Six years ago this month, Cliff Korkowski founded the Douglas County Car Care Program. This was after he retired from a similar program he ran in Anoka for about 10 years.

Now, Korkowski has retired for good. His retirement party was held Wednesday, Nov. 7, and his official last day will be Dec. 15.

The non-profit organization provides donated vehicles to qualified Douglas County residents, or repairs if they can't afford the essential maintenance on a vehicle they own.

"Cliff has so much foresight and makes it (running the program) look so easy," said Colleen Boesen, who has been on the Car Care Program board of directors since its inception. "There are so many big things he has done for the organization."

Richard Volker, who also has been on the board of directors since the beginning, said Korkowski has written a complete manual on how to start and run an organization such as the Douglas County Car Care Program. Korkowski wrote it after he was approached by the governor about how to get a program like it started.

"If not for Cliff, this program wouldn't exist," said Volker. "He's a mover and a shaker."

So much support

It has been a great six years for the program, Korkowski said, with 254 cars provided to those in need and 454 cars repaired.

"I've been blown away by the support of this community," said Korkowski. "Every time I turned around, someone was willing to help."

He praised Harold Koep from Koep's Korner, who checks over donated vehicles and helps with repairs. Koep is also a member of the board of directors and, according to Korkowski, "extremely important to the program."

Donated cars are first inspected at Koep's, and then Koep decides whether the vehicle is in good enough shape to donate to an individual or family in need, or if the vehicle will be sold for parts.

Vehicles in need of repairs are done so by a group of local shops, including Alexandria Motors, Diamond Buick GMC, Juettner Motors and Koep's. The repairs are usually done at once-a-month repair clinics, and Korkowski said that the shops do the work with no labor or service charges.

About half the people helped by the Douglas County Car Care Program have been able to either get a job or keep a job once they have transportation to work, said Korkowski. The others, who he said may have challenges that prevent them from working, are better able to take care of their families because they can get to their necessary medical appointments.

"For a lot of them, it's a huge self-esteem issue," said Korkowski. "Providing them with a vehicle is huge."

In October, Kris Chisholm was named the new director of the Car Care Program. Chisholm, who previously worked for the United Way overseeing fundraising and special events, began working with the program at the beginning of November.

Korkowski said Chisholm is well-respected in the community, and through his connections, will keep the program going.

"I have nothing but positive things to say about Kris," said Korkowski. "He's going to do a great job."

After retirement

When Korkowski's retirement is official, he and his wife, Bev, will head to Naples, Florida, where they own a second home on a golf course. He plans to start his retirement by painting, cleaning and fixing their home.

"We're still recovering from the hurricane," he said.

However, he also has plans to spend plenty of time at the golf course.

"For the last four years, I would still be working while we were in Florida and I would sit at my desk, look out at the golf course and see my friends out there playing," he said. "Now, I'll get to join them!"