1992 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"You have to make a decision that you want something and go for it, but be flexible enough to recognize unanticipated opportunities."
John Block was born on a farm in Illinois that had no electricity. When he was old enough to go to school, he rode a pony to get to the schoolhouse, which had no water or indoor plumbing and only 10 students. Block enjoyed farming and became an ardent member of the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America. He won an appointment to West Point, where he was a star debater.
Block served as a second lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division. Later, he became an airborne ranger. When he completed his obligation to military service, he returned to the farm in Illinois and paid his father $5,000 to take him on as a partner. He expanded their operations from 300 acres to 3,000, and they went from having 200 hogs to 6,000.
He served on the Illinois State Farm Bureau from 1972 to 1976 and was the Illinois Director of Agriculture in 1977. After Ronald Reagan was elected, John Block was named U. S. Agriculture Secretary. The country was in recession at the time, and Block was instrumental in developing the 1985 Farm Bill, which restored economic stability to the farm sector. "I tried to move the industry toward less dependence on government subsidy and more dependence on income out of the marketplace," he says.
Today, he is president of Food Distributors International, a trade association that represents food distributors. He has continued his farming business, which is run day-to-day by his son. "We have 4,000 acres and raise 15,000 pigs," he says.
Block is also involved in a number of non-profit associations. One is the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs. "We are working to bring free markets to the former Soviet states," he says.
Looking back over a career that fully satisfied him, Block says, "You have to have work satisfaction and you have to balance that with your family and friends to a point where you are supporting and serving them. That's how I define success."
He tells youth to work hard and understand early in life that their performance in work and in personal relationships will be judged. "I encourage youth to accept new challenges," he says. "You have to be able to relate to people and they have to have a good opinion of you."
Block believes in integrity, trust, loyalty, and keeping a positive outlook on life. "It has been a special honor for me to receive the Horatio Alger Award," he says, "because it is an institution that recognizes people for the ideals I believe in so strongly."