Below we profile four Wharton alumni who, for a number of different reasons, have chosen to become involved in community service. In the first profile, “community” refers to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. In the second profile, “community” is one country’s population of children orphaned by civil war. And in the third profile, “community” refers to the thousands of foster children in this country who need supportive and stable homes. The effort, experience and managerial expertise that these alumni bring to their tasks are making a dramatic difference in the lives of others.
Richard Bloch, W’46: Leading the Charge Against Cancer
Four months ago, the columnist Ann Landers ran a letter from a woman urging people who have been diagnosed with cancer to read a book called Fighting Cancer.
Based on previous experience with this type of endorsement, Richard Bloch, the book’s co-author and publisher, set up 25 incoming phone lines for the volume of calls he thought might result. “That didn’t begin to handle the demand,” he says. Telephone company computers recorded 383,000 calls the first day, 360,000 the second day and 160,000 the third day. More than a million calls — including repeat efforts by those who encountered a busy signal — were logged in the first four days.
“People are desperate for accurate information on cancer,” Bloch says. “They don’t know where to turn.”
Bloch and his wife Annette have spent nearly two decades trying to address this need. Their goal has always been to provide free sources of reliable information, along with encouragement and support, to individuals diagnosed with any form of cancer. The couple’s commitment reflects a pledge Bloch made to himself back in 1978, when he was thrown one of those unexpected curve balls that end up changing your life.
At the time Bloch was president of Kansas City-based H&R Block, the hugely successful tax preparation firm that he and his brother Henry founded in 1954. A persistent stiff neck and pain in his arm was diagnosed as terminal lung cancer and Bloch was told that he had 90 days to live. Bloch did what he strongly encourages every person diagnosed with cancer to do: he asked for a second opinion.
“If a person gets a qualified independent second opinion, his or her chances of recovery from any kind of cancer are dramatically increased,” Bloch says. “Cancer is extremely complex. There are many, many options. There is no way any single physician can know the latest and best treatment for every form of the disease … You have one chance to beat cancer. If you don’t take advantage of it, there is no second chance.”
A specialist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston recommended a two-year program that included surgery to remove Bloch’s damaged lung, two ribs, part of a third rib and affected nerves, followed by a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.
If the treatment worked and he was cured, Bloch vowed to spend his life supporting others who are diagnosed with cancer. It did work — and Bloch has more than upheld his end of the deal.
In 1980, he and Annette — co-author of the couple’s three books on cancer — set up the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation devoted to projects that help cancer patients conquer their disease. The Blochs’ approach is an activist, energizing one based on giving people the information, guidance and encouragement necessary to defeat this particular enemy. Indeed, the cover of Fighting Cancer features a pair of boxing gloves and the book is dedicated to people with cancer “who want to do everything in their power to help themselves and their doctor so they will have the best chance of beating their disease.”
In 1982, Bloch sold his interest in H&R Block and “retired” from the business to concentrate full-time on his foundation and related activities.
Among the services offered are a toll-free hotline (800-433-0464) donated by Sprint and staffed with volunteers who have had cancer. There is also the Physicians Data Query (PDQ), a government-supported service that provides up-to-date reports to doctors about the latest cancer treatments available. The foundation launched the service and prints out the medical reports for patients and their physicians.
All services of the foundation are free, and no contributions of cash are ever solicited.
Annette and Richard Bloch have also funded more than a dozen cancer survivors parks — sculpture gardens in cities throughout the U.S. that are designed to give messages of hope and courage to those diagnosed with cancer.
Like any businessman, Bloch is constantly working on new initiatives. “One of our goals is to get institutions to offer multi-disciplinary second opinions, in which all the physicians who could possibly treat a specific cancer sit down together with the patient and discuss his or her case from beginning to end so that the patient can make an informed decision” on the treatment options available.
Patients, Bloch adds, “are often afraid to irritate their doctor by asking too many questions. But patients need to remember that in this situation they are the boss.”
He is also working on a pamphlet for clergy to give to people who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. “Being told you have cancer is one of the first times an individual realizes he is mortal,” Bloch says. “And one of the first people that individual may want to talk to is a minister or rabbi or priest. We know these clergy have not been trained to truly help a cancer patient. Clergy can console, they can say prayers, but they don’t know how to empower a person and get him to act on his own behalf.”
Bloch’s energy is a testament to the message of hope that he promotes. His workday, in an office at H&R Block, frequently starts at 4:30 a.m. (“I never did that for money. This is so much more important,” he says); he plays tennis regularly; he and his wife, whom he met in Philadelphia when he was a student at Wharton, recently returned from a three-week vacation to Europe. The couple has three daughters and seven grandchildren.
Bloch’s reward comes in part from the knowledge that he is helping others. Every day, he says “we get the most gorgeous letters from individuals who thank us for saving their lives.”
