Henry Bloch uses the word “lucky” a lot.
He was lucky with his business, H&R Block, the international tax-preparation service. He was lucky to have met his wife, Marion. He was lucky to have purchased the masterworks that he did — by Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet and Pissaro — before prices exploded.
That one man has enjoyed so much good fortune in his 94 years can be admired — or downright envied. But this is not an editorial about Henry Bloch’s good luck. It’s a statement about our good fortune. It’s about how lucky we are that Henry Bloch and his older brother, Leon, started their small bookkeeping business here in 1946 and that a younger brother, Richard, teamed up with Henry when Leon left because business was slow.
The story goes that it was a Kansas City Star ad salesman, John White, who urged the brothers a few years later to focus on tax preparation. With that nudge, a business that would blossom into the multibillion-dollar, 2,200-employee H&R Block was born, and Kansas City had one of its foundational corporations headed by men who appreciated their hometown. That appreciation has manifested itself in many ways. The Blochs kept their business here. They built a stunning, 17-story headquarters at 13th and Main streets that added to Kansas City’s downtown renaissance.
In 2007, the translucent Bloch Building opened at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, transforming the old museum into something that screamed “modern” and “vital.” The New York Times would label the addition “near perfect.”
This weekend comes a spectacular final touch with the opening of the Bloch Galleries and their 29 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that once lined the walls of Henry and Marion’s home. Their contribution, which came with the blessing of their children, once again positions Kansas City on the international arts scene. It comes years after Henry Bloch heard a man say at a lecture that the reason New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art had so many astonishing pieces was because residents there bequeathed them to the museum.
Bloch decided then that he’d do the same in Kansas City. Doing anything else never crossed his mind.
All this raises a question. A big part of the Kansas City we know today is the result of the unwavering generosity of families including the Blochs, Kempers, Halls, Kauffmans and Helzbergs. Think downtown Performing Arts Center and the Kansas City Royals. Think the Kemper Museum, United Way, Children’s Mercy Hospital, the Central Exchange and other causes too numerous to list here.
Life moves on, and those families are moving with it. Another generation should step forward to bolster the Kansas City of tomorrow. The need has never been greater.