Annette Bloch opens her Plaza penthouse to benefit KC Symphony

Philanthropist Annette Bloch, the widow of H&R Block co-founder Richard Bloch, hosted a dinner at her penthouse overlooking the Country Club Plaza to raise money for the Kansas City Symphony. We spend a few moments in the penthouse as guests arriv
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Philanthropist Annette Bloch, the widow of H&R Block co-founder Richard Bloch, hosted a dinner at her penthouse overlooking the Country Club Plaza to raise money for the Kansas City Symphony. We spend a few moments in the penthouse as guests arriv
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Take a peek inside this fabulous KC Plaza penthouse dinner party for a good cause

By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian

cgregorian@kcstar.com

October 13, 2017 07:00 AM

Annette Bloch is disappointed that the weather is cool and rainy, forcing her to remove the cushions from the outdoor furniture on her large terrace overlooking the Plaza.

She likes things to be perfect for her guests, and on this night there would be 10 of them who had collectively paid more than $5,000 to dine with Bloch at her penthouse.

About 10 minutes before her guests are scheduled to arrive, Bloch asks Andrei Muresan, her significant other, to close the gold silk drapes in the dining room. That way, her guests won’t have to look at an empty terrace awaiting a soon-to-be-installed sculpture. But the expansive exterior view through the glass wall in the living room will have to do, sans the cushions. To be truthful, that view is pretty magnificent even without them.

Annette Bloch is one of Kansas City’s grande dames of philanthropy. She is the widow of Richard Bloch, who co-founded the international tax firm H&R Block with his brother, Henry. Richard died in 2004.

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In the past 10 years, Annette Bloch has donated $31 million to the University of Kansas Medical Center and $2.3 million to Truman Medical Centers for the construction of an expanded cancer treatment center on its Hospital Hill campus. Bloch has also given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups in Palm Springs, where she has another home, among her many other charitable contributions.

The dinner on this night is in that same philanthropic vein. In addition to a monetary contribution to the Kansas City Symphony Ball in August, Bloch donated this dinner to be auctioned off. Dinners at the homes of the well-heeled are popular silent auction items at fundraising galas.

“People really enjoy seeing someone else’s home,” says Suzanne Shank, who co-chaired the Symphony Ball with Pam Bruce, raising $800,000. “And if you buy it yourself, you can invite your friends to this wonderful party at someone else’s home and they have to clean up. Plus there’s always great conversation.”

To shine more light on the Symphony, the very private and modest Bloch agreed to let The Star visit with her and her guests before the soiree and during cocktail hour.

“I love the symphony. I feel we are so lucky to have something like this in our city with the wonderful orchestra and the fabulous Michael Stern as conductor,” Bloch says. “I think Kansas City is a wonderful place to live and we are lucky, those of us who live here.”

Stepping into Bloch’s penthouse is a treat. Elegance and richness abound in its yards of intricate moldings, fabric-upholstered walls, world-class art and the finest of furnishings. A gleaming grand piano sits in the corner of the living room near the glass wall.

Fresh floral arrangements are everywhere, scattered throughout the living room and running down the center of the dining room table. Even the powder room is a masterpiece of luxury with walls covered in butter-soft leather.

The dining room table on this night is set with large glass chargers and topped by china salad plates that were custom-made with Richard Bloch’s monogram by Thomas Goode & Co. of London, a favored purveyor of luxury items to Royal families around the world and throughout history.

Annette points to a pair of ornate sterling silver candelabras on a sideboard in the dining room.

“We found these in the London Silver Vaults and the only other ones like them are in the White House,” she says.

Most of the furnishings in the penthouse are from the 1926 English Georgian mansion that Bloch shared with her late husband on Ward Parkway for 50 years. That home, designed by renowned architect Edward Tanner, was razed in 2009 after subsequent owners gutted it then ran into financial problems.

Annette Bloch is still heartbroken about the home’s demise.

‘I love people’

Bloch knows most of her guests tonight, though some not as well as others. She isn’t sure where the conversation will go, hopefully not politics, she says chuckling.

Perhaps the Harvey Weinstein scandal?

“Oh, I think he has a house near ours in Palm Springs,” Bloch muses. (No, she doesn’t know him.)

Later, after dinner and dessert, Bloch will treat her guests to a surprise performance by a student tenor from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, in her den.

Bloch, who works out five days a week, is tiny and trim, vivacious and warm. She loves opening her home to guests.

“She gets a shot of adrenaline from it,” says Muresan.

“I do. I get a shot of adrenaline,” she says. “I love people. When we had our big home on Ward Parkway, I would have 200 to 300 people over with a band and dancing.”

She started hosting these smaller auction dinners in Palm Springs, and just recently hosted one at the penthouse on The Plaza where she didn’t know any of her guests, all of whom were in their 20s and 30s.

“We had so much fun,” she says. “We had a hard time getting them to get up from cocktail hour to go into dinner.”

Lon Lane Inspired Occasions is in the kitchen preparing the evening’s hors d’oeuvres and dinner. The catering company is such an institution that several of the guests greet Bruce Robinson, a staff member serving drinks this night, with hugs.

Dinner a hot item

The first guests to arrive are Kurt Knapstein, a local interior designer, and his partner, Troy Bivona, a software consultant.

Bloch greets them warmly and offers them a drink — white wine or a gin and tonic perhaps? No red wine though. They’d have that once they sit at the dinner table.

Robinson leaves to fill their orders.

“I saw the dinner (at the Symphony Ball) and started bidding on it,” Knapstein says. “Then John Middelkamp bid on it, and I said, ‘Oh great, you are outbidding me already.’ So we decided to bid on it together.”

Shank, a lawyer, also got in on the bidding with the group and arrives next with her husband, Marty Smoler, a consultant to entrepreneurs. Shank had just come from a meeting of the local chapter of the International Wine & Food Society for which she serves as president. The meeting was on a lower floor of the same building.

“We started at 5:30, and I told them (the board) that I was going to be out of there at 6:30 p.m. no matter what and that the vice president would take over, because there is even better food and wine waiting for me upstairs in the penthouse,” Shank says.

Within minutes, the entire dinner group has arrived, including John and Jackie Middelkamp, Beth Ingram and Edward Milbank, Annette and Pete Sherrow, all beautifully coiffed, bejeweled and outfitted in luxury fabrics.

Robinson serves them drinks, waiters offer hors d’oeuvres and conversations range from the weather to health care. Soon it was time for dinner.

Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian: 816-234-4780, @CindyBGregorian