Donald A. Borror couldn't resist the request a few years ago from his granddaughter: Would he play his ukulele at her school music festival in the spring?
That evening, he took one of four seats at The Wellington School reserved for him and other musically talented relatives of the students.
A bit later, another gentleman joined him, setting down his Gibson banjo.
"The case itself must've cost $500," Borror says. "Here I've got this cardboard thing with a $40 ukulele."
Then came the other two parents: A flutist and her husband -- dressed in a tux, no less -- who played violin; both were part of the local symphony. Borror felt quite out of place, yet still he reaped the respect of the others.
"All three of them treated me as a musician. In the afternoon, with the kids, I was fine playing 'Itsy-Bitsy Spider.' [But] that was a night and a half, I tell you," says the Dominion Homes founder and chairman emeritus, shaking his head.
The story is typical of Borror, who, despite having developed a $278 million home building company, simply doesn't see any awe in his accomplishments.
"There isn't anything about my background that's sensational," he says, sitting back in a large, comfortable-looking chair behind the nearly clear desk positioned at the far end of his sparse office. "It's pretty ordinary, I think."
Borror was in law school when he built his first house. He remembers the exact address: 326 Pasadena Ave. in New Rome.
"I was caulking underneath the back door and a guy walked around and said, 'You sure are doing a lot of detail; most people don't do that,'" Borror remembers. As it turned out, the man bought the house.
Although he earned his juris doctorate in 1954, Borror didn't pursue a career in law.
"I was a lousy student," he says. "I could care less about it."
Instead, he discovered he could find more money, more profit and more success in the construction business.
"I got a lot of satisfaction out of watching people's houses go up. You know we didn't always build 1,700 houses," he says, remembering times when he knew the facets of every house, the desires of all the families, which room would be the children's.
Borror isn't inclined to take a lot of credit for what Dominion Homes has become. He'd rather laud his sons, Doug, the chairman and CEO, and David, executive vice president, along with employees such as Jon Donnell, president and COO, and Steve George, executive vice president of construction and operations.
Others, however, don't hesitate to praise the elder Borror's accomplishments.
Donnell, who nominated Borror for Junior Achievement's Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame, says Borror, along with his son, Doug, were visionaries in the '80s when they decided to focus the company on the home building element, ridding it of other interests such as coal mines and engine rebuilding.
"You hear the gentleman came from a very modest background and, because of his tremendous will and integrity and the way he conducts business, was able to become a tremendous business success," Donnell says.
Still, even he recognizes the humbleness of his boss, who, at age 71, still goes into the office every day.
"He's very unassuming," Donnell says. "If you were to meet him, you'd feel completely at ease with him."
Donnell gets personal inspiration from Borror's dedication to his wife, Joanne, two sons and daughter, Donna Myers.
"As a parent, one of the things we try to do is make sure we instill some of the same values and principles that we have, and Don obviously has done that because his children have been successful in their own right," Donnell says. "I have talked to him and tried to learn from that."
Franklin County Commissioner Dewey Stokes pointed out that Borror was instrumental in bringing the Columbus Clippers here and remains the team's board chairman. Stokes calls Borror a good family man, as well as a supporter of the Franklinton area, where Borror's father owned a business.
"I think he's down to earth and he's a businessman with a lot of common sense," says Stokes. "He never puts on a facade, another face. If you know Don Borror, you know him, and what you hear from him -- and see -- is very straightforward."
Doug Borror says his father taught him about life, honesty, business and the art of the deal; he and other employees always know where his father stands.
The younger Borror remembers one of his first days of work with his father: "He said, 'We're going to work together real good, but I want you to know if I have to tell you to do something twice, it doubles my workload.' He followed up by saying, 'I don't ever want you to come back and tell me why you couldn't accomplish something.' It was a level of expectation, but it was realistic."
John Rosenberger, executive director of the Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., where the elder Borror is a trustee, also values Borror's no-nonsense, straightforward approach.
"I think he's brought me along in significant measure," Rosenberger says. "He's just a good, sound adviser. If he thinks it's silly, he'll tell you it's silly. If he thinks it makes sense, he'll tell you it makes sense."
"He's smart, very practical, very effective, and he just sort of cuts through the crap," Rosenberger continues. "He's right with people, and I think that probably pays big dividends."
Expectedly, Borror downplays his service to Capitol South, although he had a hand in bringing City Center here.
"It was a blighted area downtown. It's not a blighted area anymore," Borror says. "A lot of people in the city deserve credit for that."
Borror's even humble about his hobbies: "My golf game's a joke, but I play," he says.
That point is argued by golf chum Bishop James A. Griffin, who's become a friend of Borror during his 17 years as head of the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
Griffin says Borror, who occasionally serves as a real estate consultant for the diocese, is successful as a businessperson because he's sincere and sensitive to people.
"He picks things up -- people's attitudes and fears and concerns," Griffin says.
He, too, sees the humble side of Borror.
"I know from personal experience with Mr. Borror that many, many times he's reached out to people in need of one sort or another, often financial need," Griffin says, "and he's assisted them in a very quiet, inconspicuous way that no one knows about except himself."
On the personal side, Griffin says, Borror leads a very modest and simple lifestyle.
"He enjoys the simple things of life like being with his wife, his children and especially his grandchildren. He delights in his grandchildren and their achievements," he says.
The bishop also calls Borror a "very, very loyal friend.
"Anyone who is a friend of Don who calls him up and asks him to help him can be assured if he can help them, he will." How to reach: Donald A. Borror, Dominion Homes, 761-6000
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.