If you lived in Kansas City during the last half of the 1900s, you probably heard of Jack Boring’s appliance and electronics stores and maybe even bought items there. On radio, television, newspaper and in his famous 77-hour store promotions, Jack Boring was a force in the city.
But Jack Jr.’s story also involves both playing and writing music, being blind as a child, the Kansas City A’s baseball team and Fenwick the Christmas Elf.
Jack’s mother was a professional singer and dancer.
“She won the Charleston contests in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas,” he says. “My father met her at a dance contest – and he was pretty good at the Charleston, too.”
His father started the well-known Jack Boring’s stores and the family, including young Jack’s younger brother and sister, led a comfortable life.
In 1937, when young Jack was eight and in the third grade, the city was hit by a polio outbreak.
“For three days we had a doctor at the house because I was running a 106-degree fever,” he says. “And when I went back to school, I couldn’t see the blackboard from my usual seat at the back of the room.”
Eye doctors said that he was going blind. The only chance was with an Australian doctor with some revolutionary medical ideas.
“They said it was cataracts and very unusual,” he says.
Every six months, over two and a half years, they cut off a piece of the lens of Jack’s eyes.
“In the end, I couldn’t see except for the ‘Coke bottle’ glasses I wore,” he says.
Around the same time, his mother bought an upright piano for $50 and hired a teacher.
“He taught me his scales – I still play them to this day,” says Jack, who then moved onto the conservatory for more instruction.
“Because of being blind as a kid, I read very slowly, word by word,” he says. “So, reading music was a challenge because you have to read the music ahead to know what’s coming next.”
At the conservatory, he learned tricks to overcome the slow reading issue. He started to write music, including boogie-woogie tunes that were included in a book of sheet music. That led to an agent getting Jack work playing at local bars and restaurants before he was 16.
He also worked for his Dad. He was a self-taught radio technician working from his basement who soon opened his first store.
“I met my wife-to-be at the store,” Jack says. “My Dad was out of town, and to impress her, I boldly and loudly called the dealer to ask if my Cadillac was ready for pick up.”
Eventually they dated, married and had six sons in eight years. Jack and Jerry were married for 52 years until her death in 2002.
Marilyn Maye, a nationally known jazz and blues singer, recorded “I’ve Learned the Way to Sing the Blues,” set to Jack’s music and it became a regional hit. On the promotion sheet, Jack is credited as “Music by Jack Boring, Jr., Kansas City Businessman.” She sang Jack’s composition on “The Johnny Carson Show.”
That led Jim Hughes, a manager at a Kansas City Ford dealership, to approach Jack with an idea. Hughes had written a Christmas book about Fenwick, one of Santa’s elves, and asked if Jack could write music for it.
“Since I was such a slow reader, I asked my wife to read it and tell me the story,” he says.
Jack wrote 12 songs in all. Then, Hughes called in November and said, “Jack, I’ve sold Fenwick.” Upset that his copyrighted music was part of the package, Jack bought the Fenwick package for $5,000 and set out to market it himself.
It appeared that Jack made all of the great moves – Motorola used Fenwick as a TV Christmas promotion, animation studio Hanna-Barbera was on board, director/animator Don Bluth was involved, and Bing Crosby even agreed to sing the melodies. But changing corporate goals, changing legislation and time wore away the magic of Fenwick. Now, the Fenwick books and CDs produced for Motorola are memorabilia for sale on eBay and other sites.
Above all, Jack was a great salesperson. He bought the Jack Boring’s business from his father and did his own TV commercials.
“I can see you there,” he would say into the camera, targeting buyers in their living rooms.
He taught his salespeople to greet customers, “How may I help you?” instead of the customary “May I help you?” which could easily lead to a “No!” turndown.
Closing desks in his stores were out in the open where customers could see people making purchases.
The stores were famous for their 77-hour nonstop “Write your own offer,” “No reasonable offer refused” sales.
“We had everybody wear long red nightshirts and we had big buttons that said, ‘Jack Boring’s sells too cheap!” he says. “Three hundred feet of red carpet in front of the stores, clowns and free hotdogs for everyone.”
Jack also became friends with many of baseball’s greats through his work with the Kansas City A’s when the team moved from Philadelphia in 1955. He was one of a small army of businesspeople who sold season tickets to their associates, vendors and families.
Almost 1.4 million fans turned out to watch the new team. But in 1968, the team was moved to Oakland, Calif.
George Brett, the Hall of Fame third baseman for the Kansas City Royals, was one of Jack’s favorite players, and a framed painting of Brett’s 3,154 hits is on display at the Borings’ home in the Village of Pennecamp.
In October 2002, Jack’s beloved Jerry died. Eventually, he met Cathy, an accountant in his business.
“We both liked music, concerts and going out,” he says.
“I didn’t know it was a date,” Cathy says. “I just thought we were going out to do things together.”
They married in 2007 and heard about The Villages.
“I saw the video and thought those people having so much fun were all actors,” Jack says.
They moved here in 2010. Now, Jack plays golf several times a week and looks forward to his 90th birthday party next year.
“We had other parties here in the house for some of his birthdays,” Cathy says. “But it gets really crowded. For this one, we’re renting a ballroom in a hotel. We’re going for the big time.”