Ernie Boch Jr. pays tab for Tisbury School Washington trip

Mr. Boch presented a check for $34,000 at a lively gathering of Tisbury School students and teachers Wednesday.

Tisbury School eighth graders thanked Ernie Boch in a series of high-fives on their way back to class Wednesday morning. Mr. Boch donated a check for $34,000 that will cover the cost of the class trip next month to Washington, D.C. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Ernie Boch Jr., CEO and president of Subaru of New England and Boch Enterprises, visited the Tisbury School Wednesday morning to present a check for $34,000 that will cover the entire cost of the annual eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., next month.

But it was not that easy to give the money away, Mr. Boch told The Times and school officials, as he recounted a phone call to the school office in December.

“One of the fundraising initiatives that has been going on for years is we send out appeal letters to raise funds for the trip,” Tisbury School principal John Custer said.

Mr. Boch said that he opened the letter and immediately called the school with the intention to donate, but the man who answered the phone told Mr. Boch he’d have to schedule a phone call if he wanted to talk to the principal.

The Boch name is well-known in New England, where Mr. Boch’s father created the signature television commercial line, “Come on down.”

Laughing, Mr. Boch said that the person who answered the phone obviously wasn’t from the area.

“I called and asked for John — you would have thought that I asked for Obama,” Mr. Boch said. He told the person on the other end to put the phone down and tell those around him who was calling.

“I never do that,” Mr. Boch said. But he was concerned that if he did not make the contact with Mr. Custer that day, business would intervene and he would go on to something else.

The man returned to the phone and told Mr. Boch that Mr. Custer would be right with him.

“It was Dec. 5,” Mr. Custer chimed in. “I have it marked on my calendar.”

Mr. Boch’s donation was a welcome gift for parents, who bear the brunt of annual fundraising throughout the year. He also funded the trip in 2011.

When Mr. Boch walked into the gym Wednesday, the 31 eighth grade students who will make the trip filled the bleachers, and the school band was lined up ready to entertain Mr. Boch, who is a serious amateur musician.

After he presented the ceremonial check, Mr. Boch, a seasonal Edgartown resident, spoke to the students about his love of the Vineyard, which he has visited since 1966.

“I was in love with it the second I came,” Mr. Boch told the eighth graders. “It was different then … People were coming to visit, to hang out.”

He told them that his own daughter was also in eighth grade, and would be taking her own class trip to Washington, D.C., next weekend.

Mr. Custer presented Mr. Boch with a framed thank-you letter from the eighth grade class, and a watercolor painting of the school, along with Tisbury School memorabilia.

Speaking to The Times, Mr. Boch recalled his first memory of the Vineyard, back in 1966.

“I was walking down to the Vineyard Haven Marina — which I owned for six years — and everyone had a little TV with [an] antenna,” he said.

He was surprised to see everyone watching television. It turned out, he said, that he arrived during the airing of the final episode of the popular TV show The Fugitive. “That’s how I remember it was 1966,” he said.

Mr. Boch recalled, again, how the Island has changed.

“It was less of a status symbol,” he said. “But I love it now and I always will.”

Mr. Boch is a well-known personality, with a reputation for philanthropy on and off the Vineyard.

In December 2012, he contributed $70,000 to Edgartown to help outfit a new police and fire search-and-rescue boat. In December 2011, he donated a specially equipped vehicle for the Island’s new K-9 unit, to help Buster, a specially trained drug-sniffing dog, combat drug abuse.