Collectors Foundation: Protecting the Future of the Hobby
It’s no surprise that the sight of an abandoned collector vehicle makes Bob Knechel cringe. He has the same reaction to abandoned dreams.
Knechel, executive director of the Collectors Foundation, is at the forefront of the initiative to get youth interested in collector vehicles – not only to ensure the future of the hobby but to give prospective enthusiasts self-confidence and a sense of self-worth.
“So it’s a two-fold mission,” Knechel said. “Collectors complain, ‘If we don’t do something, the hobby is going to die.’ So we’re doing something about it. It starts with individuals – individuals who see a need and individuals who have a need. Promoting the hobby to youth benefits everyone who cares about collector cars and boats.”
The non-profit Collectors Foundation was created in response to a challenge from longtime collector and NBC Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who upon receiving the Meguiars Award in 1997 asked members of the collector car community to be more forward thinking.
“Jay sent out a distress signal that night,” Knechel said. “He said, ‘I can only get guys 65 and older to work on my cars, and soon there won’t be anybody left. What are we going to do about that?’ Jay began funding a scholarship at McPherson College (which specializes in automotive restoration), but what he really did was challenge other collectors. He gave the call-out, and McKeel (Hagerty) responded.”
The result, in 2005, was the creation of the Collectors Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of the hobby. The foundation was founded on the philosophy of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who cajoled his players to “achieve great things by selflessly helping others.”
Likewise, Knechel knows there is strength in numbers.
“Collectors and enthusiasts are supporting our initiative,” he said. “Approximately 275,000 collectors are already contributing through their membership in Hagerty Plus. Some are even choosing Hagerty Plus because of the Foundation. It’s sown the seeds of a philanthropic movement.”
Knechel said that many enthusiasts understand the need and would like to do more, but they’re not sure how. That’s where the Collectors Foundation comes in.
“Clubs and organizations need to begin to pool their resources to move the hobby forward,” Knechel said. “Car clubs want to help, but let’s face it, they get together because they enjoy taking a drive and stopping for a bite to eat. So they might not always focus on what they’d like to be doing to help youth. But through a donation to the Collectors Foundation, there’s a great deal they can accomplish.”
The Collectors Foundation awards scholarships to students interested in a career in automotive or boat restoration, and it gives grants to car museums, accredited colleges and youth programs.
“Automobiles are wonderful teaching tools,” Knechel said. “That’s why museums are so important. Kids engage in art by drawing a car or learn history through a lesson about one. Elsewhere, they may discover science through automotive hydraulics and gears and such. There are marvelous ‘teachable moments’ to be found at automotive museums. That’s why teachers love them.”
In addition to car museum tours, Knechel sees just how effective youth automotive programs can be. At the Safe Harbor Boys Home in Jacksonville, Fla., for instance, more is restored than just cars.
“Safe Harbor develops curiosity and focuses on marketable skills. It makes these kids employable,” Knechel said. “No one has to tell you that kids are different today. They aren’t like the old guys – they want to do stuff. They’re hands-on people. So we need to make sure that we don’t lose a generation.
“Vocational education is so important,” he continued. “Some high school kids learn better when the lessons are hands-on. High-risk kids, kids that are abandoned – bless their heart, there are people who take them under their wing. And when a car guy does it, something magical happens. We’ve seen it time and time again – restore a car, restore a life. Something or someone who was once considered abandoned, worthless or too far gone is turned into a work of art.”
Knechel said the Collectors Foundation has clearly answered Leno’s appeal to promote the hobby to future generations – and then some.
“What started as a challenge to engage youth has turned into so much more,” Knechel said. “Thanks to the supporters of the Collectors Foundation, the future of the hobby is in good hands, and the lessons being taught are enlightening both young and old. All this in just four years. We can’t wait to see what the next four years will bring.”