Jack Cohen, Bob-a-Loop co-inventor and advocated for at-risk boys, dies

Jack Cohen, co-inventor of the 1958 Bob-A-Loop toy who later trained people on his selling techniques, died Dec. 6 of stroke complications at Levindale Hebrew Convalescent Home. The Pikesville resident was 91.

Born Jacob Cohen in Baltimore and raised in East Baltimore, he was the son of Harry and Rebecca Cohen. He adopted the name Jack and attended City College before enlisting in the Navy when he was 17. He was stationed in San Francisco.

Mr. Cohen and a partner, Sol Rom, founded Romco Products on Reisterstown Road and made and marketed the Bob-A-Loop, a hand-held skill toy they patented in 1958.

Its box was printed with the words, “Test your skill. Improve your coordination…. Can you catch the bob on the handle?”

The toy was widely advertised on televison’s Romper Room and the Buddy Deane show and sold well locally.

“The Bob-A-Loop was made in Baltimore and came with a money back guarantee,” said his son, Nicholas Cohen of Pikesville. “At first my father couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

His son said Mr. Cohen anticipated large national sales of the toy — he had more than 250,000 manufactured — but those sales never materialized. The unsold inventory was eventually auctioned.

Mr. Cohen went on to become vice president of marketing for Dutterer’s meats in Manchester. He sold freezers that came stocked with beef and pork products. He later held a similar post with Doughtie’s foods in Portsmouth, Va.

He founded the Sales Dynamics Institute to train people how to sell products. He held seminars for H&R Block, AT&T, Kraft foods and other employers. He also taught selling techniques at the University of Baltimore.

“My father was gregarious and outgoing,” said his son. “He always had a smile. He was upbeat and motivational.”

Family members said that as a child and teenager, Mr. Cohen was deeply involved with the Jewish Education Alliance, where he played baseball and basketball, wrestled and acted.

“He thanked the alliance for guiding him through the challenges of growing up in the city,” his son said. “He dedicated his own lifetime of children’s philanthropic work to paying back the alliance’s good work.”

Mr. Cohen began his volunteering with the alliance at age 17 as a club adviser. He then served as a scouting cub master at Pikesville Elementary School’s Pack 353.

He went on to embrace a Boys’ Town movement for Maryland. He was the first chair of a campaign to combat juvenile delinquency and worked through the Menorah Lodge, B’nai B’rith.

In a 1965 article in The Baltimore Sun, he advocated a concept which he described as “An overall Boys’ Town structure governing various Boys’ Town centers within the community… The boys would be residents, be governed by professional supervision … and be permitted to participate in schools.”

In 1967, Boys’ Town of Maryland received its first building, a former movie theater in the 1900 block of W. Baltimore St. donated by Jacob L. Cardin and his family. It housed the Boys’ Town offices and a gymnasium. An Evening Sun article in 1971 noted Mr. Cohen’s testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee meeting on a juvenile delinquency act that funded programs such as Boys’ Town.

Mr. Cohen worked to raise seed money for what he envisioned as 12 homes scattered throughout Baltimore for boys ages 8 to 13. After five years of attempts, Mr. Cohen was unable to achieve his dream. A single home opened on Park Avenue and closed when funds failed.

“It was a private venture and it was tough to keep it going,” said his son.

Mr. Cohen was also active in the Citizen’s Democratic Club of Baltimore County and Big Brothers of Maryland. He sat on a state commission for young offenders during the administration of Gov. Marvin Mandel.

He was awarded WBAL Radio’s Brotherhood Award in 1976, the Jewish War Veterans of America’s Past Commander Award in 1995, and the Safety First Club of Maryland Safety Crusader Appreciation Award. He was also honored by the Exchange Club of Baltimore in 1976 and the Menorah Lodge in 1965.

Mr. Cohen was married to the former Constance Takas, who operated a Pikesville hair salon. His wife of 34 years died in 2000.

In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, James C. Cohen of Cambridge City, Ind. and Robert Cohen of Needham, Mass.; two sisters, Ethel Tapper of Owings Mills and Dorothy Depetro of Baltimore; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

Services were held Dec. 7 at Sol Levinson & Bros.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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