The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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John Block Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

August 5, 2014


John Harvey Block was born in 1938 in Yakima, Washington where he also grew up. Fascinated by science and photography as a child, Block enrolled at Washington State University in 1958. Though he was interested in medicine, Block was not able to pursue it as a career due to a familial idiopathic tremor that affected his hands and impeded his ability to complete a required surgical rotation. Instead, he turned his focus toward Pharmacy, graduating from WSU with a Pharmacy BS in 1961.

Block remained at WSU for two more years to obtain a M.S. degree in medicinal chemistry. From there, he moved on to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a Ph.D. in Pharmacy. He completed his doctorate in 1966, writing a thesis titled "Synthesis, Stereochemistry, and Facilitated Solvolsis in a Model Enzyme System." Block also met his wife, Alice McComb, during his years in Wisconsin.

In 1966 John and Alice Block moved to Corvallis, where John began teaching at OSU. Block's arrival coincided was the opening of a renovated and expanded pharmacy building on the OSU campus, a change which heralded the beginning of a period of modernization within the program.

Block found OSU to be a teaching-oriented university, a sharp contrast to the research-focused University of Wisconsin, and the emphasis of much of his career was on instruction. During his years at OSU he also saw the Pharmacy curriculum go through many changes, including increases in the value placed on communication skills, cultural sensitivities, and clinical pharmacy. Block's years of service also coincided with the creation of an OSU Pharmacy satellite campus at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and, in 1999, the college's abolition of the BS in Pharmacy and movement into a pure M.S. and Pharm.D. program.

Block retired from OSU in 2003 after thirty-seven years on staff. During his career he served for eight years on the Oregon Board of Pharmacy - for two years as its president - during which time he assisted with interpreting and implementing the state's assisted suicide law. He likewise sat on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination Committee and the National Science Foundation's Panel for Instructional Scientific Equipment; co-edited the Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemistry; and conducted research on mathematical models of chemical reactions and the controversy over the action of general anesthesia.

In retirement Block has been heavily involved with the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance as a Medicare counselor. In this, he educates senior citizens about the complexities of Medicare, including their options, deadlines, penalties, and the ways in which they can use Medicare in tandem with private insurance. In 2014 he was also honored by the Oregon State University Retirement Association as its Volunteer of the Year, the result of his work as a board member of OSURA, as chair of the scholarship committee, and as a participant on the association's Membership Services Committee.