A BIG CHAIR TO FILL

‘Civic ac­tivist and vol­un­teer’ Harry Co­hen left his im­print on New Mil­ford

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Deb­o­rah Rose

The chair in which for­mer New Mil­ford at­tor­ney Harry Co­hen of­ten sat on the front porch of his Bridge Street home and of­fice, over­look­ing his home­town’s vil­lage cen­ter, is empty.

Co­hen, an at­tor­ney for 64 years, died April 27 at his home, with David, one of his three sons, and his daugh­ter-in-law, Jane, at his

side.

“Any­where we’ve gone, some­one has a connection (to Harry),” said Jane, who, with David, had been liv­ing part-time with Co­hen since his 95th birth­day. “There’s al­ways a connection and a story about Harry.”

New Mil­ford will re­mem­ber the com­mu­nity ad­vo­cate, thes­pian and busi­ness­man, who was 98 when he died last month, with a memo­rial cel­e­bra­tion and open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Satur­day at 62 Bridge St.

Co­hen was ac­tive in town af­fairs, in­clud­ing civic, po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and faith pur­suits, through­out his life­time.

He was a co-founder of Temple Sholom and the Lit­tle The­ater and founder of a photo school, all in New Mil­ford.

“It’s very hum­bling,” David said, re­flect­ing on his fa­ther’s

life­time com­mit­ment to and in­volve­ment with the com­mu­nity.

Re­tired lo­cal jour­nal­ist Norm Cum­mings re­called Co­hen as “the quin­tes­sen­tial civic ac­tivist and vol­un­teer” who for the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury “played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the com­mu­nity, fram­ing the town into a more in­ter­est­ing place to live. He was in­stru­men­tal in keep­ing the com­mu­nity’s his­tory and self-aware­ness alive.”

Co­hen was ac­tive in the com­mu­nity, serv­ing as pres­i­dent of the Greater New Mil­ford Cham­ber of Com­merce, com­man­der of the lo­cal Veter­ans of For­eign Wars, and mem­ber of the New Mil­ford Pub­lic Li­brary and New Mil­ford Com­mis­sion on the Arts.

He ob­tained a grant from the Har­court Foun­da­tion with which to es­tab­lish the Lit­er­acy on the Green pro­gram and, in the 1960s, worked with the state to get a char­ter for what would come to be known as the Northville Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment.

Home and busi­ness

Co­hen grew up in New Mil­ford, the sec­ond youngest of six chil­dren and only son of Rus­sian im­mi­grants Sa­muel and Sarah (Sacartoff) Co­hen.

He grad­u­ated from New Mil­ford High School in 1938 and started his le­gal prac­tice in town in 1946, af­ter re­turn­ing home from World War II.

“It was a quaint town in those years,” Co­hen told Hearst Connecticu­t Me­dia at the time of his re­tire­ment in 2010. “We had a more lively town cen­ter with three gro­cery stores.

“When I was 16, I worked at the A&P on Rail­road Street,” he said. “I feel very fondly to­ward New Mil­ford, fond of the peo­ple who have al­ways been friendly and out­go­ing.”

He and his wife, Frances Sper­ling Co­hen, raised three sons, Charles, David and Jerome.

Co­hen was re­garded for his le­gal ac­u­men and ded­i­ca­tion to his clients.

“He was re­ally a com­mit­ted lawyer,” said Kather­ine Web­ster O’Keefe, an at­tor­ney who met Co­hen in 1983 when he and his busi­ness part­ner, Mur­ray Kessler, hired her at their law firm.

“He was a dogged ad­vo­cate for the peo­ple,” she said, adding he was the lawyer one went to “if you were in trouble.”

A year af­ter he opened his prac­tice, Co­hen learned of Char­lie Robert­son’s plans to bring an old Army tank to town.

As an at­tor­ney, Co­hen worked with him to ac­quire the tank and then worked with the VFW that de­cided the tank should be placed on the Green to serve as a veter­ans’ memo­rial.

