Wilbur Cohen was born on March 6, 1923 in Middletown, Ohio to Mose and Mollie Cohen. Mose and his brother Phil founded Cohen Brothers, now Cohen Recycling, in 1924.
Wilbur’s life revolved around his family, his community and his work.
Wilbur met Mary Jean Klein during his sophomore year at Hughes High School in Cincinnati. After high school, she enrolled in the cadet program at the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing. Wilbur and Mary Jean got married after she graduated in 1946. They had four children – Ken, Kathy, Neil and Linda – and were married for 62 years until Mary Jean’s death in 2008. In 2010, Wilbur married Miriam Warshauer, a widow and retired psychotherapist. Wilbur and Miriam met while serving together on the board of directors at Cedar Village (a retirement community in Mason, Ohio).
Following high school, Wilbur attended the University of Cincinnati where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1947. At the behest of his father and uncle, he joined the family business. He became a partner in the firm and was instrumental in growing it to the business it has become today. With a 50-acre campus in Middletown and locations in Ohio and Kentucky, Cohen Recycling is one of the largest metal recyclers in North America.
Wilbur brought his family into the business as third generation leaders with son Ken as President and son Neil as Treasurer. Today, two fourth-generation family members work at the company: Ken’s son Andy Cohen and Ken and Neil’s nephew, Adam Dumes. Wilbur’s love for the business his family built was evident every day he was there, and he was not the kind of person who eased off into retirement. At 96, he was in the office three days a week greeting employees and working on his many philanthropic efforts.
During his funeral service, Neil spoke of how he had once purchased a trucking business, against his dad’s advice, and the business began to fail. He said in his eulogy, “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.” Neil added, “Sitting around the dinner table as a family, one would think the conversation would be centered around business, but not so. Dad talked about his volunteer work and his philanthropy, and how important it was to help others. 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. 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.”
Wilbur’s grandson Brad added, “He was such a respected man and an example for all of us to follow. We are proud to say he was our Grandpa. He carried himself with dignity. He was a true gentleman and a genuine presence. His grandchildren and great grandchildren were not a group to him. We were individuals. He had a very special and unique relationship with each one of us. The example he has set for all of us to try to emulate has set the bar extraordinarily high. But we will remember and model his character and never stop trying.”
His son Ken expanded, “My Dad was blessed with three families, the first being BOTH the Cohen/Cohen family and the Cohen/Bresler family. Each loved him and he loved them. The Cohen/Cohen family, my Mom and Dad with three children, eight grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren, and his brother, our Uncle Phil and Aunt Helene, with cousins Hildy and Bob, Barb and OJ, and Amy, Eddie, and Fred and their families. And the Cohen/Bresler family, where he was able to assimilate and support both families. His second family was his work family. He cared deeply for the company and the people he employed. And finally, his philanthropic family in both Middletown and Cincinnati. Most have only one community to support, but my Dad 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. He touched the lives of so many people.”
Wilbur’s philanthropy is legendary. He served 42 years as a board member at Atrium Medical Center and Atrium Medical Center Foundation beginning in 1965, when he joined the Middletown Hospital board of directors. He was president of the hospital board from 1972 to 1980 and United Care Corporation (the hospital’s parent company) board from 1982 to 1990.
Nearly 40 years ago, Wilbur helped to establish what has become 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 Linda who passed away at age 47 from heart disease. Wilbur also established the Mary Jean Cohen Cancer Care and Clinical Research Endowment.
Wilbur served as President of the Chamber of Commerce and was also a strong supporter of the Jewish Federation.
Wilbur M. Cohen passed away February 28, 2020 at the age of 96. Beloved husband of Miriam Warshauer-Cohen & the late Mary Jean Cohen, devoted father of Kenneth (Janet) Cohen, Kathy (Bob) Dumes, Neil (Honi) Cohen & the late Linda Fay (Roger) Abrams, dear brother of Philip T. (Helene) Cohen, loving grandfather of Andy (Ari) Cohen, Alison (Dave) Moser, Melanie (James) Alexander, Adam (Jen) Dumes, Bradley (Rowena) Dumes, Joel (Jillian) Dumes, Brian (Maggie) Cohen & Jill Cohen, great grandfather of Ezra, Zoe, Sasha, Leon & Nora Cohen, Maya & Isaac Moser, Emma Alexander, Jake, Sam, Willow, Evan, Caleb, Alex & Cassidy Dumes & Ava & Ansel Cohen. Stepchildren Steven, Debbie, & Scott (Barbara) Bressler and their children Lenny, Elka, Micah, Jordan.,
Services took place at Adath Israel Congregation Sunday, March 1, 3:00 P.M. 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.