‘Titan of philanthropy’: Community remembers Middletown champion Wilbur Cohen

Wilbur Cohen’s fingerprints are all over the Middletown community.

The leader of Cohen Brothers Recycling, who was described as a “true humanitarian” and “titan of philanthropy,” died on Friday. He was 96.

“There are no words that can adequately express our sadness over Wilbur’s death,” according to a statement released by his family. “We’ve lost a true humanitarian who always believed in supporting the most important asset in a company or a community: its people. Wilbur’s impact on people’s lives in the company, industry and community cannot be overstated, and he will be missed dearly.”

MORE: Wilbur Cohen, Middletown business leader and philanthropist, dies at 96

Cohen joined his father and uncle to lead Cohen Brothers into becoming a well-established scrap recycling company. His philanthropic contributions have left a significant legacy in his cherished communities of Middletown and Cincinnati.

Cohen’s strongest community connection is with Atrium Medical Center and Atrium Medical Center Foundation. As a hospital board member, Cohen worked with five hospital presidents. He provided leadership for 42 years, beginning in 1965 when he joined the Middletown Hospital board of directors. As president of the hospital board from 1972 to 1980, he guided the hospital through significant growth.

The community was always at the front of Cohen’s mind, said Doug McNeil, former president and CEO of Atrium Medical Center and its predecessor, Middletown Regional Hospital. He worked with Cohen for 20 years.

“As he sat on our board, he had a fiduciary responsibility to do what was right for the hospital, but he always thought larger than that because he always said, ‘How is this going to be good for the community?’” he said.

McNeil said Cohen was not only “kind and wise” but always had a “cool head about him.”

“Things could be chaotic, Wilbur was the calm voice in the room,” he said. “He had so much commonsense and wisdom, and I really respected him.”

McCrabb: Cohen gives more than he receives (January 2015)

Cohen also helped establish the entity that has become the Atrium Medical Center Foundation. He was one of the foundation’s first three trustees and served on its board for several terms.

The Cohens were instrumental in founding the hospital’s Wilbur & Mary Jean Cohen Women’s Center, as well as the Linda Cohen Abrams Health and Risk Assessment Center, named in honor of their daughter who died at 47 from heart disease. His wife, Mary Jean, died in 2008.

“Middletown, southwest Ohio and the world is a better place for having Wilbur Cohen apart of it,” said Michael Stautberg, president of the Atrium Medical Center Foundation. “He was a humble leader that led by example (and) showed everybody around him how to be a better person.”

Cohen’s community focus and willingness to be one of the first to volunteer are rare traits in today’s world, said T. Duane Gordon, CEO of the Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati.

“I have seen his influence really as a titan of philanthropy, not only in Middletown but throughout the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton region,” said Gordon, the former Middletown Community Foundation executive director who worked for a decade with Cohen.

“He possessed not only a strong sense of that corporate responsibility and community support that few company leaders today seem to have, but he also had a very strong desire to instill those beliefs of children and grandchildren as they took over the company. I really can’t think of no greater legacy than passing on those values to future generations.”

Cohen was also president of the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, the leading business advocate in the Middletown region.

“Middletown is extremely fortunate to have been the recipient of Mr. Cohen’s efforts and guidance,” said Rick Pearce, president and CEO of the Middletown area chamber. “His influence leaves an indelible mark on Middletown for generations to come and his legacy is an excellent guide for any entrepreneur wanting to balance work life with family and community.”


Visitation for Wilbur M. Cohen is set for 1:30 p.m. today at Adath Israel Congregation, 3201 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati. Funeral services are set for 3 p.m.

Friends may join the family following the interment for a meal at Adath Israel Congregation. Shiva will be observed at 7 p.m. Monday at Adath Israel Congregation.


Memorial contributions are suggested to The Middletown Community Foundation, 300 N. Main St., Middletown, Ohio 45042 or The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, 8499 Ridge Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45236.