Rapiers organize ski swap, continue philanthropy in Big Sky

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Kym Rapier and her assistant Kris Tinnin sat together at Choppers on the afternoon of Oct. 8, dialing out the last minute details of a ski swap they organized for the community.

Just back from a week filming with ABC’s Secret Millionaire – during which Kym and her husband Dr. George Rapier donated more than $1 million of their personal savings to the town of Oakridge, Ore. – Kym’s long, wavy blond hair streamed down her back as she swung her bare feet off the bar stool.

“Giving has to be contagious,” she said. Since moving to Big Sky full time from San Antonio, Texas, in 2011, the Rapiers have given more than $5 million to local groups, said Kym, 44.

Skis lined the stage behind the two women, and clothes for kids and adults were neatly folded in the game room. Kym’s orange Lamborghini was parked outside.

After the Rapiers donated ski passes to all of the students at Lone Peak High School for the second year in a row – at a cost of $24,000 this year – Kym wanted to help families get into winter gear and clothes, as well. The idea to underwrite the exchange was Tinnin’s, Kym said.

With gift cards from local businesses and gear donations from Big Sky Resort, Grizzly Outfitters, Gallatin Alpine Sports and private individuals, the raffle raised $100,000, Kym said. She hopes to use the proceeds to expand the Big Sky Community Food Bank prepared meals program, specifically the backpack program that sends kids with food insecurity home from school with a discreet bag of food on Fridays.

“Kym’s a visionary,” said Diane Bartzick, who has worked with Kym through the food bank. “She is the type that sees a need, gets down and dirty, and does the work that’s needed.”

Bartzick helped the school coordinate a clothing drive in the past, and “with this ski swap, Kym has accelerated it 10,000 times more powerful.”

Choppers owner Monte Johnsen donated the food and drinks that night, cooking up more than 200 corndogs, and 20 pounds each of chicken tenders and sloppy Joes.

“A lot of [the donations were] really good useable clothing – I would say 75 percent was excellent stuff,” Johnsen said, estimating the event drew more than 300 people over the course of the night.

Perhaps the giving bug is going around.

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The Rapiers first visited Big Sky four years ago, when a business partner recommended they take a ski vacation here, Kym recalls. “We came here, and I cried when we left. We came back the next week and bought a house, and I ran from the plane, because I didn’t want to go back to Texas.

“I love it – the weather, the people, everything,” Kym said.

George, 60, practiced as an internist until founding WellMed Medical Management in 1990. He is now chairman and CEO of the company, which provides primary care for 80,000 seniors in four states.

Kym previously owned and sold health clubs, among other businesses, she said, also running her charity, Kym’s Kids of San Antonio, a scholarship program that engages youth through volunteerism and school performance.

The couple founded The Blake, Kymberly and George Rapier Charitable Trust in 2006, in honor of George’s late son Blake. Every year since, they’ve donated more than $1 million annually to nonprofits including youth initiatives, animal shelters, and programs for seniors and children. Kym is executor of the trust, according to the Rapier Family Foundation website, and she and George determine recipients together.

Setting up for the ski swap, Kym, who stands 5’10”, said she plans to create something like Kym’s Kids here in Montana.

“It makes me feel good,” she said. “Everybody should give back if they can.”

In Montana – on top of the ski pass donations – the Rapiers have given to the Big Sky Community Corp., Heart of the Valley animal shelter, Morningstar Learning Center, Bridger Ski Foundation, Big Sky Ski Education Foundation, Thrive, the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation and Big Sky Youth Empowerment.

BYEP executive director Pete MacFadyen visited the Rapiers in Big Sky last October to thank them for a $25,000 gift donated during the 2012 spring fundraiser. MacFadyen told the Rapiers that his organization – which works with at-risk, high school-aged youth – used the money as a challenge to its donor base, effectively doubling it.

“At [that] point Kym wrote me a check for $100,000,” MacFadyen recalls. The largest single gift BYEP has received since its founding in 2001, it was “transformational, with respect to making a larger impact and allowing us to serve more kids, and go deeper with them,” he said.

“Kym really goes after a unique part of our society, and has made pretty impressive impacts,” said Yellowstone Club Community Foundation Executive Director Casey Schwartz, who partnered with Kym last year on several projects. “[The Rapiers] have been incredibly generous, and we’re really lucky to have them as part of the community.”

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The couple drew national attention with their appearance on Secret Millionaire’s season finale Sept. 8.

The episode sent them to beautiful but depressed Oakridge, Ore., population 3,200, where they spent a week living in an RV, with $71.03 in spending money – equivalent to the local food stamp award for a family of two. Disguised as a physician’s assistant and a former health instructor, the Rapiers got to know local community members.

They met an unemployed mother who volunteers to fundraise for local high school students, a PA who is the town’s only healthcare provider, and a former superintendent who started a food backpack program for school kids similar to the one in Big Sky. They joined the understaffed firehouse for a volunteer training session, cut firewood with the booster club and had dinner with a single mom and her kids.

“Every aspect of this town is hurting,” Kym said on the show. “It was very emotional.”

At the week’s end, they admitted their “white lie,” telling their new friends they had, in fact, come to donate money where it was needed. In all, the Rapiers gave more than $1.3 million to kids for college, the booster club, the medical clinic, the fire department and others.

“We think it’s our responsibility to give it back,” George said on the show. “It really has been a humbling experience for us, to see how well they love each other and take care of each other.”

Calling it one of the best experiences of her life, Kym said Big Sky can learn something from Oakridge: “Everyone needs to work together.”

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What’s next for the Rapiers?

Kym plans to meet with representatives from some of Montana’s Indian reservations, she said, help start a therapeutic horseback riding program in Bozeman, and support the Ophir School eighth grade trip to Washington D.C.

And both Rapiers are planning to go to space this year, with Virgin Galactic, an airline that offers suborbital spaceflights.

“I’m an adventure person!” she says.