Business your connection to The Boston Globe

What would Ernie do?

Ernie Boch, the P.T. Barnum of Boston area auto dealers, got rich and famous jumping out of trunks and smashing windshields with a sledgehammer on his low-budget TV commercials. If Boch were still alive, he might well have another use for that sledgehammer -- taking it to a Cape Cod charity that has been sitting on his $3 million and doing too little with it.

Just below the surface, a fierce donnybrook is brewing between Boch's rock-and-roll son, Ernie Boch Jr., and the Boch Center for the Performing Arts, which has abandoned its promise to build a 750-seat performance center in Mashpee and is now eyeing West Barnstable. The younger Boch, who now runs his father's vast auto empire, is tired of waiting and wants the money back to fund his own music foundation.

In a world where charities and their benefactors are almost always polite to one another, the Boch episode has become explosive. For instance:

  • A spokesman for the Boch Center accuses Ernie Jr. of trying to ''strong-arm the board" and being ''incredibly disrespectful" of his father's memory. The spokesman, Scott Farmelant, says that in addition to trying to renege on the gift to the Boch Center, Ernie Jr. also this year backed out of a $2 million naming-rights deal to build a new YMCA in Norwood and funding the Massachusetts Film Bureau's Oscar night party in March.

  • The family, in turn, suggests the Boch Center, which is run by its $75,000-a-year president, T.K. Thompson, took advantage of Ernie Boch on his deathbed, going to him a month before he died at age 76 of cancer in 2003 and persuading him to release his $3.1 million pledge by promising they were within two months of breaking ground. The Boch family has taken the situation to the Massachusetts attorney general's office; expect a lawsuit shortly if there is not a quick resolution.

    It has been nearly a dozen years since Boch first pledged $2.6 million (he added another $500,000 just before his death) to fund a performing arts center bearing his name in Mashpee, where he spent summers as a child with his parents. Over the years, the Boch Center regularly has staged concerts by well-known artists and promoted children's programming. But it has been able to raise only about another $3 million for construction -- far short of what is needed, the Boch family says. The Boch Center says it has enough to build, but has been unable to nail down a site.

    Like his dad, the fabulously wealthy Ernie Jr. is a bit of an eccentric, a regular on the Boston social scene and a sometimes guitarist in his own band, ''The Automatics." Boch says he has no intention of putting his father's money back in his pocket, but wants to use it for his new family foundation, ''Music Drives Us," designed to support music education in New England. (See Boch says he is putting together a board of ''internationally known" musicians for the foundation.

    As for his father's wishes, Boch says: ''He would want what they initially agreed would happen -- that it be built in Mashpee."

    Farmelant, the Boch Center spokesman, says ''the claim that someone took advantage of a dying man is laughable." He adds: ''They are dragging Ernie Boch's name through the mud. He was a man of his word. He made a commitment to the Cape Cod community. Now someone else is trying to undo that good work, and that is a shame."

    Ernie Boch did make a generous commitment to the Boch Center, but the Boch Center made a commitment to him as well. Those who have guided the center have had a dozen years to deliver on that commitment. That is a long time -- too long. In life, if you don't use it, you lose it. That time has more than come.

    Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at or at 617-929-2902.

    Today (free)
    Yesterday (free)
    Past 30 days
    Last 12 months
     Advanced search / Historic Archives