It wasn’t history in the making, exactly, but it was impossible to miss the historical overtones as Ingram’s recognized two legends of business in Kansas City with its inaugural Philanthropist of the Year awards. The presentation of those awards, in collaboration with United Way, anchored a kick-off luncheon Dec. 12 at The American. Henry Bloch and Bill Dunn, Sr. were on hand for that recognition, along with an intimate gathering of family, close friends and associates from the companies they helped turn into two of the most recognizable names in Kanas City commerce: H&R Block and JE Dunn Construction Co.
The luncheon also included recognition of the 2017 Local Heroes and Corporate Champions, individuals and companies that embrace the philanthropic examples of the Blochs and Dunns in spirit, if not yet in volume. The highlight moment might have been when longtime friends Henry Bloch, Bill Dunn and Ed Matheny converged to greet each other before lunch was served.
For decades, they have been collaborators in business and competitors on the tennis court, as Matheny noted in his introduction of Bill Dunn to begin the awards program. “There was nothing philanthropic,” Matheny cracked, “about Bill and Henry on the tennis court.” Dunn took the podium to offer some instructive history on the values that shaped a company founded by his father, John Ernest Dunn, in 1924.
Part of that history was the powerful lesson he learned as a Navy pilot in World War II—that long life isn’t granted to all. And part of it was from the philanthropic example set by his father, imbued into the corporate culture during Bill Dunn’s administration of the company, and passed down to his own sons and a fourth generation working there today. The message was simple: If you’ve been blessed, you share the blessings. With your employees, and with your communities.
Danny O’Neill, founder of The Roasterie, stepped up to introduce Henry Bloch, who for years mentored the KansasCity coffee baron as he built that company, from endless weekends of handing out free samples until it became a household brand as a regional distributor of premium coffee blends. O’Neill had many an eye in the crowd on the verge of a tear as he recounted the lessons learned from Henry Bloch, “who is like a father to me,” he said.
He turned to his mentor, seated with family at the table in front, and told him, “Henry, the good news is, you don’t have to get up and say anything.” But the 95-year-old Bloch was already up and moving, and countered, “I want to.” He took the podium and explained, as he has in many settings over the years, the source of philanthropy that has given Kansas City a school of Business (at UMKC), a neuroscience institute (named for his late wife, Marion, at Saint Luke’s Hospital) and a world-class museum wing (the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art).
“I owe the people of Kansas City a debt,” he declared. And for emphasis, he said it again: “I owe them a debt.”
Next up, eight individuals and six companies were recognized with the 2017 Local Heroes and Corporate Champions awards, annual recognitions of the way Kansas City’s corporate and individual citizens rise to challenge of meeting need in this city.
Nearly two hours after it started, the event wound down with Bloch, Dunn and Matheny posing for a few commemorative photos, issuing expressions of thanks and bidding one another a fond farewell.
Some moments, words just can’t describe. It truly was an amazing experience.