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‘A very kind and gentle gentleman’: Kansas City remembers the late Henry Bloch

How Henry Bloch acquired the paintings in the new galleries at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Henry Bloch, the 94-year-old philanthropist from Kansas City and founder of H&R Block, shares stories behind acquiring some of the 29 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that he has donated to Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
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Henry Bloch, the 94-year-old philanthropist from Kansas City and founder of H&R Block, shares stories behind acquiring some of the 29 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that he has donated to Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

It is not just the powerful force in the world of Kansas City business and philanthropy that those who knew Henry Bloch will miss.

There is also the Henry Bloch that Julián Zugazagoitia, the director and CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, got to see.

Bloch gave a priceless trove of paintings, plus a donation of nearly $12 million, to remodel the wing in the original building to hold the exhibit.

“He would be here every other week, literally seeing how the work was advancing,” Zugazagoitia said Tuesday. “He would come with enthusiasm, with curiosity, with his normal sense of joy.”

Bloch’s wife, Marion Helzberg Bloch, died in 2013. No one who ever saw them together ever doubted his love and devotion. Nor did anyone who saw him out and about in his later years — shopping at Costco and CVS, or with his nurse at Winstead’s — doubt the humble, unassuming and even playful nature of a man of fabulous wealth.

Zugazagoitia told a story. He recalled how Bloch had a painting by the impressionist Alfred Sisley at the top of the stairs in his Mission Hills home.

“He says, ‘At first, I really didn’t like it,’” Zugazagoitia said. “They told me it was a good one, but I struggled. Then we changed the frame, and now it’s my favorite painting.’

“He really loved frames.”

Before the opening of the gallery in 2017, the museum gave him the gift of an early painting by Piet Mondrian.

“He’s looking at the painting and he’s like, ‘I like the painting, but, I really love the frame!’

“If there was something he was more passionate about than frames, it was ice cream. I’ve never seen someone eat ice cream with such a joy. Dessert was his favorite meal.”

Morton Sosland, former editor-in-chief of Sosland Publishing Co., and a director of the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation and the H&R Block Foundation, said Bloch made sure his employees were treated fairly.

He had “no personal ego,” never feeling overshadowed by what other executives might do. He was “very warm-hearted, very kind, very thinking about other people. A very kind and gentle gentleman.” Sosland is also a childhood friend of the Bloch brothers.

Danny O’Neill, founder of the Roasterie and a Bloch mentee: “He was brilliant, but so sweet and gentle and warm and gracious. They broke the mold. … There are no more Henry Blochs.”

Jason Krakow, board chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau in Overland Park: “He would make personal phone calls to our honorees. To be in any way connected to Henry, to what he stood for and to the values that he lived every day, meant so much.

“This is just who the man was to his core. He was just honorable, decent, committed to each individual having value, no matter their background, their religion, their race. You see that in his kids, in the great honor and respect that they have for him.

“In Judaism we say, ‘May his memory be for a blessing,’ and this is someone whose memory we know is indeed a blessing.”

Michael Abrams, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City: “He was just such a humble and unassuming individual and he loved this city so much. His vision was that he wanted this to be a world class city, (with) world class art and world class health care and world class education. That is born out in his work and in his generosity. He was very purposeful about where he gave.”

Leo Morton, now president and COO of DeBruce Companies, who served as chancellor of UMKC when the Bloch business school was built: “How did we manage to be so fortunate that we had Henry in our lives? He didn’t just invest in our efforts; Henry invested in our lives for the good of all. He invested in me. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough! I believe Henry heard ‘thank you’ more than anyone on the planet.”

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri: “Henry Bloch cared about the people who worked for his company and cared about the people they helped. He was at his very best when he was out visiting H&R Block offices, thanking his team, and asking them what they needed to serve customers better.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas: “I am saddened by the passing of Henry Bloch. … The community we’re all proud of exists in large part due to Henry Bloch’s vision and philanthropy, and his impact will be felt for generations to come.”

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas: “Henry Bloch was an extremely kind, generous man. … I’m a proud graduate of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at UMKC and will be forever thankful for the education I received there, due in large part to the Blochs’ generosity.”

Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri: “Henry Bloch was so much more than a successful businessman. He cared deeply about his community and never looked away when there was something he could do to help others.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James: “Henry was a great man and a tremendous entrepreneur. He personified the term ‘corporate citizen’ and was a tireless champion for Kansas City.”

Mike Wilson, graduate of UMKC’s Bloch School of Management: “I was fortunate to have met Henry Bloch several times and speak with him about business and life. There was not a hubristic bone in his body nor did he accept praise for doing things he felt needed to be done. Henry Bloch led by example and set the tone for me as, a young man, on how business should be done.”

Includes reporting by The Star’s Bryan Lowry, Mará Rose Williams, Allison Kite, Lindsay Wise and Glenn E. Rice.

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Eric Adler has won more than 50 state and national journalism awards for his reporting that often tell the extraordinary tales of ordinary people. A graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in NY, he teaches journalism ethics at the University of Kansas.
Joyce Smith has covered restaurant and retail news for The Star since 1989 under the brand Cityscape. She appreciates news tips.
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