By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
Jun 27, 2014 | 10:38 PM
Edwin Cohen, a retired public school, university and religious school educator and administrator who was also executive director of Camps Airy and Louise in Western Maryland for nearly three decades, died June 21 of complications after surgery at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown. The longtime Pikesville resident was 87.
"Ed was wonderful, cheerful and happy. He had a great sense of humor and an infectious smile," said Floyd L. Herman, rabbi emeritus at Har Sinai Congregation. "He really cared about all kinds of people and as a teacher, he wanted them to be able to do their best."
The son of Harry Cohen, a grocery store owner, and Bessie Cohen, a homemaker, Edwin Cohen was born and raised in East Baltimore.
After graduating in 1944 from City College, Mr. Cohen earned his bachelor's degree and a dual master's degree in English and education from the Johns Hopkins University.
Mr. Cohen began teaching in city public schools in the 1950s. In 1960, he was named vice principal of Canton Elementary and Junior High School, and a year later, principal of Harbor View Elementary School.
Two years later, Mr. Cohen took over as principal of George Washington Elementary School, and in 1966, as principal of Barclay Elementary School.
In conjunction with teaching in Baltimore public schools, Mr. Cohen was an assistant professor of elementary education, eventually becoming a full-time faculty member at what is now Towson University. He retired in 1984.
Mr. Cohen was the founder of Project Mission, which prepared aspiring educators to teach inner-city students.
He was vice principal of the religious school at Har Sinai Congregation, and in 1970, he left city schools when he was named principal, a position he held until stepping down in the 1990s.
In addition to his regular occupation, Mr. Cohen always held down several other jobs.
"He took a job at the Hecht Co., not so much for the money, but because he liked being around people, to help people out, and because he could get a discount for all members of his family," said Rabbi Herman in his eulogy. "He became a greeter at a movie theater just to be with people."
Mr. Cohen had attended Camp Airyin the Catoctin Mountains as a child, and in 1968, he began working there as associate executive director. In 1988, he was named executive director of Camps Airy and Louise, a position he held until retiring in 1997.
The camp was founded in 1922 by Baltimore philanthropist Aaron Straus so that working-class Jewish immigrant woman would have an affordable place to vacation.
When it became a camp for youngsters, it was not uncommon for 2,100 Jewish campers to spend summers in the mountains of Western Maryland.
Mr. Cohen spent his days shuttling the nine miles between Camp Airy, the summer camp for boys, and Camp Louise, the camp for girls. Mr. Cohen's wife, the former Phyllis Bloom, was an administrative assistant at the camp.
"Like those who came before him, Cohen seems more like a presence than an executive. His gray hair, not-so-slight paunch and twinkling eyes give him the look of a favorite uncle you only see on holidays, the one cracking bad jokes but still managing to coax a smile out of you," The Baltimore Sun reported in a 1997 article.
When the camp went into a slump in the early 1990s, Mr. Cohen led its revival by hiring such high-profile coaches as swimmer Anita Nall, the Olympic gold medalist who taught swimming, and Tony Award-winning actor John Glover, who conducted theater workshops.
During the camp's life span, tens of thousands of children ages 7 to 17 attended, with many starting as campers and later becoming counselors.
Mrs. Cohen told The Sun in 2005 that she and her husband were standing on a London street corner when somebody came up and gave him a big hug. "Hi Ed, how're you doing," the former camper said.
In 1997, Mr. Cohen made the reluctant decision to retire as camp director.
"Through much agony," he told The Sun. "It'll be the first time in 50 years I don't have a job. I've never had less than three jobs at a time. This is new to me."
Mr. Cohen said he did not want a retirement party, even though tributes from staff members and former staffers flowed into the camp's main office.
"I can't handle that," Mr. Cohen said in the newspaper interview. "I'm not belittling myself. I know I've made a difference in so many lives, teaching or whatever. But I did it because I wanted to do it."
Mr. Cohen and his lifelong friend, Manny Velder, co-wrote and published two books, "Open Ended Stories" and "Open Ended Plays," which were targeted for creative writing students who were able to write their own endings to the stories presented in the books.
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Mr. Cohen had been a member of Har Sinai Congregation and the Stevenson Village Board of Directors.
He enjoyed attending the theater in New York and organized many bus trips. He collected foreign coins and liquor.
"He did it all because he wanted to do it, and whatever he wanted to do, he did very well," Rabbi Herman said.
Funeral services were held Thursday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife of almost 65 years, Mr. Cohen is survived by a son, Harry Cohen of Reisterstown; two daughters, Fran Stuart of Reisterstown and Mindy Cohen of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.