KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Spell Block with a ‘K’ and you think tax man. Spell Bloch with an ‘H’ and you might think philanthropy. Take the name Henry Bloch and you get it all: taxes and philanthropy wrapped up in a love for Kansas City.
At 90 years old, Henry Bloch might move a little slower these days. But the man, who says he retired 12 years ago, seems busier than ever.
“I go to work five days a week, although I get here late and I leave early, and I don't get paid,” he said laughing. “It keeps me out of mischief and I enjoy working.”
We met in his office in the H&R Block building downtown to talk about his life, his work and his hometown. It all started following his service in World War II in the United States Air Force.
“We flew B-17's. I was the navigator. That's me here,” he said, pointing to a framed black and white picture.
Stationed in England, they flew 31 missions over Germany. Upon returning to Kansas City in 1946, Bloch and his older brother Leon started the United Business Company doing accounting work for small Kansas City companies.
“We sub-rented a room, just a very small room, for $50 a month, which the Army Bill of Rights paid," he said.
Younger brother Richard eventually replaced Leon, who returned to law school. In 1955, Henry and Richard launched H&R Block, starting not just a company, but an industry.
"Overnight success? Immediately!" he said.
Bloch humbly credits luck for the years of steady growth as the company became a household name.
"I've been very, very lucky,” he said.
Luck, and an ad placed in the Kansas City Star offering personal income tax returns for $5.
“When the ad appeared, evidently people had nowhere to go to do their income tax,” he said. “It was getting more and more complicated. We just wanted to make people happy, do a good job for them, and they came back and recommended us.”
H&R Block soon introduced franchising and the company grew, adding hundreds of locations around the country and even the world.
Looking down over the Power and Light District fifty-seven years later, it's a long way from the company's start in a small, second story office a few dozen blocks south at 39th and Main Street. That's why Bloch says he's shared much of his good fortune with Kansas City.
“We wanted to give back because it was the people of Kansas City that made us,” he said. “If they wouldn't have shown up at our door, there would be no H&R Block.”
And there might be no Bloch namesakes around town to which he's contributed to significantly. For example, the new Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, or the Bloch Business School on the campus of UMKC.
Just last month, Bloch announced the new Bloch Family Foundation. He and his wife Marion are funding it with their personal wealth. It will be run by family and future generations.
“It’s just something my wife and I thought would be better than leaving them a lot of money, to give it to the community and worthwhile charities,” he said.
The foundation will support three key legacy organizations close to the Bloch family: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The Henry W. Bloch School of Business and Public Administration at UMKC and St. Luke’s Hospital.
“Fortunately, I surrounded myself with good people, people a lot smarter than I am. And that gave me a chance to do worthwhile things in the community,” he said.
Sitting in his office surrounded by honors and awards from his years of business success, philanthropy and community service, most would find it hard to pick just one thing that stands out above the rest. Henry Bloch can. His answer comes with a smile and without missing a beat.
“The biggest thing I’ve achieved is marrying my wife,” he said. “Everything else pales to that. She is a wonderful person. I’m very much in love with her.”
If only we were all that lucky.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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