BLACKFOOT — Mike Kirkham has been building things for most of his life.
The Blackfoot businessman played a pivotal role in building Kirkham Auto Parts into a chain of stores that spanned several states. His involvement in the auto parts business led him to get involved in restoring old cars with his family and friends. He also became very involved in coaching a number of different sports. His efforts to help to build youth athletes into successful adults continue to this day.
Kirkham’s interest in cars began early on in life and sprouted from a seed planted by his father, Reed.
“My dad grew up with cars,” Kirkham told EastIdahoNews.com. “He started out in the automotive business down in Provo, Utah back in 1933. I kind of inherited his interest in it because of being around it my whole life and because of his interest in it.”
Kirkham spent some time working for Proctor & Gamble after college but soon found his way back into the family auto parts business. During the forty years Kirkham was with the company, he helped manage a chain that had stores not only all across Idaho but also in Oregon and Utah.
Working in the family business and seeing his father’s love of restoring old cars led to Kirkham to take an interest in restoring cars himself. With the help of family friend Jim Bang, Kirkham restored his first car, a Jaguar.
Through his father, Kirkham acquired his current collection of cars. As time went on, Kirkham brought his own sons into the process and taught them the skills they needed to restore classic automobiles.
As Reed aged, Kirkham’s focus settled on building a home for the cars.
“Dad told me one day ‘I think you need to sell these cars and get them into the hands of people who are really interested in them and want to take care of them,’” Kirkham said. “But I knew that wasn’t what he really wanted done.”
Kirkham instead promised to finish building the Kirkham Auto Museum in Blackfoot to house his father’s collection. Together with people like Jim Bang, and his son, Scott, Kirkham it took about ten years to finish the museum.
Kirkham said the process of restoring cars is all about drawing close with family and learning about life.
“It’s quite an experience,” he said. “You have something in common when you’re working on a car. You learn some of the other principles that you need to learn about life. You learn about patience. You learn about things that are difficult and working your way through them.”
Kirkham also sees many of the lessons he learned working on cars with his family reflected in youth athletics.
Kirkham has been coaching sports ranging from football to track for thirty-plus years and currently coaches multiple sports at Snake River High School. He says coaching is fulfilling and frustrating and he absolutely loves it.
“The best thing that ever happened to me is coaching and the worst thing that ever happened to me is coaching,” he said. “You get a lot of kids who don’t even have a goal, and so you teach them that you gotta have a place you want to get to. Then you teach them that it’s going to be difficult and to work through it. That there’s a mental process and a physical process. And you have to make hard work fun so then they start to realize hard work can be fun.”
“Every one of these kids is going to write a book,” he added. “It’s a book of their life and if you can just be one chapter in that book and help them be successful, that’s the satisfaction you get.”
Whether working with cars or kids, Kirkham said the process is always worthwhile and full of important lessons.
“Cars are a little like coaching,” he said. “You take a car that’s not finished and you learn how to mold that and make it better. The real reward is seeing the car when it’s finished and thinking ‘you know, all that work was worth it. Or you see this young kid who you worked with and see them become successful and you say ‘That’s my reward. It’s worth it.’”