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Philanthropist Myron ‘Mike’ Blank dies


Myron “Mike” Blank, a member of one of Des Moines’ most prominent families, was remembered last week as a philanthropist whose family endowned such landmarks as the Blank Park Zoo, the A.H. Blank Golf Course, Blank Children’s Hospital and countless other health-care and education initiatives throughout Greater Des Moines and Iowa.

He died at his home on Feb. 26 at the age of 93.

The son of Romanian immigrants A.H. and Anna Blank, he moved with his family to Council Bluffs when he was 8. The Blank family made its fortune in the movie business, opening movie theaters in Des Moines, Davenport, Omaha, Cedar Rapids, Newton and Waterloo and eventually becoming one of the largest private owners of movie theaters in the country through their Central States Theater Corp. chain. Myron Blank is credited with introducing popcorn as a movie theater staple after experimenting with different oils to find one that did not leave hulls or create an unpleasant odor.

Memories shared last week about Blank inevitably included his late wife, Jackie, his life partner for more than 65 years. She died in 2002. The couple had three children: a son, Steve, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and in whose name the Blank family endowed the Youth Emergency Services & Shelter building on Des Moines’ Southeast Side; another son, Alan, who disappeared in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 2001; and a daughter, Beverly Perry, who survives.

Blank lent his name to numerous causes over the year, including “A Premiere Evening Starring Myron Blank,” a black-tie fund-raiser in November to benefit the Des Moines Art Center, but was modest about having attention heaped upon him, said Susan Lubowsky Talbott, the Art Center director and a close friend of Blank.

“He had a wonderful time at the event,” she said. “When we asked him if it would be OK if we could honor him, his attitude was that he didn’t like all that attention focused on himself, but he loved the Art Center and wanted to help us. He really did it for the Art Center, and prepared a beautiful and lengthy speech he had written and thought about. It was absolutely eloquent.”

Talbott said the Blanks were enthusiastic supporters of the museum, which has received national and international acclaim for its architecture and the quality of its collection. Jackie Blank gave a $1 million education endowment to the Art Center shortly before her death, and she and her husband gave what Talbott called a “very, very generous endowment” for exhibitions 10 years ago.

The most recent $1 million gift expanded the number of children served through the Art Center’s art education ourtreach programs. “Jackie was really the person who began with a love of art,” Talbott said. “She was very, very close to the Art Center when she was younger.”

Personally, the Blanks had amassed a spectacular art collection and Mike Blank gave two of the couple’s most important and valuable paintings to the Art Center several years ago. “He wanted us to have two of the most beloved and most important pieces,” Talbott said. Those paintings, Italian artist Giorgio Morandi’s “Still Life,” painted in 1959, and Russian artist Alexej von Jawlensky’s “Abstract Head: Inner Vision-Gray-Blue-Pink,” painted in 1927, were purchased by the Blanks on the advice of former Art Center director Jim Demetrion, who had accompanied Jackie Blank on a trip to Europe to visit world-renowned galleries and museums.

In recent years, the Blanks also have given $5 million for an IMAX theater at the new Science Center of Iowa; $5 million to the Blank Honors Center at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development; $650,000 for the new Des Moines Central Library’s children’s wing; and $7 million for the Myron and Jackie Blank Discovery Center at Blank Park Zoo.  

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