Obituary: Florence Cohn
Longtime Claremonter was a “force of nature”
Longtime Claremont resident and humanitarian Florence Cohn died January 29 at age 96. Her contributions to the community and her commitment to civil rights were legion. “Wherever Florence goes she dreams up projects to help others,” Pomona College Professor Donald McIntyre wrote in the book, “McIntyre’s Parcel of Fine Red Herrings.”
“Florence was a force of nature who touched the lives of everyone she met,” wrote her daughter Marjorie. “Florence was one of a kind,” her friend Valerie Edwards said. “Her sense of humor was legendary. It would creep up on you when you least expected it. I appreciated her kindness and how thoughtful she was of others. Without a doubt, she has lived her life in a way that with her contributions, she has left this world better than she found it.”
Florence Lichtenstein was born on August 4, 1925 in New Haven, Connecticut. She graduated from Hillhouse High School in 1943, where she was a member of the chorus, archery team, swim team, skating team, radio club and York Square Players.
She met Leonard Cohn at Teachers College of Connecticut (now Central Connecticut State University) and they married in 1946. Florence earned her B.S. in 1947 and the couple relocated to California following graduation. After one year in San Bernardino, where she worked as a social worker, they moved to Claremont and Leonard began his long, storied career as football coach at Claremont High.
While raising five children, she began an income tax business and honed her matchmaking skills. “We’ve even had a number of marriages,” she proudly told a reporter for the COURIER. The couple divorced in 1966.
In 1967 she founded Family Real Estate. She earned a community college instructor credential from The California Community Colleges in 1972. She built her 10,000-square-foot office building at 678 S. Indian Hill Boulevard in 1973, which she named “Gracias a Dios,” honoring the “wonderful understanding between the Mexican and American people.” In 1975 she started the Indian Hill School of Real Estate. All told, she sold real estate for 50 years.
A member of the original committee that established Claremont’s annual Fourth of July celebration, she wrote in a letter to the COURIER: “For several years thereafter I worked on the parade, setting up the booths, you name it. Former husband Leonard Cohn was recreation director as well as football coach, so I set up the baseball team schedules and even the pie eating contests . . . Great fun to be involved.”
She “loves the high desert of [Colorado] and built an isolated house-in-the-round high on the plain, in the heart of North American cowboy/Indian country,” Professor McIntyre wrote, complete “with a herd of llamas for company!” Once a month, she made the 16-hour drive in her Jeep to her dome house near the Four Corners, where she loved to feed the squirrels and birds on her deck.
On one of those trips, she picked up a hitchhiker as she drove past the Chuckwalla State Prison near Blythe, California. Sensing he might try to rob her, she told him he looked like he could use some money and suggested he find some in the glove box. They became longtime friends.
One of her most notable accomplishments was the organization of a toy and bicycle drive, leaving donation boxes all over Claremont in anticipation of her annual pilgrimage to the Hopi and Navajo nations to deliver Christmas toys to the children. One year, her 12-year-old grandson, Victor Cohn-Lopez, gave the commencement address at the Hopi Day School sixth-grade graduation in Kykotsmovi Village, Arizona.
She was appointed to the California Real Estate Association’s legislative committee on property taxation, and the equal rights committee. She established the California Single Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit organization opposing the unfair tax burden on single parents. She also spent her life fighting racism, and incurred the wrath of fellow realtors for opposing discrimination against Blacks in home sales.
She mounted a successful campaign to reunite 10-year-old Manuel Bojorquez Jr., whose aunt became unable to care for him in Mexico, with his family in Pomona. She wrote to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Congressman John Rousselot. “Manuel Jr. arrived in the fall and a happy time it was!” she wrote in her book, “It All Started With Lollipops.” “For Thanksgiving the Bojorquez family came to the Cohn household with a fully cooked turkey with all the trimmings . . . such a great example of what life is all about.”
Everywhere she traveled, she carried See’s lollipops, which she generously doled out to any children she encountered. “Giving folks lollipops really cuts the ice and everyone becomes our friend,” she wrote in “Lollipops.” She distributed lollipops to kids in Taiwan, Israel, Palestine, Singapore, Denmark, Nepal and Norway.
Her niece Kaila Colbin recalled, “I remember her jokes — ‘I haven’t slept for 10 days … because I only sleep nights!’ I remember her telling us about going to concerts; she never had a ticket and never paid more than face value on the ticket to get in. I remember her giving me a note pad made of a hundred one-dollar bills; she had gone to the bank and gotten new bills with sequential serial numbers.”
One of her funniest, most heartwarming gifts was commissioning a stretch limousine to take her brother, Rod Colbin, to garage sales for his 70th birthday. “Half the fun was watching people react to a limousine pulling up and six people stepping out, champagne in hand!” Florence described in “Lollipops. “The first person said, ‘Look! Celebrities are coming!’ Another person at the sale commented, ‘I thought there was a recession!’ The woman holding the garage sale exclaimed, ‘Oh my gosh … take the house; I’ll take the limo!’”
Rod’s friend, actress Katharine Hepburn, was the proud recipient of one of her paintings. “I love it,” Hepburn wrote in a thank you note. “It’s a charming painting and will be great in my house in the country.”
Her other books include “Paul Revere Slept Here (and other great real estate ad ideas),” and “Shacks to Castles.”
The list of her civic activities is formidable. In 2004, she received the Woman of Distinction award from the Soroptimist International Club. Florence was city chairman of the Sister Kenny campaign; chairman of Claremont’s multiple sclerosis campaign and Pomona Valley Health Council; executive secretary of the Claremont Community Chest; and served on the local, district and state boards of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs-Junior membership, and on the boards of the Pomona Valley Hearing Society, Pomona Community Concert Association, and Salvation Army.
“Life is truly short and too often folks are so wrapped up in their own little problems that they never take time to appreciate the wonderful world and neat people around them,” Florence wrote in one of her regular “Dear Molly” columns in the COURIER. “Strew roses along the path of life but don’t forget to take time out to smell the flowers.”
“Florence was generous and kind and she shared her flowers with everybody she met,” her family said. “We will not see the likes of her again.”
Florence Cohn is survived by her children, Marjorie Cohn, Gary Cohn, Nancy Cohn Morgan, Susan McGeachy and Terri Peters; twelve grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
Memorial contributions may be made to Temple Beth Israel at https://tbipomona.org, click “Pledges and Donations,” or by check to 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona, CA 91767.