A Life Lived: Jack Conover

Carlyn and Jack Conover in 2011, on a cruise through the Panama Canal. Jack, who liked to scavenge and fix useful items for needy families in Cape May County, recycled a clown-sized bow tie after a clown threw it into the crowd at a birthday party at which the Conovers were guests.

Photo provided by the Conover family

Jack Conover always liked to fix things.

He worked for IBM from 1954 to 1984, mostly in New York. He was a “customer-service engineer,” fixing computers — a job he started when “computers were the size of rooms,” said his son, Chris Conover.

Jack raised his four kids in East Brunswick, Middlesex County, but after he retired, he moved to Middle Township’s Green Creek section. After 30 years working in Manhattan, the move to Green Creek in 1995 “was like moving to another country,” said his wife, Carlyn, who made the move with him as his longtime girlfriend.

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But a retired Jack knew how to keep busy. Before he died last month, at 81, he went from just fixing things to trying to help fix lives by fixing things.

Carlyn has worked at several local social-service agencies, including Caring For Kids, which helps Cape May County families in all kinds of ways, from running parenting classes to organizing special trips and group dinners.

“And anything I’ve been involved with, Jack always got involved with, too,” Carlyn said.

He got involved in all kinds of ways. Debbie Brasch, Caring For Kids’ program director, said that at those family meals, Jack would “help serve the food, wash the dishes, sweep the floor.”

He was also the office handyman. But as a volunteer helping local families, Jack’s specialty was helping those families find things they needed to make life a bit better at home.

“People would say, ‘Hey, Jack, I’m looking for a fan or a TV,” Carlyn said, and Jack had his ways of finding them.

“He knew when different areas had their trash nights,” his wife said, so he went hunting there for his targets.

“A few summers back, a lot of clients didn’t have fans,” Carlyn said. “So he’d go down the street on garbage night and pick up broken fans. He’d take them apart, and out of four or five fans, he might be able to get three going. ... We could have 15 fans in our home at any one time.”

Jack didn’t mind getting his hands dirty for a good cause. Another specialty of his was finding and recovering microwaves.

“He’d pick them up, and lots of times, there was nothing wrong with them except that they were really dirty,” Carlyn said.

His son, Chris — whose mother, Adea, died in 1983 — said there was nothing new for Jack about his hobby in retirement. Even when he was an IBM engineer, wearing a tie and working in New York, he always fixed stuff for fun at home.

“There is not a single thing my father couldn’t fix,” said Chris, of Jamesburg, Middlesex County. “He was always tinkering with something. ... If it moved, he could fix it.”

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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