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H&R Block Co-Founder And Philanthropist Henry W. Bloch Dies At Age 96

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Henry Bloch was the co-founder of H&R Block and one of Kansas City's most notable philanthropists.

Henry W. Bloch died Tuesday at the age of 96. A notable philanthropist, Bloch and his brother, Richard, co-founded the tax preparation business H&R Block Inc. more than six decades ago.

Henry W. Bloch's name is on a lot of things. A school of management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. An addition to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A family foundation

But, what's probably most associated with Henry Bloch: H&R Block. Henry was the "H" and his brother, Richard, the "R" in the name of the tax preparation company they co-founded in 1955. 

Getting a start in business 

"It got started because of World War II," Henry Bloch told KCUR's Brian Ellison. The 2017 book, Navigating a Life: Henry Bloch in World War II, co-written by John Herron and Mary Ann Wynkoop, detailed his years in the service. 

Bloch signed up shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to serve in the Army Air Corps. He flew 32 combat missions over Germany as a navigator on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.

After the war, Bloch, along with other military officers, was encouraged to attend Harvard Business School. That's what set him on his career path.  

"While I was at Harvard, I happened to see a little pamphlet which was a speech given by a professor at Harvard named Sumner Slichter," said Bloch. "He said both big business and labor are very powerful, but small business has no one to turn to. And you know, that kind of rang a bell."

Henry Bloch and his two brothers, Leon and Richard, had been writing letters back and forth, sharing ideas about starting a business. With small companies in mind, they drew up a plan.

In 1946, Henry and Leon focused on bookkeeping. After a few months, Leon stepped out, and Richard stepped in. By 1955, they'd narrowed their services to tax preparation — and launched H&R Block. 

"I suppose I am an innovator, but I have not tried to be an innovator," said Bloch. "I've tried to do the right thing. And if it's turned out as innovation, that's fine." 

Bloch retired as H&R Bloch's CEO in 1992. In 2000, he retired as chairman of the board of directors. 

H&R Block's headquarters are based in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. As of fiscal year 2018, the company handled 20 million tax returns around the world, with revenues of $3.2 billion.

A connection to the arts

Bloch and his wife, Marion, were married for 62 years and they raised four children. Before Marion's death in 2013, they collaborated on civic and philanthropic projects, including support for the arts.

The Bloch Building at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, designed by architect Steven Holl, opened in 2007. This addition on the east side of the original 1933 building was named in honor of Marion and Henry Bloch. 

Credit courtesy: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry W. Bloch, and his wife, Marion, had a passion for the arts.

Over two decades, the couple amassed Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, including masterworks by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-August Renoir. Former directors of the Nelson-Atkins, from Ted Coe to Marc Wilson, helped them build the collection, which was on display in their home.

To celebrate the museum's 75th anniversary, the Blochs gifted the 29 works in 2010. Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, called it "a grand gesture of generosity."

"What the Bloch collection does is considerably elevate the nature of the 19th century French holdings in The Nelson-Atkins Museum," said de Montebello in a 2015 interview. "And (it) provides a critical mass." 

De Montebello served as a consultant for the Nelson-Atkins's renovation and re-installation of the European galleries, which re-opened as the Bloch Galleries in March 2017.

"All of this would not be possible without the wonderful generosity of Henry Bloch, his family and his foundation," said Shirley Helzberg, former chair of the museum's board of trustees at The Nelson-Atkins.

"The collection Henry and Marion brought together of 29 Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings is one of the most significant transformative gifts ever given to the museum."

The Bloch Family Foundation funded the $12 million renovation to integrate the works collected by the Blochs with the museum's own collection. 

"In this project, everyone was joyfully putting their best foot forward," said Julián Zugazagoitia, the museum's director and CEO. "I think the reason is that everyone knew that this project was to honor the vision and the love that Henry and Marion had to build their collection — and then give it to Kansas City."

A public memorial service for Henry W. Bloch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 29 in Atkins Auditorium at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St, Kansas City, Missouri 64111. Atkins Auditorium has a capacity of 480; there will be satellite locations set up throughout the museum for overflow visitors to watch remotely. A simulcast of the service will be shown at H&R Block headquarters downtown. The Nelson-Atkins will also stream the service on its Facebook page.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

KCUR's Brian Ellison contributed to this report.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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