificate for their efforts. Prize money for the winners came from the Mary Chesbro American History Essay Contest Memorial Fund, she added.

For her second-place finish in the Good Citizen essay contest, Fullerton received an award certificate and a DAR Good Citizen Pin.

The Good Citizen contest has two parts: firstly, students must describe how they manifest qualities like dependability, service, leadership and patriotism, and they are required to submit a high school transcript and two letters of recommendation. The second part is a timed essay administered under supervision and without assistance or reference material.

Judges for the Good Citizen contest were: Missoula Mayor John Engen, Judge Kim Christopher of the 20th Judicial District, and Comdr. Van Fossen, retired U.S. Navy. 

In her comments on the entries, Christopher wrote, “I did attempt to differentiate on the essays. But the applicants should be commended for their applications, essays, and life choices. 

“I was impressed.”

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