Neil Cohen named 2022 Hamilton Citizen of the Year

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Businessman to be honored at Jan. 27 Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.

Neil Cohen hadn’t planned on attending the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at Champion Mill Conference Center, where the citizen of the year is honored.

Then he was picked.

Cohen and his wife, Honi, had scheduled a trip to New Zealand and planned to leave before the Jan. 27 chamber event. He asked if they would consider giving the honor to someone else. Cohen said he was told they couldn’t.

After a discussion about doing a video acceptance or a Zoom call, Cohen said he couldn’t in good conscience do that.

“I’m just not the guy who could accept that,” he said. “This is a room full of the people I really care about, and not being there was not acceptable to me.”

The Cohens canceled the trip in order to be in Hamilton with the people that will be at the annual chamber event.

“I believe that my life had centered around the relationships that I’ve made over the years, not necessarily the deeds,” said Cohen, who found out after he canceled his trip with a tour group planned another at a later date. “The deeds are a result of having those relationships.”

YWCA of Hamilton Chief Executive Officer Wendy Waters-Connell and her husband, Chris Connell, a YWCA board member and employee of the Hamilton City Schools, co-authored one of the several nomination letters outlining why Cohen should be picked for the honor.

Waters-Connell and Connell gave several reasons why he should be named the next Hamilton Citizen of the Year.

“Neil Cohen wants to do all he can, personally, to make our community better for those who need support, and he holds himself accountable for making change happen,” according to the letter. “Chris and I believe this may be the core of the ‘Neil Cohen phenomenon.’ This is what has driven his lifetime of achievements.”

Basically, if Neil Cohen backs a goal, “it will happen,” they said.

Cohen has not only been a long-time supporter of the YWCA of Hamilton, but was heavily involved in the organization’s mission to construct a new $11 million facility on Grand Boulevard that expands the domestic violence shelter and the permanent supportive housing for women who are homeless. He’s also supported several community organizations ― and in some cases still does ― from Community First Solutions, Primary Health Solutions, Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton City of Sculpture, Kettering Health Hamilton (formerly Fort Hamilton Hospital), and Planned Parenthood SWO Foundation.

Community First Solutions President and Chief Executive Officer Brett Kirkpatrick was another nominator of Cohen.

“Neil is passionate about the city of Hamilton, and for more than 40 years, he has played an important role in shaping our community through leadership and philanthropy,” he said.

Fort Hamilton Hospital Foundation Director Sonja Kranbuhl called Cohen “selfless” and a “go-getter” who is “a relentless optimist.” Hamilton Community Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer John Guidugli said the work he did to support the YWCA project “is illustrative of much of his work.”

Cohen is known for his 47 years at his family’s business, Cohen Recycling (which was known as Cohen Brothers until 2010), working with his older brother Ken Cohen, of Middletown, a business started by his grandfather and great-uncle nearly 100 years ago. He retired on Nov. 1, 2021, but has remained involved, helping navigate the land swap deal with the city so Cohen Recycling can relocate the facility north, and work with a developer to sell the near-18-acre Black Street facility that would be transformed into a mixed-use development that would reportedly include hotels, office space, and residential space.

“I always thought for me that my work life was my vehicle to do the other work, to do the volunteer work. And it gave me the opportunity and the time to do that, and that was always something I wanted to focus on.”

Being involved in the community started with his parents, who were involved in Middletown over the years.

“Often dining room conversations weren’t about business, but rather it was about the other stuff,” Cohen said. “That’s what we talked about, and it made an impression on me in that if you had the opportunity to put yourself out there, and get involved in some of these things, and try to be as successful as you can, to support the people they serve. That’s really the key, supporting the people they serve.”

Cohen left Middletown, where Cohen Recycling is headquartered, and he arrived in Hamilton in 1975. The first thing he did was to join the chamber of commerce and was put on the membership committee. “That kinda opened my eyes to the community and the different businesses, and the different things I could get involved with,” he said.

Eight years later, in 1983, he joined the board of Fort Hamilton Hospital, which “started me on a path being interested in health care and wellness.”

Then he got involved in education when he joined a school levy campaign in 1986, having to learn a lot about the school district as he made presentations to garner local support for the levy. Then he became a member of the Hamilton City School Board.

“All of these things were really gifts to me,” Cohen said. “I thought it was more of that than giving to others. I was learning things I would have never learned if I sat in that office in the scrap business and just did that.”

“The mark of a community’s status in the eyes of the citizens is about access to health care, access to social services, access to education for everybody. Nobody should be left out, ever, of the need for those kinds of things as they need it.”

Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce annual meeting

The annual meeting for the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is set for Jan. 27 at Spooky Nook Champion Mill Conference Center.

The event will include the onboarding of new board members and officers and the presentation of the 2022 Citizen of the Year award to Neil Cohen.

The keynote speaker of the event is Chef Mindy Livengood-Shea, who was a contestant on Season 21 of “Hell’s Kitchen” and owner of Chef Mindy’s Kitchen.

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvre, followed by dinner and the program at 7 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., there will be an Annu-ALE After Party at Municipal Brew Works at Spooky Nook.

To register, visit

About the Author