Janice Gleason, WEMBA’85: Reaching Out to Africa’s Orphans
In 1995, Janice Gleason traveled to Rwanda to visit Rosamund Carr, a friend of Dian Fossey, the American researcher who, until her death in 1985, had brought worldwide attention to the plight of endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda. Gleason’s visit came shortly after the genocide in this small central African country during which more than a million people had been killed and more than 300,000 children orphaned.
Fifty of those orphans were being cared for by Carr in a burned-out sugar mill on her plantation. “These were children who had the weight of the world on their shoulders,” Gleason says. “I fell in love with them. That’s how it all started.”
Gleason returned to the U.S., rounded up shoes, jackets, games, books and whatever else she could collect, and delivered them two months later to Carr’s plantation.
Today she helps support three orphanages with 550 children and serves on the board of a non-profit organization called Wildlife Concern International. While the foundation’s primary mission is animal preservation, it also set up a program called “For the Children” to funnel money and supplies to orphanages.
How Gleason got to Africa in the first place begins back in the 1980s.
A Fla.-based consultant specializing in direct mail marketing, she had decided to broaden her business skills by attending the Wharton Executive MBA program. In the class behind her was John Ruggieri, WEMBA’86, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical executive. The two met at Wharton, married in 1987, had a son (now 11 and in school in England) and commuted between Florida and New Jersey until 1990, when Ruggieri sold his business and Gleason scaled back her consulting work. That year they began a trip around the world.
One of their stops was Kenya. “We became very interested in Africa and in the preservation of wildlife,” says Gleason, who is on the board of directors of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Between 1990 and 1995 she and her husband visited Africa 25 times. In 1996 they bought a 50,000-acre spread in Kenya that is both a cattle ranch and a refuge for wild animals. “The ranch employs 120 people,” Gleason says. “It’s a huge business and we want to get it to a break even point. Right now it’s a labor of love.”
The couple divides their time between Africa and Florida, where Ruggieri recently enrolled in a doctoral program in wildlife ecology at the University of Florida.
Gleason’s work with orphans has taken many forms. She has pledged to pay the high school and college expenses of the children on Rosamund Carr’s plantation, although she admits that “it will be a miracle if 10 of them go on to college.” And she has supported grassroots efforts to provide tin roofs for homes where children are cared for by community volunteers. “I try to work with local people who are trying to help themselves,” she says. “We don’t need to come in and tell them what to do. With assistance, they can reach their own goals.”
Hugh Dugan and Kerry Moynihan, WEMBA’91: Networking for Foster Children
When SOS Children’s Villages-USA — a private, non-profit organization that provides homes for abused and neglected children — was looking for people to serve on its board of trustees, it turned to Hugh Dugan, U.S. delegate to the United Nations in New York.
When Dugan was looking for others to serve with him, he turned to Kerry Moynihan, a classmate from the Wharton Executive MBA program.
“Being in school with someone offers very good insight into what their capabilities are on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to just looking at someone’s bio,” says Moynihan, a partner in executive search firm Korn Ferry’s Washington, D.C. office. “You know this person can deliver.”
SOS Children’s Villages-USA, an affiliate of a worldwide organization founded in Europe 50 years ago, first approached Dugan because of his high-profile job and his work with youth groups throughout the world. In 1994, for example, the International Olympic Committee awarded Dugan a gold medal for a resolution he wrote at the U.N. calling for the reinstitution of the historic Olympic truce that encouraged countries to “cease hostilities during the games.” “It became the most supported resolution in the history of the U.N.,” says Dugan. He also serves on the board of one of the few volunteer organizations abroad that is successful,” says Dugan. “It’s the largest charity in Germany. One-third of every household in Norway contributes to it. When I mention SOS to colleagues at the U.N., it’s an instant ice breaker because most of them have SOS villages in their countries.”
In the U.S., SOS villages — stable and nurturing permanent homes for foster children — have been established in Coconut Creek, Fla., and Lockport, Ill. A third village will be located in Milwaukee, Wisc., and one is also being planned for the Washington, D.C. area. Around the world, 371 villages in 128 countries help more than 200,000 children.
Dugan spent a week in June in Austria attending SOS’s international assembly held at the very first village created. Board meetings occur three times a year and committee meetings are held monthly by phone. Dugan, who is also the treasurer of SOS’s American chapter, visits the Washington D.C. headquarters several times a year.
Moynihan joined the 10-member board in August. He sees the organization as a “private sector kind of solution that works. They are doing enormous good. Anybody who has any feelings for children has to be sensitive to a mission of this type. I’ve seen through friends involved in the foster care system how difficult it is to get children into good foster homes. The law and social agencies that are supposedly designed to help can be a hindrance at best and an outright obstacle at worst.”
Moynihan also served for five years on the board of the WEMBA scholarship fund set up in 1990 and intended “typically for people who are self-employed or coming out of the public and/or non-profit sector.” Moynihan himself was the first recipient of that scholarship. Dugan credits his Wharton education with giving him the financial expertise to work with “an enterprise that is non-profit by nature but has to meet all the financial requirements and constraints of any organization. It’s a wonderful opportunity to apply more of my Wharton skills in the diplomatic arena, promoting an interest that I support.”