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Ann Holland Cohn, helped save downtown Jewish Center

June 2, 1926 – March 25, 2017

The thriving Jewish Community Center on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, with its day-care program and fitness facility, might not be operating today if it weren’t for Ann Holland Cohn and her family.

The year was 1995, and Jewish Center officials were weighing whether to close the Delaware Avenue building and sell it, at a time when the aging facility was losing members and bleeding money. But Mrs. Cohn, with a $1 million bequest from her family that spurred other donations, led the fight to keep the building at Delaware and Summer Street open.

“It was really Ann’s commitment to that building and that neighborhood that stimulated the major donor involvement to renovate it, modernize it and turn into the viable community center that it is today,” said Peter Fleischmann, director of the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies. “Without her stepping up at the critical time decades ago, we might not have that facility today.”

Mrs. Cohn died Saturday in The Buckingham retirement community in Houston, a city where she moved four years ago to be close to one of her daughters. Mrs. Cohn was 90.

The Jewish Community Center, with buildings in both Buffalo and Getzville, faced a huge dilemma in 1995, as the area’s Jewish population was continuing its flight to the city’s northern suburbs.

But Mrs. Cohn, who walked to the center from her home to swim and teach art classes there for decades, helped lead the battle. A $1 million bequest from the estate of her parents, Regina and Henry Holland, stipulated that the money be used to rebuild the Delaware Avenue building, which hadn’t had a major overhaul since it opened in 1948. As the center weighed closing and selling the downtown building, Mrs. Cohn encouraged other benefactors, especially Nathan Benderson, to donate to the cause.

“She wanted the center to be a place of pride for the Jewish community and the entire city,” Fleischmann said. “And she prevailed.”

The JCC building on Delaware Avenue later added “Holland Family Building” to its title. But Mrs. Cohn, according to her daughter Martha Claussen, took greater pleasure in continuing to see the smiling faces of the children playing in the playground and attending the day-care facility.

A Dover, Del. native, the former Ann Joyce Holland attended Boston University and the Pratt Institute, and while raising her four children, she served in top volunteer posts with several local organizations.

Mrs. Cohn served as president of the Rosa Coplon home from 1978 to 1980 and the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo from 1984 to 1986. She also was president of the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies and sat on the boards of the Buffalo Seminary and the local American Red Cross.

Her relationship with Hospice Buffalo dated back to 1980, when she was one of its earliest donors and a member of the local Hospice Foundation’s board in the mid-1990s. She also established an endowment fund in her name in 1996 and supported the capital campaign to build the Hospice Mitchell Campus in Cheektowaga.

Sharing a keen interest in golf with her husband, Dr. George A. Cohn, she twice won the women’s championship at Crag Burn Golf Course. The Cohns were avid travelers, with many trips to Israel and some of the best golfing destinations in the country.

Mrs. Cohn was a highly regarded artist, accomplished in oil painting, sculpture and water color. Besides teaching art at the Jewish Community Center, she extended her artistic talent to gardening; visitors to the Cohns’ home on Tudor Place were always impressed with her exquisite flowers.

Mrs. Cohn was preceded in death by her husband of 42 years, Dr. Cohn, a neurosurgeon who died in 1991, and one son, Dr. Kenneth Cohn.

Survivors include one son, Thomas; two daughters, Martha Claussen and Erica; and seven grandchildren.

At her request, no services are planned.

–– Gene Warner

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