Center of attention
When Harvey and Janet Cohen of Naples began planning their legacy, they decided it would center on helping humanity. Their initial donations helped build NCH North Naples Hospital and supported the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of Southwest Florida.
Recognizing the importance of college as a time for young people to build enduring friendships, develop leadership skills and embrace the values of civility, the couple also chose to make a $3 million lead gift to Florida Gulf Coast University to enhance student life on campus.
“I like youth and presenting them with the opportunity to excel and amount to something,” Janet Cohen said.
To honor the couple’s legacy, the student union was christened the Harvey and Janet Cohen Center during a Jan. 10 celebration.
It was a bittersweet day for Janet Cohen, as her husband did not live to see their gift come to fruition. He died in February 2011, just seven months after the death of their only child, Frances, from breast cancer.
Family members and friends joined Cohen as she mingled with students, faculty and staff at the dedication of “Harv’s Place.” They shared his favorite snack – hot dogs – before students presented Cohen with a framed certificate of appreciation and President Wilson G. Bradshaw expressed the university community’s gratitude.
“Your very generous donation will make possible programs that we would not otherwise have been able to offer,” he said. “The Cohens shared a view that many important lessons are learned outside the classroom.”
Sanibel artist Lucas Century’s wall plaque inside the center’s main entrance highlights the Cohens’ story.
Harvey David Cohen was born in 1921 in Cincinnati, the oldest of five children. He was a junior at the University of Cincinnati when the United States entered World War II and he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war, he completed his undergraduate studies and went on to earn a law degree in 1947.
That same year, love blossomed. Before starting his professional career at a local law firm, he eloped with Janet Guttman, a childhood friend of his sister’s. She was born in Cincinnati in 1925, but grew up in the small town of Wilmington, northeast of the city, where she worked weekends at her father’s clothing store.
Like her husband, she valued education and was accustomed to working hard, saving money and giving back to the community.
“It’s too bad when people forget where they came from,” she said.