McCrabb: Cohen gives more than he receives

For those living on Linden Avenue in Middletown, you probably better drink up because there’s something special in your water. How else can you explain the significant contributions made to the city by two families who once were neighbors on that street?

If you magically removed the Slagle and Cohen families from Middletown’s history books, there’s no telling the negative impact that would have on the city’s past, present and future. While Middletown is known for producing outstanding athletes, the city is also home to some very influential families.

On Tuesday night, during the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton annual dinner at Miami Valley Gaming, Wilbur Cohen, patriarch of the Cohen family, was honored for his, and his family’s, tireless community involvement.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving,” Rick Pearce, president of the chamber, said after Cohen received the award.

Then Pearce issued this challenge: “The next generation has a great deal to learn and a great deal of work ahead to attempt to fill your shoes.”

It was disappointing, and yet fitting, that Cohen, 92, was vacationing in Florida and unable to attend the ceremonies. Wilbur Cohen, like his three children, Ken, Neil and Kathy, prefers to complete his community work off stage. Instead of accepting the Richard W. Slagle Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award in person, a video of Cohen sitting in his office was shown on the large projection screen.

The award was established last year and named after Richard “Dick” Slagle for his “significant contributions to the quality of life” in the community.

Neil Cohen accepted the award in his father’s honor. He said his family loves Middletown and for years made it their home, and it became the foundation for their scrap metal business. There are 20 Cohen facilities in three states, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and Neil Cohen called the 50-acre corporate headquarters and processing center site on Woodlawn Avenue in Middletown the “core” location.

The Cohens do business in the area, but they have given back more than they have received.

Wilbur Cohen served as president of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce and Middletown Industrial Council. He was campaign chairman of the board of trustees of the Middletown Area United Way, and was a member of the committee to establish the Middletown campus of Miami University.

In 1992, he was named All American Citizen at All American Weekend.

He provided invaluable leadership to Middletown Regional Hospital in his 42 years of continuous board service. In 1965, he joined the Middletown Regional Hospital board of directors. As president of the MRH board (1972-1980) and of the United Care Corporation board (1982-1990), he guided the hospital through two periods of significant growth. He continues to serve as an emeritus board member and works with the Heritage Society committee of the Atrium Medical Center Foundation.

The Cohens’ generosity was instrumental in establishing the Wilbur & Mary Jean Cohen Women’s Center, as well as establishing the Linda Cohen Abrams Health and Risk Assessment Center, and the Heart Center at Atrium Medical Center, and most recently Cancer Care at Atrium Medical Center.

As a 36-year Auxiliary member, Mary Jean Cohen gave more than 3,600 hours to MRH. She served on the boards of Bull’s Run Arboretum, Alternatives, Hospice of Middletown, and the Ladies Auxiliary of Temple Beth Sholom. She passed away on July 30, 2008. She was 83.

Mike Stautberg, executive director of the Atrium Medical Center foundation, said Wilbur and his late wife were “instrumental” in numerous projects at the MRH and now Atrium.

“Just about everything put in place has been touched by them,” he said after the dinner.

When the Slagle family moved to Middletown in the late 1950s, the first person Dick Slagle met was Wilbur Cohen. On Tuesday night, years of stories flashed through Slagle’s mind, and he knew some, if not all, were inappropriate for a family newspaper.

Let’s just say the two buddies, friends for 60 years, have lived full lives.

“Not many people like Wilbur,” Slagle, 89, said while leaning on his walker.

Then he turned his attention from his friend to his friend’s family. He said even the most comprehensive Cohen family biography would still be missing information. Some people like to blow their own horns.

The Cohens prefer silencers.

“The family does so much we don’t know about,” Slagle said. “It’s true today just as it was when Wilbur ran the business. They don’t want recognition.”

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