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Henry Wollman Bloch.
Henry Wollman Bloch.

Henry Wollman Bloch (1922–2019)

American businessman and philanthropist Henry Wollman Bloch, the founder of the largest tax-service provider in the United States, H&R Block, and a longtime supporter of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, died on Tuesday, April 23. The arts patron was ninety-six years old.

Born on July 30, 1922, Bloch studied at the University of Kansas City (today’s University of Missouri at Kansas City) and at the University of Michigan, where he earned his degree in mathematics. After graduation, he served in the US Army Air Corps during World War II and flew in more than thirty combat missions. In 1946, he and his older brother Leon launched the bookkeeping and tax preparation firm United Business Co. Henry was eventually joined by his brother Richard, who died in 2004, and together they grew the company into H&R Block, which expanded to New York in 1956.

According to Bloomberg, by 1962, when the company went public, H&R Block had more than two hundred offices and almost $800,000 in revenue, and by 2016 it had twelve thousand offices and profits totaling more than $3 billion. The company had been named after their family, but they intentionally misspelled their surname in order to make it easier for people to remember. Henry’s son Thomas took over H&R Block in 1989—he was named president and in 1992 became the CEO—but he stepped away from the company in 1995. Henry remained involved as chairman until his retirement in 2000.

In Kansas City, where his family lived, Henry became an active member of the arts scene. He established the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s business council in 1985, and he served as chairman of the institution’s board of trustees from 2004 to 2007. During his last year as chair, the museum completed a major expansion led by Steven Holl Architects. Henry and his late wife, Marion, made major contributions to the project, which added five interconnected structures to the institution’s main Beaux Arts building, and the expansion was named the Bloch Building in their honor.

The Blochs also donated their entire personal collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings to the museum—the gift included twenty-nine works by artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas—and in 2017, the institution unveiled a $12 million renovation of its European galleries, which were renamed the Bloch Galleries of European Art.

“Henry is irreplaceable,” said the museum’s director and CEO, Julián Zugazagoitia. “His leadership and dedication have been vital to the success of the Nelson-Atkins. But beyond the museum, Henry has been an outstanding citizen whose generosity and vision have had a transformative impact on Kansas City being the great city it is today. He has been a benefactor as well as a source of inspiration that continues to illuminate all that we do. We will miss him very much.”