“During that time, there was never a harsh word between us,” Ken Cohen said, noting that that was a rarity for an individual in any business, let alone a fourth-generation family business.
Cohen said he remembered his first day at work and his father’s advice.
“My dad said ‘If you think you’re going to sit in your office all day, you won’t get very far,’” he said. “‘Go out and find something to do.’ Then, over the next 50 years, he supported everything that I did.”
Older age didn’t keep the elder Cohen from spending time at the office.
“As recently as two weeks ago, he was at his desk opening mail as everyone flocked to his office and gave a friendly ‘Hello’,” Ken Cohen said.
MORE: ‘Titan of philanthropy’: Community remembers Middletown champion Wilbur Cohen
Most people have only one community to support, he said, but his father lived in and supported “literally everything in Middletown, as well as providing the same kind of support in Cincinnati without slighting the needs of either community.”
Wilbur Milton Cohen was born March 6, 1923 to Mose and Mollie Cohen. He joined Cohen Brothers in 1947 as a third partner with uncle and his father.
Early last decade, the fourth generation family-run scrap metal processor rebranded itself as a recycling company Cohen Recycling and often refers to itself simply as Cohen.
While eulogizing his father, Neil Cohen described his own trucking business, an unsuccessful venture from about 30 years ago and one that he said led to his becoming “exceedingly stressed” and doubting his own abilities. His father, he said, “quickly recognized” his demeanor, lost confidence and shattered self-respect.
“He talked me off the edge, took me to visit his friend in the trucking business for a consultation, and helped me appreciate where I had been, what I was made of, and my real value,” Neil Cohen said. “Dad helped me understand that I was successful in so many ways and that this was only a bump in the road. Failing in business doesn’t mean that you have failed in life.”
MORE: McCrabb: Cohen gives more than he receives (January 2015)
The trucking business, which Neil Cohen called “a miserable failure,” unraveled, but thanks to his father, he didn’t.
“With his guidance we created a plan,” he said. “I worked the plan, closed the business, and I survived to fight again.”
Instead of focusing on business while sitting around the dinner table, Wilbur Cohen preferred to speak of his volunteer work and philanthropy, and how important it was for him to help others, Neil Cohen said.
“He told me to find some things to join that I was interested in and passionate about. When you participate, don’t just sit there,” he said. “Speak up, contribute, and work to move the bar towards what you believe in. Make a difference. From the looks of what we have all done, we learned that lesson well. Dad, that is your legacy.”
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions to The Middletown Community Foundation, 300 N. Main St., Middletown, OH 45042 or The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, 8499 Ridge Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45236 would be appreciated.
Memorial contributions are suggested to The Middletown Community Foundation, 300 N. Main St., Middletown, OH 45042 or The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, 8499 Ridge Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45236.