Time to step up and help ‘Ski’

By: 
Charley Najacht

Robert Kaliszewski and his wife, Iris, are in dire straits due to his deteriorating health condition and lack of finances due to his big heart. Monday we talked with Iris and learned that “Ski,” as he is better known, is home and not doing well.
He has been diagnosed with COPD and emphysema and was flown from Custer to Billings, Mont., June 23 for fluid build-up around his heart and lungs. Billings was the only place that would take him at the time, Iris said. He returned to Custer June 27 and tried to go back to work at his 16-year-old vehicle  repair business west of town, DJ’s Auto.
When we saw him at his shop a few days ago, he was just skin and bones and his muscle shirt hung loosely from his skeletal frame. He tried to get back to work on the lineup of cars and trucks on his lot, but collapsed trying.
It doesn’t help that he lost his right lung due to cancer in 2008. He just kept working and crawling under cars in his small building year-round. Now he is home and not eating or drinking.
In one of our conversations over the years, we learned that he often repaired cars that left his shop with unpaid invoices by the owners. We knew he could not afford to do this, and told him so, as did his wife, Iris. To complicate matters, many of the unpaid invoices (she doesn’t have an idea how many and Ski says there are not many) do not have the name of the customer on them, only the type of vehicle and repairs made, along with a balance owed.
We know that Ski’s Christian faith was the reason he had compassion on people who simply did not have the money to pay him at the time. But we also know that some people may have taken advantage of his good heart.
People in both these categories need to step up and pay what they owe to Ski and Iris. The retired dental assistant is in tough financial straits now that no money is coming in from the repair business. Iris has a lot of medical bills to pay and she would appreciate any financial assistance.
In 2015, Ski won an “Extra Mile Award” from the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce. A satisfied customer had written the chamber a letter commending the work Ski had done for them. He went the Extra Mile for them.
“Being so far from home (Washington state) when our motor home brakes went out, I didn't know who to turn to. DJ’s was recommended by an auto parts place and Ski was able to get parts shipped to him from out of state and had us back on the road. He is one of the most honest and hard-working mechanics I have ever met. I didn't realize it until I got the bill, but he came in under his estimate and passed those savings to us (several hundred dollars). He kept me informed on the progress and showed and explained all the repairs that needed to be done. I wish he was closer to my home, I would use him for all my auto repairs. One more thing, Ski called me a couple days after the repair to check on us and make sure we made it home alright.”
I’m sure there are many untold stories about the customer service performed in that small shop just off Little Italy Road. Ski bailed us out on short notice on many an occasion.  
We don’t know how many days Ski has left on this earth, but we do know that when he passes, the town will lose another one of the good guys and another mechanic who was willing to tackle just about any repair job. Ski, a 10-year Air Force veteran, and Iris have been married for 27 years. He just celebrated his 72nd birthday this past Monday.
We are sure he would be grateful to find some overdue checks in the mail from unpaid invoices as belated birthday gifts. It would mean a lot to him and Iris. Donations may be made in the name of Iris Kaliszewski at Sentinel Federal Credit Union in Custer, 18 Mt. Rushmore Road.

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