Stories : The Blancharts

Relationships that bind

As a Maritime seaman and master of a ship, I spent approximately 20 years sailing in and out of southeast and west Africa. I’ve seen poverty and people with handicaps all over the world. There’s nobody that takes care of them like L’Arche Harbor House. — Captain Leonard Blanchart, 1927 to 2009

Two of L’Arche Harbor House’s most cherished friends had no idea the community existed when they first witnessed L’Arche faith in action. “We used to go to church at Christ the King, and we noticed there would be handicapped people come in, assisted by people that were watching over them,” Captain Blanchart recalled in an interview at the Blanchart Center three months before his death from brain cancer on June 29. A retired St. Johns River Pilot and former Maritime Service captain; Blanchart was touched by the relationships he witnessed. “We didn’t know then that these were L’Arche core members and assistants, but we saw how good they were to each other,” said his wife Eleanor. “One day the community leader Dottie Klein was out there selling tickets for a fundraiser after church. And my husband asked her, what is this all about? That’s how we found out.”

Captain Blanchart wanted to learn more. “They had us over to meet everyone, and I saw how Dottie had to run back and forth between a tiny office in one of the houses and a tiny office at the Rainbow Workshop miles away and I thought, this is not a good situation. So my wife and I talked about it and decided we wanted to help. One thing led to another, and we decided instead of renovating, we’d put up a small building. The plans got bigger and bigger, and we ended up with the community center as it is now.”

Today, the Blanchart Center sits at the center of the campus, an airy, light-filled building with staff offices, a kitchen and a large central space that serves as gathering point for nearly all L’Arche Harbor House events, from board meetings to birthday parties to Community Nights on the first Thursday of every month. For the Blancharts, it became a second home. “I was here nearly every day during construction, making sure they got it right,” said the Captain. “Joy (a core member since 1985) always came around with me. We were a team,” he recalled. “After that, my wife and I visited often, invited and uninvited, and were always welcomed with open arms. I certainly came to the conclusion that this was one of the finest decisions we ever made. We’re so happy with the progress the community has made and what they do every day for the core members.”

The Blancharts also built a legacy through their scholarship endowment at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Since 1989, the gift has sent 28 graduates from Bishop Kenny High School through college. In 2008, the couple expanded the endowment to include four additional area high schools. “We have approximately 40 students at UNF now,” noted Captain Blanchart in March 2009. “All of them qualified for admission but wouldn’t have had the means without our help. Making a difference to them and to the core members at Harbor House has meant everything to me and Eleanor. And the most gratifying thing is to know we’ve accomplished it through doing something I loved so much: the seafaring life.”

Captain Blanchart was still thinking of the L’Arche community and core members in his final days. Inspired by the comforts of a hospital bed provided by hospice, he told Eleanor and daughters Missy and Stacie that it was just what Robert McCormick of Nouwen House needed to soothe his back pain. Even before the funeral Mass on July 8, they had found a bed and scheduled delivery. We are grateful to the Blanchart family for their many kindnesses and thankful for the blessing that Captain Blanchart was to us. We will hold his memory close always.