A Lasting Legacy

When Richard and Diane Block came to Alaska, there was no knowing what was in store for them and their family. But they knew that they were in a land of opportunity, and if they would only work hard and let their path unfold, the future was sure to be a blessed journey.

Diane Melvina Lazzarino was born to John and Irma Lazzarino in 1935 in the Golden State of California. John Lazzarino was the oldest son of immigrant parents, while Irma, came from a long line of early American settlers, dating back to the first ships that came to Jamestown. Meanwhile, in another part of Southern California, Richard Leonard Block was born in 1937 to Margery and Leonard, both of whose parents were Jewish immigrants who left Eastern Europe to escape persecution seeking economic opportunities.

Richard in the USC Marching Band
Diane Block during her California years

During their early upbringings, both families discovered Christian Science and became steadfast adherents to the faith. In fact, Richard and Diane first met in Christian Science Sunday School and related activities. As the years passed, and Dick graduated law school, the two married and began raising a growing family. And the story might have ended there except for a decision made by the two in the mid-seventies.

Wedding Day

In 1974, after almost a decade in corporate California, Richard had been promoted about as high as he could go professionally. Seemingly from out of the blue, he was contacted by a friend of a friend in Juneau, Alaska who offered an opportunity. After a brief Summer trip to visit family friends who had moved to Juneau a year earlier, the decision was made. Alaska was where the new challenge would be found.

In December 1975, the family of eight left a lifetime in California and drove to Alaska, arriving just days before Christmas in three feet of snow. Richard had already been working for Alaska’s Governor Hammond for several months, commuting between Juneau and Los Angeles, but now the entire family was on board.

Richard and Diane in Juneau

For the next five years, the family would explore all the awesome grandeur of Alaska using Juneau as their base. Their home on the waters of Auke Bay, backed up against a natural park rainforest, provided stunning views. Fishing trips to Admiralty Island, berry-picking adventures, camping outings with the Boy Scouts, and numerous boating expeditions became the family’s routine. And including their California-based relatives on these adventures allowed them to show off their new home and share their love for Alaska.

Juneau’s natural environment was not their only playground. Nearly the entire family became involved in community theater at this time, a practice that would be part of the rest of their lives. Likewise, the family was an integral part of their local Christian Science church, even helping to build the new basement Sunday School.

Diane & Richard enjoying their time at the Hoochinoo and HotCakes Show in Juneau

After five great years in Juneau, new enterprises led the Blocks to move to Anchorage where Dick and his business partners founded Alaska National Insurance Company in 1980. The business which began as a single card table, an IBM Selectric typewriter, Diane as typist and a dream, grew into a company with offices in Alaska, Idaho, Washington, California, and Oregon and is considered one of Alaska’s great business success stories.

While Richard developed ANIC and managed its growth, Diane found other occupations. She returned to school at the University of Alaska to pursue a degree in Fine Art and, she too, became an entrepreneur, operating multiple retail coffee, candy, and gift shops and finally opening the “Ovation Victorian” Tea Room. Multiple entrepreneurial endeavors, from insurance companies to tea shops, helped grow the Alaska business landscape and created numerous new jobs.

But the foundations which began in Juneau, would be the clear themes of the rest of their lives: loving Alaska, serving the community, a dedication to the arts, and an abiding faith in God.

These themes manifested in multiple ways in Anchorage. In the arts arena, while Diane expanded her visual arts abilities, opening a studio and participating in various arts shows, Richard developed deep ties to the Anchorage Opera and the community theater scene. They even filled roles in Anchorage Community Theater’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” playing the two queens!

Diane performing in Alice in Wonderland
Richard performing in Alice in Wonderland

They continued to explore Alaska through camping trips and plein air art excursions, a cruise up the Inside Passage, and multiple fishing and sightseeing trips on their boat in Seward, the Eaglewatch. Alaska’s natural wonders continued to fill them with awe, but Alaska’s opportunities, to raise a family, start new endeavors, participate in the community process, and grow with a growing state, were some of the things they were most grateful for.

Through it all, their faith, Christian Science, was the central feature of their lives. Both were readers in the church at one point or another, and both served on every church committee available. While Diane was a contributor to church publications, Richard began developing the goal of becoming a practicing Christian Science Practitioner. Everything in their lives was rooted first in their appreciation for and dedication to Christian Science.

Diane enjoying a day of Skiing

In the early 2000s, Richard began entertaining the idea of forming a charitable foundation which would combine the couple’s love of Christian Science with their desire to support the arts and the needs of the Alaskan community. Since creating the Foundation, millions of dollars have been contributed to support the Christian Science Church and its members, to foster the Arts, and to support the members of the Alaskan community who are in most need.

Richard and Diane passed away in 2021 and 2018 respectively. They leave a legacy of their own work in Alaska, not only in their business ventures but in their community experiences and involvement. This legacy continues, as well, in their six children and their thirteen grandchildren, who, as adults, are now beginning to take the reins of their own involvement in both the family business and the community. Finally, the forward-thinking of Richard and Diane in the creation of the Richard L. and Diane M. Block Foundation ensures that their legacy will endure forever in Alaska. It is a legacy founded upon and fueled by their passion for their community and the arts, their faith based in Christian Science, and their committed love of Alaska and its people.