He's been a one-of-a-kind salvage guy
A Havre businessman who has a lifelong association with cars is closing the business he and his wife started 25 years ago.
Mike Wojtowick, who owns M&M Auto Parts Salvage with his wife, Marilyn, said the business is closing Oct. 1.
He said that after a lifetime of work, he decided it was time to retire - which translates to continuing to farm and operate the rentals the Wojtowicks own.
"I'm 60 years old and it's just time," he said. "How many years does a guy have left?"
Mike Wojtowick might not be what most people would consider a typical salvage yard owner. But, he pointed out, maybe there isn't such a thing.
"I think it takes a special individual to go into a business like this," he said.
Wojtowick, who earned a master's degree from Oregon State University in Corvallis, retired as a professor emeritus with the automotive program at Montana State University-Northern in 1995, after teaching there 28 years. He and his wife opened the salvage yard in 1978.
He said opening the yard was a natural thing for him because of his experience. He grew up in Harlowton, where his family owned a General Motors dealership, and he's been around cars and farm equipment all of his life.
"I've always been in the junk business," he said.
He has no definite plans about what will happen to the property and the salvage on it. He talked to some people about buying it, but nothing came of those discussions, he said.
His son, Chad Wojtowick, recently earned a degree in dentistry from the University of Minnesota and has a practice in St. Paul, so he won't be taking over the business.
Mike said the lack of a buyer doesn't surprise him, with the economy and agriculture suffering.
"Let's face the facts. With the economy the way it is, there's no money out there," he said. "I'll let things fall where they may. It'll all work out. These things all work out."
Part of the reason he decided to retire is that he created a successful business, he said.
"I started a business and built a business. I think the fun part is the building, putting it together," Mike said.
Marilyn Wojtowick, who taught first grade in the Havre Public Schools for 29 years before she was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago, said she and her husband will have plenty to do, including having some fun. Surviving cancer gives a person a new perspective, she said.
"We want to travel and do things while we can do it," she said.
The rentals they own and their farm, the place she was raised 15 miles north of Havre, will give them plenty to do, Marilyn said. And Mike still owns the salvage yard, so he can keep busy there, she added.
"It's good for him. He will have something to do," Marilyn said. "It was very dear to his heart."
Owning a business like M&M Salvage was one of his lifelong goals. The other was to earn a doctorate degree. He eventually decided not to continue his education after he earned a master's. The work someone with a doctorate does, like researching in laboratories, was not what he wanted, he said. Teaching and owning a business were his preference.
"This is right up my alley," Mike added.
He said he was fortunate with the employees he's had, too. He and Marilyn have left during the winter for the last several years - "We like Phoenix. When it gets cold, we head south" - but he hasn't had to worry about the business while he was gone.
Being a professor in Northern's automotive department helped with that. He hired former students of his for 17 years.
"Northern Montana College just has some unbelievable people who come out of there," he said. "They're there for a reason. They're motivated, goal-oriented."
Which relates to the only complaint he listed about the automotive business. People seem to look down on those who deal in cars, he said.
Despite his master's degree and professor emeritus status, as soon as he says he owns a salvage yard, people become condescending. That's the wrong attitude to take, Wojtowick said.
"I think people had better start appreciating people that sell cars, work on cars, tow cars," he said. "These are very important people."
But he doesn't have any complaints about operating his business.
"I've been very fortunate. There's good people on the Hi-Line," he said.
And he doesn't have any complaints about closing the business on his own terms.
"I'm very fortunate to be able to do it the way I'm doing it," Mike said.