Park to fete survivors of cancer

December 24, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Richard A. Bloch, the "R" in H&R Block, recovered from cancer 15 years ago and wants to inspire others to do the same.

So he's giving Baltimore County $1 million to create a Cancer Survivors Park -- complete with eight life-size statues, a "mental attitude" walkway and a computer loaded with the names of Baltimoreans who have licked the disease.

The park will be built on an acre of county property at Fairmount Avenue and Goucher Boulevard, next to Towson Town Center and immediately east of the Nordstrom department store.

Mr. Bloch, co-founder of the giant tax preparation firm that bears his name, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1978 and told he had three months to live. He got a second opinion from a doctor who told him: "We're going to cure you so that you can work for cancer."

He survived, and since then, he and his wife, Annette, have devoted their lives -- and a good part of their fortune -- to helping people battle the disease.

The prototype survivors park, built in 1989, is in Mr. Bloch's home town of Kansas City, Mo. Other parks have been built or are being built in Omaha, Neb., Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland, and New Orleans.

The county has been negotiating with Mr. Bloch for about two years, said County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

Wayne Harman, director of Recreation and Parks, heard about the projects in other cities and found a Baltimore County site he thought would fit Mr. Bloch's specifications.

"We were turned down once, then Wayne put together a brochure to sell Mr. Bloch on the county," Mr. Hayden said.

Mr. Bloch came to Towson in July, looked at the Fairmount Avenue site, and agreed to it with a handshake.

"You've got a million bucks," he told Mr. Hayden.

Mr. Hayden, who has appointed an 11-member committee to work on the design, expects construction to begin by fall.

Landscaping will tie a narrow strip of land across Fairmount Avenue to the park. Maintenance costs will come out of the $1 million, and Towson Town Center will make a small number of parking spaces available on its lot for park visitors.

The park will include eight life-sized figures depicting phases of cancer treatment and a computer listing the names of all five-year cancer survivors in the Baltimore area and their type of cancer.

A third element is a positive "mental attitude" walk through which people can stroll, meditate, and read 14 plaques, four of which are inspirational. The others will deal with specific suggestions for fighting cancer.

Overall design will be up to the committee. Final approval is up to Mr. Bloch.

"I want people to say 'Wow,' when they drive past it," Mr. Bloch told Mr. Hayden. "The goal is to come up with a design that looks like it cost $2 million to build."

Another goal is to get broad community involvement, including young people, cancer survivors, the medical community, and average citizens.

Mr. Bloch wants to get across the message that cancer shouldn't be equated with death, and that a positive attitude is important to survival.

Mr. Bloch has sold his interest in H&R Block and has created several foundations devoted to fighting cancer.

Maryland has the highest cancer death rate among the 50 states, according to the American Cancer Society. It ranks among the top six states in deaths from lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers.

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