“It was ar­gued not only was it a fit­ting relic, but also the kids loved it as a play­thing,” Co­hen wrote in a 2007 let­ter to the edi­tor.

Re­li­gious and artis­tic

A de­vout Jew, Co­hen was among a small group of a few dozen faith­ful who in the 1950s met for Fri­day night ser­vices in the Fel­low­ship Room of the First Con­gre­ga­tional Church.

See­ing a need for the group to have a per­ma­nent home, Co­hen joined the late Mer­rill Golden, Kessler and oth­ers to raise funds to build Temple Sholom, which opened in 1971.

In 2010, the now-late Rev Russ Ayre said, “Harry was quite a politi­cian in the best sense of the word. He worked for peo­ple. He was al­ways try­ing to do what was best for peo­ple and that's hard to come by now.”

Rabbi Ari Rosen­berg said he has “heard a great deal” about Co­hen in the four years he has been at the Temple. “He is re­mem­bered fondly by other found­ing mem­bers of our con­gre­ga­tion.”

Co­hen’s in­volve­ment in the com­mu­nity ex­tended to the arts.

“He was a dy­namic per­son with cer­tain ideas, es­pe­cially when it came to the arts,” said Mar­i­lyn Li­eff, who moved to town in 1953 and met Co­hen through the Jewish com­mu­nity. “And I think this com­mu­nity is bet­ter for hav­ing a Harry Co­hen.”

Ge­orge Fletcher agreed. He came to town in 1960 to serve as di­rec­tor of the for­mer New Mil­ford Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, which Co­hen had been in­volved in or­ga­niz­ing.

“He truly be­lieved in the com­mu­nity cen­ter and all as­pects of the arts,” said Fletcher. “He had a real pas­sion for it.”

The cen­ter evolved into the New Mil­ford Parks & Re­cre­ation De­part­ment.

In the 1970s, Co­hen co­founded The Lit­tle The­ater in the for­mer Ad­vent Church on Brook­side Av­enue, hav­ing ob­tained an in­ter­est-free loan from then-New Mil­ford Sav­ings Bank to pur­chase the prop­erty.

Over the years, Co­hen per­formed in nu­mer­ous production­s at the the­ater that even­tu­ally be­came Theatre­works.

He even brought the­ater to Temple Sholom, Li­eff re­called.

Pho­tog­ra­phy was an­other artis­tic av­enue through which Co­hen ex­pressed him­self.

At one point, he founded and was pres­i­dent of a lo­cal photo school, which of­fered work­shops and classes for pho­tog­ra­phers of all skill lev­els.

“He prided him­self in pho­tog­ra­phy and be­ing able to read and cap­ture the essence of what­ever or who­ever he pho­tographed,” his son David said, not­ing his fa­ther had 20 to 30 cam­eras.

“He car­ried his cam­era ev­ery­where,” Fletcher re­called.

Over the years, Co­hen sub­mit­ted let­ters to the edi­tor to lo­cal pub­li­ca­tions and of­ten stopped by lo­cal me­dia of­fices to talk with staff about town his­tory and pub­lished pho­to­graphs.

“He en­joyed no­to­ri­ety, but was al­ways giv­ing,” David said, not­ing his fa­ther would “proudly” clip his sub­mis­sions or ar­ti­cles writ­ten about him from news­pa­pers and give them to fam­ily.

Hearst Connecticu­t Me­dia file photo

New Mil­ford na­tive and long­time at­tor­ney Harry Co­hen, 98, died April 27 at his Bridge Street home. Co­hen was ac­tive in town, in­clud­ing civic, po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and faith pur­suits, through­out his life­time.

Cour­tesy of the Co­hen fam­ily

Harry Co­hen, who died April 27, is shown along­side New Mil­ford emer­gency ser­vice volunteers en­joy­ing the 2018 Memo­rial Day pa­rade from the porch of his Bridge Street home and of­fice.

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