St. Patrick’s Day 1978-1979 (The Story of How Our Fountain Turned Green for the First Time)
“Rising Above the Rest,” published in 2010.
Fountain Hills is widely known throughout the state for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration when the world-famous fountain is turned green.
It began when a young cowboy and building contractor named Terry Gill moved to Fountain Hills from Lewistown, Montana. Of Irish heritage and having a mischievous personality, he decided to ride his horse, Dollar, through the local taverns on St. Patrick’s Day 1978. There were only three at the time – The Alamo, The Village Pub, and the community’s first bar, The Silver Stein (originally known as the Fountain Mountain In).
Riding through the front door of the Stein, he caused quite a commotion and damage to the entryway. Terry was more than happy to pay for their damage. Thus began both the reputation of Terry Gill and the traditional celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Fountain Hills.
Later that year, during a Christmas party hosted by Martin and Cheryl Dawson a discussion arose about Terry’s antics the prior St. Patrick’s day. Participating in the discussion were Terry Gill, Dee Grimal, Jim Gar, Duke and Joan Miller, John and Barb Kuchan, Jim and Maggie Lavoie, Bill Lavoie, Steve and Patty Nelson, Bob and KC Evans, Archie, and Precille Archambault, Bob and Linda Travis, John Mitchie and Bob and Chris Trice.
As more libations were consumed by the party, the subject of Terry’s heritage and subsequent St. Patrick’s Day performance was brought up, with Terry being quite proud and boastful of his efforts. When asked what he might do for an encore on the next St. Patrick’s Day, he replied he wanted to turn the fountain green.
Martin Dawson, being of a long line of Irish heritage himself, pushed Terry one step further. He made a challenge to him to water ski around the fountain as it turned green. Dawson offered to pull him around the lake with his green SeaRay boat.
The challenge was offered in the form of a bet. It was agreed that Gill, Dawson, John Kuchan, Steve Nelson, and Bill and Jim Lavoie would meet at the Silver Stein at 10 a.m. on March 17, 1979, with the boat in tow. From there, they would proceed to the fountain pump house just prior to noon to prepare to add the dye (provided by the ever-helpful Bill Fisher, Fountain Hills Project Manager for developer MCO Properties).
The bet’s catch? Any of the participants who didn’t show up would lose $250.
Word spread about the planned activities, so a large crowd turned out at Fountain Park to see if they would happen.
At 12 noon on St. Patrick’s Day, the fountain rose and transformed into an emerald green geyser. All but Kuchan successfully skied around the fountain. Kuchan, a local building contractor, was known for always having a short cigar in his mouth. A series of photos on the front page of the next edition of The Times of Fountain Hills showed Kuchan going underwater at the outset of his run, only to resurface with his cigar still wedged into the corner of his mouth. But, he never was able to get up on his skis.
Because this event was so successful and memorable, it became the start of a tradition that continues to this day.
Now, 45 years later, what started as a bet in a bar has become the annual Greening of the Fountain in Fountain Hills on St. Patrick’s Day. On Friday, March 17, 2023, at noon. the fountain will flow emerald green. The fountain will be bathed in green light when the sun sets to continue the tradition.