For three generations and nearly 60 years, the Boch family name has been synonymous with car dealerships in Greater Boston.
Andrew started the family in the business when he purchased a Nash franchise in 1945.
Son Ernie took the Norwood, Mass.-centered operation to the top rank of Rambler dealers in the country by the early 1960s on the strength of his drive and his often outlandish television commercials that featured him leaping from a car trunk and shouting, “Come on down.”
In the early 1970s, he led the family business into relationships with Toyota and Oldsmobile. Currently, the Boch sign hangs alongside the Kia, Honda, Toyota, Scion and Dodge emblems along the Norwood “Auto Mile.”
But perhaps his most notable business achievement may be in the New England Subaru market where the distributorship he launched now provides cars and parts to some 60 dealers, and ranks among the top sales regions in the country.
When Ernie Boch Sr. died at the age of 77 in 2003, his reputation within the region was based not only on his business acumen but also on his extensive philanthropy.
His largesse included scholarships for local high school students, the gift of a radio station to a local college and support for medical charities and hospitals. His greatest legacy may be a planned building to house the Boch Center for the Performing Arts on Cape Cod, to which he contributed $2.6 million. It will be the first permanent home for an arts group that had used various facilities, including an aging building and school auditoriums, for performances.
The Boch Center has the lofty goal of becoming the “flagship” cultural institution for Cape Cod, the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket and southeastern New England.
Events include year-round concerts by professional performers, residencies by nationally and internationally known ensembles, festival series featuring local and regional talent, youth and children's programs and cultural education opportunities for all ages.
Classical music, dance, opera, musical theatre, drama, comedy, ethnic music, jazz, popular music, films and lectures are all included.
T.K. Thompson, president and executive director of the Boch Center, says the new building project began with his efforts.
“I got my start working in theater on Cape Cod in the 1970s and I came back in the early '90s with the mission of restoring that old facility which was in disrepair,” he explains. That relatively modest goal “morphed” into plans for an entirely new facility originally called the Cape Cod Center for the Performing Arts.
But when a quest for financial contributors led to Ernie Boch Sr., who had summered on the Cape starting as a boy, the project took on a new life — and a new name.
“We had gone looking for contributors and Ernie Boch Sr. was the first one to jump in with both feet in the fall of 1994 — with commitments that have now turned into a $3.1 million capital campaign,” says Thompson.
He adds, “Things take a long time on Cape Cod.” Indeed, it was only recently that the building site was finally cleared for construction in the town of Mashpee where the owner of an innovative mixed-use community, Mashpee Commons, ended up offering land to the organization.
“People who knew Ernie know he is was a man of action,” says Thompson. “There had never previously been a project of this caliber for him to be involved with. He saw the need for a regional performance center, and he saw this place as his boyhood summer home.”
According to Ernie Boch Jr., who runs the Boch businesses and serves on the board of the Boch Center, his father's support for charitable causes is a direct corollary of success in business.
“We are a successful business with $1.3 billion in sales last year and no debt — so we like to give back,” he says.
The connections with the Cape Cod area also are strong.
“My grandfather had a place on John's Pond from when I was a kid and it is still in the family,” he says.
Like his father, Ernie Jr. is involved in helping a wide range of charitable causes.
Those include supporting the construction of a new wing, likely to be named for his parents, at Norwood Hospital, as well as a new emergency room.
Then there are the two municipal pools and the skating rink project, also in Norwood. “We are involved, too, in the Victory Program in Boston, which helps get ex-drug users back on their feet,” says Ernie Boch Jr.
Locally, he has also worked with “rock star friends” such as Aerosmith drummer Joey Cramer and Sib Hashian from the band Boston, “to support music programs in local school systems through a Save the Music program.
But the automotive retailing business is not forgotten, he notes.
The company just opened another dealership in North Attleboro, several miles from Norwood, which remains the epicenter of the 18-dealership Boch empire.
Meanwhile, Boch Jr. discovered that the local high school band program scrapes by on only about $4,000 a year compared with about $100,000 for the football program.
“So we are going to be meeting with them to find out what they need,” he says.